According to Phil Osborne with Kentucky-based public relations firm Preston-Osborne, which is now representing the Performance
Show Horse Association, the walking horse industry horse inspection organizations (HIOs) have found more than 98 percent of
entries in 2013 to be compliant with the HPA in regards to soring violations. HIOs are industry groups that have been approved
by the USDA to self-police competitions and the industry.
DeHaven likens the HIO system to the fox watching the hen house: "[A current HIO inspector is] five to 10 times more likely
to identify a violation when he has a USDA inspector over his shoulder."
Osborne says DeHaven is quoting out-of-date statistics. "Not only is his accusation false and misleading, the truth shows
something that is completely opposite," Osborne says. "The goal is to eliminate soring altogether; however, a compliance rate
of between 96.6 and 98 percent would prove that current levels of soring are indicative of a very small faction of the walking
However, Osborne says the compliance rate the industry touts includes all exhibition entries—not just big lick horses, but
all Tennessee walking horses, both pleasure and padded. "When they talk about compliance rates that's taking all the flat
shod with the big lick horses," DeHaven says. "If you just looked at the big lick horses the prevalence of soring—I think—would
be very high."
U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) Public Affairs Specialist Tanya Espinosa
says as of Nov. 3, the USDA attended unannounced 63 of 288 horse events. At those events, 1,198 entries were scratched prior
to inspection—896 of those pulled from competition were horses wearing pads and action devices. Of the 9,510 entries at USDA-attended
shows, 399 individual horses were found in violation of the HPA—325 of them were found on horses wearing pads and action devices.
USDA has no way of knowing why a horse owner pulls an entry prior to inspection, but about 75 percent of those scratched at
an event with unannounced USDA attendance were wearing pads and action devices. And while only 4 percent of all horses exhibited
were found to be sore, 81 percent of sore horses were wearing pads and action devices.
Osborne says the USDA has an advantage to detect soring because its inspectors have access to thermography, x-ray, swabbing
and blood testing, but DeHaven simply feels there is an inherent conflict of interest among HIOs and their Designated Qualified
Persons (DQPs) who inspect show horses.
DeHaven says an essential part of the PAST Act is establishing a new inspection program where independent individuals—most
likely veterinarians—would be licensed, trained and overseen by USDA. HIOs and DQPs would be a thing of the past. "Hopefully
inspectors would all be veterinarians," DeHaven says. Even if they aren't veterinarians, but trained by USDA, "They would
be far more independent and objective in doing the inspections."
Currently Heart of America, PRIDE and SHOW HIOs are in the process of decertification by USDA for noncompliance. The Walking
Horse Trainers Association and the Performance Show Horse Association (PSHA) support dissolving all HIOs in favor of one industry
HIO. "The USDA has proven, when the HPA was first made law, that it is incapable of regulating the industry without help from
self-regulatory measures," Osborne says.
DeHaven agrees that with USDA's limited budget, it cannot inspect all shows alone. "This act would not really get USDA at
more shows, but ensure that the inspectors that went would be truly independent," DeHaven says.
Proponents of the PAST Act say the bill would stop what they believe is a culture of soring. DeHaven says there is no acceptable
amount of soring and those that do sore are hurting the entire walking horse breed. "We really have within the walking horse
breed a subpopulation, which is the big lick horses; that is probably 10 percent or less of the walking horse population,
but the whole breed is getting a negative cast on it."