The USDA will hold a "listening session" in Murfreesboro in April to get public feedback on a number of issues concerning the walking horse industry.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service's (APHIS) Animal Care Program of the USDA will hold the session on April 4 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Doubletree Murfreesboro Hotel at 1850 Old Fort Parkway.
According to a press release from the USDA, APHIS is interested in hearing feedback on topics such as:
* How close are we to achieving the goal of eliminating the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses, noting that Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in 1970?
* Can the industry achieve a consensus on how to carry out a self-regulatory program to enforce the Horse Protection Act in a consistent way?
* What responsibilities should USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) have within the industry?
* How can the industry reconcile its inherent competition aspect with ensuring compliance with the Horse Protection Act?
* What can USDA do now (and in the future) to ensure compliance?
* What responsibilities should USDA have within the industry with respect to enforcement and what hinders oversight of the HIOs and/or industry?
* Should there be a prohibition of all action devices and pads?
* Currently the Horse Protection regulations have a shoe weight limit on yearlings. Should there now be a shoe weight limit for all aged horses?
Late last year, a "unity committee" made up of members from four groups representing the Tennessee Walking Horse industry stated they were against any reduction of pads and action devices for walking horses, also opposing proposed mandatory penalties by the USDA.
The issue of soring has been pushed to the forefront after a federal judge was told Monday that the practice is widespread in the horse industry.
"Every walking horse that enters into a show is sored," Barney Davis said in Chattanooga federal court on Monday when receiving his sentence for soring a spotted saddle horse. "They've got to be sored to walk. There ain't no good way to put it but that's how it is."
Dr. Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Celebration, told the T-G that Davis' statements to the judge were "just his allegations" and that he knows of "a tremendous number of Walking Horse people who continue to put the horse's health and well-being first and foremost."
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association President Marty Irby said in a written statement: "(we) are unequivocal in our stance that horse abuse should not be tolerated, and we support rigorous but fair enforcement of the Horse Protection Act."
Davis was sentenced to a year and a day in prison after pleading guilty to violate the Horse Protection Act, witness tampering and transporting and entering a sored horse into a spotted saddle horse competition.
He will be eligible for release in July, after already serving a number of months awaiting trial. He was locked up last year after investigators video-recorded him helping another trainer "rasp" a horse's hooves to fit it for blocks.
U.S. District Judge Harry S. Mattice likened the abuse to cockfighting and stated that if the practice is as pervasive as Davis claimed, Congress has promoted disrespect for the law by criminalizing the conduct but not enforcing it, the Chattanooga Times-Free Press reported.
The Humane Society of the United States said Tuesday it paid a $10,000 reward to the horse industry participant who provided critical evidence that led to Davis' conviction.