Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization – TWSHO

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A Letter to Congressman Whitfield

November 28, 2012 | Frank Eichler

Dear Congressman Whitfield:

We represent the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) – a reform based Organization that has been working within the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry. We have initiated several reforms and are in the process of working with several Industry Organizations to end soring once and for all.

We would like to meet with you to present and discuss our initial views and concerns regarding H.R. 6388 and ways we can partner to reform the walking horse industry. We would also like to discuss our organization’s recent reform initiatives and ideas we have to further reform the industry.

First and foremost, please understand that the particular groups and individuals inside the walking horse industry with which we are working share one ultimate goal – eliminate soring in the walking horse industry to ensure the welfare of the horse.  As owners, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, show and event managers, and horse lovers, we are also committed to restoring the integrity and credibility of our industry and we have been working diligently over the past year to do so.

It is also important that you understand the economic impact of this industry on the communities and organizations represented by the Tennessee Walking Horse.  Our shows and our horses significantly benefit a number of charitable organizations such as the Lions Club and our industry has a major economic impact on communities across Kentucky, Tennessee and a numerous other states.

We have the same goal – to protect the horse – but where we differ is how to best do that.  Having worked for some time now to bring about reform in the industry, and had some success in doing so, we know what it will take to make a difference.  We know what obstacles exist, what challenges must be overcome, and we are very interested in sharing our perspective with you so that we can succeed in achieving the goal.

We agree with much of what you have included in H.R. 6388 and in fact, part of the industry, the part leading the reform effort, is already doing what you have proposed. We also agree that the Horse Protection Act (HPA) could be improved.  One part of your proposal that concerns us is the elimination of the Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs), HIOs, with some modification to the statutory and regulatory guidelines under which they operate, are still the best method for ensuring effective and consistent regulation of horse shows and the welfare of the horse. HIOs are the keystone of the Horse Protection Act and the intent of Congress with respect to this importance is well documented.  They provide the best means to oversee and penalize those that abuse horses.  While we recognize the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General’s audit stated that the current inspection system (as of 2008) was not functioning as intended the fact gathering of the audit was completed before at least one HIO implemented non-conflicted DQPs. This step was the crucial complaint by the OIG and has and can be implemented for the Industry. It also provides support for Independent Veterinarians you suggest, which the Industry has previously stated they are also willing to incorporate into the overall HIO process.

The USDA previously tried to enforce the HPA without any Industry involvement and it failed which is why the 1976 amendment to the HPA was implemented. A key concern is that if the HIOs are totally eliminated there is no immediate effect to a violation. The impact of your bill would unfortunately have the effect of allowing more soring to continue as the violators would not be suspended for possibly 2+years, if at all, given the current process. In addition the very Independent Veterinarians you are suggesting would be potentially conflicted (we presume the best inspectors are veterinarians that have a horse practice) as the current owners and trainers show all over the country. These Veterinarians also would not have federal employee immunity, could be subject to personal liability if they improperly disqualify a horse and ultimately lose their veterinarian license.

Another key concern is that you are suggesting the elimination of the current pad and action devices and thus an entire division of the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry without any basis that these cause soring which is the fundamental purpose of the HPA. As a matter of fact the American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association, USDA and others all agree that “there is little scientific evidence to indicate that the use of action devices below a certain weight are detrimental to the health and welfare of the horse…”  While they do suggest that they may be “implicated” in soring that is an inappropriate standard for Congress to eliminate a breed and take away an owner, breeder, mare owner and others livelihood, livestock, stallions and horses.

As a Member of Congress, you have a long history of working to provide fair and reasonable treatment of regulated organizations by the regulators.  We ask for that same fairness.  If representatives of the walking horse industry and our regulators are talking and working together, as Congress intended when it first passed the Horse Protection Act, there is no reason that a fair, consistent and reasonable set of rules and regulations cannot be developed and implemented.  We are convinced we can assure you and other Members that we can work with you and the USDA to meet our common goal of the welfare of the horse and not only strengthening but assuring enforcement of the HPA.

Your legislation addresses a number of details that we believe are acceptable and some that we hope to discuss with you further and, through that discussion, develop solutions or changes that will provide our industry with a fair, reasonable and realistic framework to insure safe and sound horse and enable the economic benefits we provide to communities and organizations to continue.

As stated earlier there are a number of initiatives underway that have never been implemented in this Industry but while we have made great strides in this regard, there is still work to do. We respectfully request a meeting with you to discuss several ideas we have as to how H.R. 6388 could be strengthened.

Thank you again for allowing me and others the opportunity to present these points.  We are deeply committed to working with you on reforming the industry. We appreciate your consideration.  If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at your convenience.

Sincerely yours,

Frank Eichler

TWSHO Chairman