I am currently in Hemet, CA a small community north east of San Diego. I am here to begin the apprentice process for IJA, the Independent Judges Association. Horse world, I have some news for you. There is shady s***(expletive deleted) going down in the horse industry and the understaffed and underfunded APHIS is tasked with policing millions
of horses with only 8 people.
Here is how it started. In 1970 congress passed the Horse Protection Act (amended 1976), a statue specifically designed to protect horses from soring. If sored, they are not to be in exhibitions, sales, shows or auctions. Specifically called out in the statue (the ones in need of most protection) are the Tennessee Walking Horse (THW) and the Racking Horse. Huh? Walking Horse? Racking Horse? I know, I know, many of you are unfamiliar with these breeds, but there is no mistaking the distinctness of movement and most importantly, the smoothness of the ride. There are thousands of Walking Horses in the US and these beauties are known for out walking the fastest and largest of your walk/trot type breeds.
But here is what you don't know (but must know). Somewhere along the lines in the evolution of the show, the higher the horse stepped, the easier it was to win. It is kind of like the 'bathing suit' competition. At some beauty pageants the big breasted girls win instead of the truly 'fit' girls. I know, that is a horrible analogy, but you get the idea. If the horse steps huge, it is showy and captivating. The problem is many of these horses don't do this naturally. There are a few that can, but for the most part, instead of using steroids to hit home runs, the practice involves horrible techniques damaging to the horse to get results. Tell me the last time you heard these words used in a positive manner: chains & chemical burning. I won't elaborate but you get the idea.
So here is where we are today. The USDA (the same people that inspect your meat) have an office called the APHIS, Animal & Plant Heath Inspection Services. Under APHIS is another division called the Animal Care office. It is the folks here who have been entrusted with enforcing the Horse Protection Act. Under the employ of the Animal Care office are Veterinary
Medical Officers of which there are 8 in the US. Yes, you read me correctly, 8. There are more than 7 million horses in the US, so if I do my math correctly, there is one VMO for every 875,000 horses in the US. That sounds like a manageable case load, don't you think?
In a very smart move, the Animal Care office partnered with 10 Horse Industry Organizations (HIO) to help with the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. Most of these associations are related to gaited horses, where practices of soring are often considered the worse or most blatant. Each of these HIO's trains DQP's(Designated Qualified Persons) that can be used at horse shows. The DQP can now examine all the horses at shows, each horse is examined PRIOR to being allowed in the arena and then the winning horse is re-examined after a win.
So now the power of 8 is magnified and multiplied and the problem can be solved right? Oh, you are going to love this.
First, there are shows failing to utilize a DQP. The bigger national shows know better, but you can find a schooling show, a non-pointed show or someone just too cheap to hire a DQP. But the second problem is the bigger problem. DQP's are hired by the show management. Although they are trained by associations that are signatories on the rules, the DQP's are not working
for the USDA, but instead for the show. As altruistic as we want to be a show is there to make money. Big barns with 'winning' horses funnel lots of money into the show and one or two pissed off trainers can bankrupt a show or association.
So, the show management may say 'guess what DQP, thanks for your opinion, but this person is going into the show ring'. What are the chances that one of the 8 VM Officers are going to show up and fine the show? Well, you do the math. X # of shows, 8 VMO's, the chances are not that high.
But that is exactly what happened last year at the TWH Celebration, the World Championship for the Tennesee Walkers. Folks this is the 'fashion week' for TWH, the competition of glory, the Miss America pageant, ok you get the idea. A random VMO inspection pulled 9 out of 12 horses out of the the World Grand Championship class. 75%. With three horses remaining, the class was cancelled. There was NO winner pinned because the VMO's could come this time.
But how in the hell (excuse my french) do we get to a world where 75% of the horses about to compete for the World Grand Championship get to that level when the VMO's find they are in violation of the horse protection act?
I already did the math. One VMO for 875,000 horses. That's why.
So here is my solution. Get involved. It has been a long time since I made a call to action (reminds me of my persuasive speaking in college). Seriously. Call you folks in congress, lets shuffle some money from our work in Iraq to fund these folks. If you love the equine breeed (and believe in sound practices), you cannot keep quiet. I know that I can't. Link to this post, write your own post, but don't delay. There are more of us 'good guys' than there are of those 'bad guys'. Support organizations like FOSH and don't support breeders that sore or shows that allow sore horses. Big bucks are involved here, but I tell you, if we make enough noise, it will go away. Do you remember 25 years ago how little people wore seat belts? We can have that kind of impact.
Before I end my rant, let me be clear, there are a LOT of people showing SOUND Tennessee Walking Horses. I have been privileged to show with these people over the last few years. I see them on the trails and and fun days. These horses are amazing AND beautiful and I am proud to be part of that circle. It is these owners and lovers of the breed that have made the progress so far, but they can't do it alone.
For most of us, these practices are so abhorrent we cannot even fathom why someone would do such a thing. So we have to get off of our apathetic butts and call/email/write our folk in congress to take one tank out of Iraq and divert that money to the Animal Care Office.
spread the word, fight the fight. I don't get too worked over by much stuff, but I will tell you that I am going to take action. Horses don't deserve it and we have to be the REAL voice of the horse.