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TWH leaders hit 'renegades' at listening session

Friday, April 13, 2012

By Brian Mosely

Special to the Tribune

MURFREESBORO -- USDA officials urged Tennessee Walking Horse organizations last week to unite and speak with one voice, while those in the local equine industry were equally united in opposing a proposed ban on pads and "action devices." Officials from the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Animal Care Program held a three-hour listening session at the Doubletree Hotel to hear feedback from walking horse trainers and owners.

APHIS members were told that the government should crack down on unregulated horse events, saying that the USDA never attends those shows, where many claimed that most of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations have occurred.

Looking ahead, Dr. Rachel Cezar, USDA APHIS Horse Protection Coordinator, said the government is looking toward changes, but before those are made, the USDA wanted to get the industry's input, which was the reason for the listening session, the eighth that had been held this year.

With only one exception, all who gave an opinion were against the proposed banning of action devices and pads in the Walking Horse industry.

Winky Groover, a long-time trainer, said that many in the industry had done an excellent job in getting rid of soring in the business, saying that the government should monitor the inspection process of each Horse Industry Organization (HIO) to make sure that inspections have consistency.

"Pads and action devices do not sore horses, unscrupulous people do," Groover said.

Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association President Marty Irby also stated they were firmly against any reduction of the action devices and pads, saying that the survival of their industry relies mainly on the performance horse.

Irby said that the compliance rate in the industry is at 98.53 percent, while the USDA is only able to attend six percent of the shows. He also pointed out that the industry had formed a unity committee last November and that HIOs are standardizing shoeing and showing standards, as well as inspection training.

But Irby said a major problem were people who participate in events that are unregulated by the HIOs, which makes the industry incapable of regulating them due to the lack of any legal authority, and they have no way to make sure they are shown in the manner that the HPA demands.

"Those horse shows that are unaffiliated, uninspected, are the bottom end of this industry, and it works its way all the way to the top," he said.

Irby said that the USDA "has failed miserably" in cracking down on those unregulated shows which he said have crippled the Walking Horse industry.

Irby also said it was impossible to get 100 percent compliance with the HPA, saying that would be like everyone on the road all following the speed limit. He also urged the elimination of any conflicts ..for the rest of the story pick up a copy of the Marshall County Tribune