Waterfall owners suspended over alleged violations

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has fined and suspended the owners of Waterfall Farms in Shelbyville for one year from any horse show or event in connection with alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act more than 10 years ago.

William B. (Bill) Johnson and Sandra Johnson of Atlanta, known nationwide as breeders of champion Tennessee Walking Horses, were suspended for a year beginning on Jan. 21, 2011 and were each ordered to pay a $1,000 fine in proceedings instituted under the Horse Protection Act last month, according to a press release from the Int'l Fund for Horses.

The suspension is related to the showing of Tennessee Walking Horse champion JFK All Over at the 30th Annual Spring Fun Show in Shelbyville in May 2000.

The Horse Protection Act is a Federal law that prohibits horses subjected to a practice called "soring" from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions, or auctions.

"Soring" is the illegal practice of deliberately causing pain on the front legs or feet of a horse to create an exaggerated, high-stepping gait.

However, the word "soring" does not appear in any of the USDA documents related to the Johnsons' case.

According to documents filed last month before the Secretary of Agriculture, the Johnsons admit the "jurisdictional allegations" in the complaint and "specifically admit that the Secretary has jurisdiction in this matter," but "neither admit or deny the remaining allegations."

The Johnsons waived their right to an oral hearing and further procedure and consented and agreed to the entry of the decision, the documents stated.

The one-year disqualification means that the Johnsons are barred from showing, exhibiting or entering any horse "directly or indirectly through any agent, employee, family member, corporation or other device ..."

They are also forbidden from judging, managing or otherwise participating in any horse exhibition, sale or auction, either directly or indirectly.

A footnote in the order defines "participating" as engaging in any activity "beyond that of a spectator," meaning the Johnsons can not transport or arrange to transport horses to or from equine events, give instructions to exhibitors, be present in the warm-up or inspection areas or any other area where spectators are not allowed.

The Johnsons are also barred from "financing the participation of others in equine events."

The USDA document, signed on Feb. 2 of this year, only states that on or about May 27, 2000, the Johnsons allowed Sand Creek Farms, Inc and Tim Gray to enter JFK All Over in the 30th Annual Spring Fun Show as entry number 252 in class number 34.

"Bill and Sandra Johnson are a major influence in the Tennessee Walking Horse community in both breeding and showing," Vivian Grant, president of the Int'l Fund for Horses, said in a press release.

"The penalty and suspension issued against the Johnsons by the USDA is particularly significant, and sends a clear message that soring will be punished, no matter what your stature," she added.

The Int'l Fund for Horses also noted that this enforcement against the Johnsons is not the first.

"Waterfall Farms and the Johnsons each were fined $6,600.00 in February 2009 for entering and showing sored Tennessee Walking Horse Champion "John FK's Pusher" in the 33rd Annual National Walking Horse Trainers Show, but not suspended from competing," the press release said. The Johnsons were, however, ordered to "cease and desist from violating the Act."

That alleged incident occurred in January 2000 when the Johnsons retained Sand Creek Farms to train John FK's Pusher. On or about March 24, 2001, The Johnsons allowed Sand Creek Farms and Billy A. Gray to show the horse at the Trainers Show as entry 491 in class number 76.

However, the USDA documents concerning the 2009 matter with the Johnsons also does not mention "soring" either.

The proceedings against the Johnsons were instituted following a complaint filed by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS).

"APHIS' ultimate goal in enforcing the Horse Protection Act is to eliminate soring," stated Dave Sacks, spokesman for the agency. "We will continue to work with the horse industry to protect against this inhumane practice and thereby ensure that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows, exhibits and sales."

According to Waterfall Farms' web site, they have 18 stallions that account for at least 182 world class champion Tennessee Walking Horse titles.

The web site of the Int'l Fund for Horses says it "is the single most influential lobbying and watchdog organization dedicated to equine welfare."

"Founded in 2003, the Int'l Fund for Horses works for the protection of horses through intervention, education and legislation," the web site states.