USDA Coddles and Excuses Longtime Violators of the Horse Protection Act 

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Tennessee Walkers at the 2016 MN Horse Expo; photo by Ley Bouchard

    USDA Coddles and Excuses Longtime Violators of the Horse Protection Act 

One Consent Decree Imposes a Three-Year Suspension on a Serial Violator of Federal Laws Against “Horse Soring” But Some Suspensions Doesn’t Take Effect until 2022

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) continues to coddle and tolerate serious violations of the Horse Protection Act (HPA), meting out token and virtually meaningless penalties for people who’ve repeatedly harmed Tennessee Walking Horses in order to win ribbons at horse shows.

Using a legal mechanism called a consent decree, the supposed targets of the USDA essentially maintain their claim they did nothing wrong, and then promise never to do it again. The agreements would allow scofflaw trainers to continue to compete in events during the 2019 show season, with several “penalties” not even barring the alleged violators from participation in events that drew scrutiny, until after the 2020 season.  

“The ‘penalties’ imposed by USDA on chronic abusers of horses are so weak as to be meaningless,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action, and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association. “To allow admitted abusers to compete uninterrupted until the end of 2020 and 2022 is despicable and is an invitation to other horse abusers that they may continue soring horses and they won’t have to pay a cent or miss a horse show for years.”

Soring is a practice that results from intentional infliction of pain to Tennessee Walking, Racking, and Spotted Saddle Horses’ front limbs to achieve an artificial, manufactured exaggeration of their gait,  known as the “big lick,” that’s exhibited throughout the Southeastern U.S. Trainers apply caustic chemicals, such as diesel fuel, kerosene, and mustard oil,  to the legs and insert sharp objects in the hooves to achieve this grotesque appearance that’s rewarded at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

“Now more than two years into the Administration, we see a distinctive pattern from the new leadership at USDA: they either won’t investigate or won’t mete out meaningful penalties when it comes to people who hurt animals,” said Joshua Marquis, director of legal affairs and enforcement at Animal Wellness Action, and former Oregon District Attorney for 25 years. “We ask USDA to show us even a single case when they sent a clear signal to animal abusers that their conduct won’t be tolerated. Simply allowing them to say, ‘we didn’t do anything wrong, and we won’t do that again for an upcoming two-year period is barely enforcement.”

USDA has recently posted numerous “consent decisions” related to walking horse trainers who have long records of violating the federal law. Suspensions for the trainers Herbert Derickson, Dick Peebles, Larry Edwards, and Gary Edwards don’t begin until after the 2019 show season that will be kicked off at the Walking Horse Trainers’ Show in Shelbyville, Tennessee on March 21st. Both Derickson’s and Gary Edward’s suspensions don’t begin until December 2020, and September 2022 respectively, allowing those trainers to continue to compete for the next 2-3 years before receiving any punishment. Each of these individuals are “World Grand Champion” trainers who have served previous years’ long federal suspensions for violating the HPA.

The Horse Protection Act of 1970 bars exhibiting horses in shows if they had been subjected to soring. Veterinarian U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), have introduced the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings’ Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693 to update and upgrade the 50-year-old statute, and Animal Wellness Action continues to lead the charge on Capitol Hill to pass this critical measure. The PAST Act would eliminate the use of large stacked shoes and ankle chains integral to the soring process, replacing the industry’s failed self-policing program with licensed USDA inspectors at no cost to the taxpayer, and increasing penalties for violators. The measure currently has 174 cosponsors in the House and garnered 290 in the previous Congress.  A Senate companion should be introduced soon by U.S. Senators Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Warner (D-VA).