There has been a lot of attention paid recently to the horrific acts of one trainer, and rightly so as his acts were indefensible and appalling. For those of us within the industry who are trying to reform the sport, it is more than just a stomach-turning video on the nightly news, it is something that threatens the hard work we have done to rid the sport of soring trainers and the future existence of the sport.
What is lost in the sensationalistic stories around this one incident is the story of an industry-driven reform movement that is cleaning up the sport and the impact it’s having on the people who love horses.
We created the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization to reform the walking show horse industry so that the well-being of walking horse is protected and the integrity of the sport maintained. As reformers we accept that for far too long, the industry has not followed through on its talk of reform with real action. We know that if we don’t rid the industry of soring trainers, there will be no industry to speak of in the very near future.
The industry has come a long way, including creating the most aggressive inspection system in the business and instituting serious punishments for those who break the rules. In the last three years the SHOW Horse Industry Organization has given 155 trainers one-year suspensions – more than any other HIO or more than the USDA. The industry’s inspections, where the USDA was not even present at the show, have resulted in the first two criminal prosecutions of the Horse Protection Act in approximately 20 years and in the last year, the industry has issued three lifetime suspensions, one 7.5-year year suspension, and one 5-year suspension The industry is sending a message to soring – you harm a horse, you are not welcome in the sport.
As a result of the enhanced inspections and aggressive follow-through on penalties, compliance rates with the HPA are at an all-time high. But, until the entire industry is fully compliant with all federal regulations and truly consistent with our love for horses, we will not stop looking for soring trainers and showing them the door.
Recently a group of legislators proposed amending the HPA. Not only do we support components of that legislation the industry is already doing it. For example the legislation would impose a $5,000 penalty for those who harm a horse. Not only is the industry already doing this, the industry’s penalties are much harsher, and far more strict, than the USDA’s.
But, TWSHO does object with the part of the legislation that will eliminate inspectors, be they industry inspectors or USDA inspectors. The elimination of industry inspectors and creation of a system that allows for horse shows to voluntarily request inspectors would allow abusive trainers to go undetected and unpunished. Industry inspectors are already licensed and trained by the USDA, and can be removed by the USDA should they fail to do their job, are needed to make sure all horses are inspected as the USDA cannot be at every horse show. The 155 1-year suspensions would never be found or implemented if the shows had the ability to not have inspectors present. Two of the three recent cases brought by the Department of Justice would never have been found had it not been for industry inspectors. Even the Jackie McConnell case was brought to the attention of the USDA by the industry. Horses are safest when the industry and the USDA work in partnership to ensure that horses are safe and that only sound and HPA compliant horses are participating in horse shows.
The other story not being told is how important the industry is to young people and families in small towns across America, as well as the local economies of those small communities. The majority of those participating come from families whose members have been competing for generations. In terms of the economic benefit, in Shelbyville alone, the home of the National Celebration, the industry accounts for $38 million in economic activity annually. And for the local organizations that help support those communities, more than 90 percent of walking horse shows contribute proceeds to charities. The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration alone contributes over $200,000 annually to local civic organizations and charities.
No one is more committed to keeping the horse safe than the Industry reformers. We have made real progress with our efforts but we wont rest until there is a 100% compliance with the Horse Protection Act and soring trainers are gone for good.
Frank Eichler owns Tennessee Walking Horses and serves as chairman of the board of directors of the newly formed Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization.
* * *
Mr. Eichler states, "Even the Jackie McConnell case was brought to the attention of the USDA by the industry."
Everything I have read indicates that the Jackie McConnell video and case was actually released by the Humane Society of the United States.
Can Mr. Eichler please clarify his statement?
Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada