Three Tennessee walking horse groups -- including SHOW, Inc., the horse industry organization (HIO) affiliated with the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration -- have missed a deadline for adopting tougher inspection rules.
The groups could lose their certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which allows them to inspect for violations of the Horse Protection Act.
Last month, SHOW filed a federal suit against the USDA claiming that imposing minimum penalties (from HIOs themselves) for horse abuse is unconstitutional. SHOW stated that private organizations do not possess subpoena power or personnel to judge and prosecute cases of horse abuse, and that SHOW would withdraw from inspections rather than be exposed to possible lawsuits.
However, government attorneys filed a document stating that the HIO/DQP enforcement system is constitutional and the USDA's rule change does not exceed statutory authority nor violate participants' procedural due process rights. The USDA said in June that the new rule would ensure consistent inspections and enforcement at all shows.
Celebration CEO Dr. Doyle Meadows said that due to the appeals process alone, the potential decertification would be "of no relevance this year."
Dr. Steven Mullins of the SHOW HIO stated that their organization "plans on being the HIO to inspect horses at the Celebration this year. As far as answering questions about decertification, this question is now under litigation."
If SHOW loses its certification, USDA spokesman Dave Sacks of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), explained it would be up to the Celebration management to decide who would inspect horses.
"The Celebration can be non-affiliated or affiliated," Sacks explained to the T-G. "Non-affiliated [not working with a particular certified HIO] would make (the) Celebration liable for every horse found to be sore, and the Celebration would be subject to a federal case per violation."
"If affiliated, (the) Celebration does not retain liability for every horse found sore, and it would not be subject to a federal case per violation," Sacks said.
In a recent letter from the USDA to HIOs and associations, Chester Gipson, deputy administer of animal care stated that the government would "continue its own efforts to enforce the HPA (Horse Protection Act) by conducting unannounced inspections at horse shows and focusing its inspection resources at unaffiliated shows and oversight of HIO Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) that pose an increased risk of noncompliance with the HPA."