Will Trump's election change USDA action? Horse industry leaders hopeful

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Tennessee Walking Horse observers say they are essentially in a wait-and-see pattern on whether Donald Trump's incoming presidential administration will affect proposed changes to the industry.

"We feel now we can have our voice heard," said trainer Herbert Derickson. "It is the most hopeful thing we have heard in a while."

Will they or won't they?

For much of 2016, the walking horse industry has been consumed with proposed executive action to change the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent alleged soring. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in July proposed major executive changes to the act after the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act introduced in Congress in 2013 failed to reach a vote over multiple years. The legislation sought to ban performance devices and end industry enforcement. An alternative, industry-supported bill by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN, also failed to gain traction.

The department's current proposed action is similar to the PAST Act. The department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposal would give the agency responsibility for training, screening and licensing of horse inspectors. The new inspectors would be veterinarians and veterinary technicians. APHIS also would ban all action devices, pads and foreign substances used at shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions.

No 'Midnight Rules?'

The political news website Breitbart reported Thursday that the U.S. House passed legislation, 240-to-179, to allow Congress to undo any last-minute rules and regulations President Barack Obama's administration may put into place. The Senate has not voted on the so-called "Midnight Rules" legislation, and it was not immediately clear how such a law would fare against a presidential veto if Congress approved it during Obama's remaining time in office.

Industry optimistic

One walking horse expert said he is cautiously optimistic.

"We are at least more optimistic than we would have been had (Hillary) Clinton won. By no means do we think this absolutely means there will be no rule," said Jeffrey Howard, publisher of The Walking Horse Report and a board member of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. "We still believe that a modified final rule will be promulgated and very likely it will contain provisions that we will challenge in court."

USDA reviews options

Meanwhile, the USDA is not saying much about its plans for the proposed executive actions.

"We are still reviewing the comments and then we will evaluate what our next steps will be," said Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist, legislative and public affairs, for the department's APHIS division. "There is no timeframe associated with this as we want to make sure that we thoroughly review the comments."

APHIS accepted public comments during public hearings, through the internet and by phone throughout the late summer and early fall, including a meeting in Murfreesboro on Aug. 9. The comment period ended Oct. 26 after being extended by a month.

For his part, Derickson said he and trainers he has spoken to feel like a Republican-controlled Congress with a Republican president will be "more in tune with our industry's views."

"We kind of felt like we were speaking on deaf ears for a while," he said, adding that trainers are hoping for consistent show inspections.