In a recent Op-Ed, Frank Eichler boasted of aggressive reforms supposedly underway in the areas of inspections and penalties implemented by the SHOW organization in the Tennessee Walking horse industry. Many Tennessee Walking horse owners and organizations disagree with Mr. Eichler’s assertions. For all of 2011, SHOW publicly touted a Horse Protection Act (HPA) compliance rate of 98.5% yet USDA results paint another picture—97.6% of the random samples they took during 2011 tested positive for prohibited foreign substances.
The data begs the question as to why SHOW’s inspectors are finding a significantly smaller number of violations than their government counterparts.
A review of HPA violation rates at the 2012 Celebration, as recently reported by the USDA, is a big concern. There were 166 violations occurring among 1849 inspections, or a 9% noncompliance rate. By contrast, for the years 2010, 2011 and 2012 to date, Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), International Walking Horse Association (IWHA) and National Walking Horse Association (NWHA) collectively inspected 42,656 horses, and eight horses (.00018) were disqualified as sore under the HPA. Why is SHOW bragging about an all-time high HPA compliance rate when the 2012 Celebration violation rate is 83 times higher than that occurring at those sound shows over a three year period?
Mr. Eichler’s claim that SHOW imposes penalties harsher than those of the USDA is misleading. The real story is apparent when USDA minimum, mandated penalties (which SHOW refuses to adopt) are compared to SHOW’s actual penalty schedule which is weak in two areas: (1) penalties are only imposed upon trainers/exhibitors while the USDA requires that penalties be imposed upon the owner, trainer, custodian and exhibitor and (2) SHOW’s penalties for first offenses are identical in most cases to penalties for third offenses.
For a bilateral (both front legs sore) third offense, the USDA mandated penalty is a four year suspension while SHOW’s penalty for a third bilateral is a one year suspension and $1000 fine (same as for its first offense). For a unilateral (one sore front leg) third offense, USDA mandates a one year suspension while SHOW’s is a mere two weeks and no fine. Finally, for third scar rule offense, USDA regulations impose a one year suspension and SHOW has no suspension + $100 fine. With no suspension even imposed for a third scar rule violation, it is tempting for potential violators to sore and steward horses during the week and sound them up to be compliant for the weekend inspection.
What is especially interesting is that under its published rule book, SHOW resets violators’ records (with the exception of bilateral sore, horse swapping, pressure shoeing and other egregious acts against the horse) to ground zero each calendar year instead of adding to a violator’s prior, existing record. This may explain why so many of SHOW’s violations consist of one footers (unilateral sore) and scar rules—they reset to zero every Jan. 1.
Can we see where this is going? Despite declarations of serious punishments being imposed, SHOW’s penalties are significantly weaker for subsequent violations as compared to USDA mandated penalties, penalties are not imposed upon all responsible parties as required by the USDA and all violators start with a “clean” record each Jan. 1. Another factor determining whether SHOW’s penalties are actually effective is whether they are imposed upon the “real” trainer and whether suspended trainers are barred completely from the show grounds or just from exhibiting.
The key to reducing the number of sored horses in the ring is rigorous inspections plus tough penalties. Because FOSH, NWHA and IWHA actually perform rigorous inspections, exhibitors and trainers do not bring sore horses to their shows, and in fact, they avoid these show rings like the plague. The result? Low violation rates. Further, all three organizations immediately adopted USDA mandated penalties in 2010 and in some cases, even tougher penalties were implemented. Maybe rigorous inspections and USDA mandated penalties really do keep sore horses out of the ring unlike the supposed “aggressive” inspections and “serious” punishments adopted by SHOW?
Mr. Eichler’s final claim that this industry is economically important to Tennessee may be true but is also embarrassing. As light has been shed upon the very high incidence of soring that is still occurring in some show rings, I would guess that many residents would prefer their communities not be “recognized” for enjoying this positive economic impact. After all, who wants the humiliation that comes with being home to the cruelest horse shows on earth?
Until SHOW actually undertakes rigorous inspections and imposes USDA minimum, mandated penalties upon all responsible parties, horse lovers should not expect much change in SHOW’s very high violation rates. FOSH, IWHA and NWHA have demonstrated what is needed to eradicate soring from the show ring. Their practices should be simple for SHOW to adopt if they are actually committed to keeping sore horses out of the ring, however, at this time it appears SHOW prefers to maintain the status quo with a 9% turndown rate and 97% of sampled entrants testing positive for illegal foreign substances at its most prestigious show.
Director, Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH)
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In Teresa Bippen's piece of Oct. 27, Ms. Bippen refutes statistics presented by Mr. Frank Eichler in his column of Oct. 11. Ms. Bippen eloquently illustrates the well-known adage, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, darn lies and statistics." Statistics are thrown about by some in the belief they will convince others that the Big Lick community is actually serious about eradicating the heinous practice of soring and that they are successful in policing themselves toward this end. The rebuttal presented by Ms. Bippen suggests otherwise.
Mr. Eichler, in his column of Oct. 11, also claims credit for the industry (referring, I believe, to the walking show horse industry) bringing the Jackie McConnell case to the attention of the USDA. I have yet to see any facts to support that statement. Everything I have seen points to the Jackie McConnell case, and the horrific video that prompted it, being brought to the authorities by the Humane Society of the United States. Thank goodness for that organization which uncovered, at least, this one heinous monster. I have yet to receive from Mr. Eichler, an explanation to my request for clarification on this matter.
Thank you, Ms. Bippen, for your summary of a view from the other side of this coin.
Cranbrook, British Columbia, Canada