The Shelbyville-based SHOW Horse Industry Organization claims the U.S. Department of Agriculture's rule change placing the walking horse industry in charge of enforcing anti-abuse penalties is unconstitutional, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
The suit asserts private organizations do not possess subpoena power or personnel to judge and prosecute cases of horse abuse.
"The rule also punishes those who are working hardest to reform the industry as they have the most stringent rules," a SHOW press release stated.
Earlier this month the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service required horse industry organizations that license Designated Qualified Persons as inspectors to assess minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act.
"The new rule adopted by the USDA attempts to force private organizations to impose federal mandatory suspension penalties on participants in horse shows for violations of federal law with no regard for the accused individual's constitutional rights," SHOW said.
Under the Horse Protection Act, only the Secretary of Agriculture could issue civil penalties for violations and only after the accused was given notice of the violation and a right to a hearing before an administrative law court.
"Reformers within the walking show horse industry are committed to self-regulation as demonstrated by recent efforts but the USDA's regulations are not only unconstitutional, they unfairly punish those most aggressively working to clean up the industry," said SHOW representative Dr. Stephen L. Mullins.
"SHOW and other HIOs simply cannot comply with the new rule as they are unable to meet the requirements necessary to protect an accused's statutory and constitutional due process rights and would bear an unreasonable burden of legal exposure associated with the inability to do so," the suit states.
"As a result, SHOW and the other Plaintiffs would not be able to continue to participate in the HIO system, hindering their efforts to protect the horse."
USDA officials said earlier this month that the new plan will "help ensure a level playing field for competitors at all horse shows.
"Previously, as some horse industry organizations have declined to issue sufficiently serious penalties to deter soring, these shows have attracted more competitors than shows where horse organizations have used APHIS' minimum penalty protocols," the USDA said in a press release.
"With this final rule, competitors now know that inspections and enforcement will take place consistently at all shows they and their horses attend," the USDA said.
SHOW's press release indicates strong disagreement with that stance.
"The proposed scheme will also provide a disincentive for participants to show at events that are inspected by HIOs because of concerns surrounding the lack of due process," SHOW said.
"Consequently, more horses will be shown at events with no inspection process whatsoever. This is clearly not in the best interest of the horse and frustrates the purpose of the Horse Protection Act itself."
"SHOW leaders created the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) to lead the effort to institute reforms that will protect the wellbeing of walking horses, while maintaining the integrity of the sport," the release said, emphasizing SHOW's newly-adopted swabing protocol in which feet are checked for harmful substances during horse shows.
"Members of TWSHO have done more to reform the industry in the last three years than the USDA has done since the passage of the Horse Protection Act over 40 years ago. TWSHO continues to ask the USDA to partner in its reform efforts, to no avail."
Contender Farms of Ft. Worth, Texas, and its owner/general partner Mike McGartland are also plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed in the Northern District of Texas.