Walking horse group challenges rule changes

Shoes used to force Tennessee Walking horses to exaggerate their gait.
Shoes used to force Tennessee Walking horses to exaggerate their gait. © HSUS

A walking horse industry group is challenging a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule change requiring, among other things, mandatory minimum penalties for soring offences, describing the move as unconstitutional.

The SHOW horse industry organization argues the regulations unfairly punish those cleaning up the industry and hinders reform efforts.

Its lawsuit seeks to prevent the USDA bringing the new rule into effect on July 9.

The change will force the walking show horse industry to be responsible for managing the legal process surrounding penalties, including imposition of minimum penalties for offences around soring, which involves using chemical or mechanical irritants to encourage a higher gait in walking horses.

SHOW, in announcing the federal court challenge on Monday, said: ” The rule … punishes those who are working hardest to reform the industry as they have the most stringent rules.”

President Dr Stephen Mullins said: “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.

SHOW said 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.

The scheme proposed by the USDA would require SHOW and other horse industry organizations to function as legal tribunals and require them to impose federally mandated penalties while denying the accused any possibility of an appeal to either the agency or a United States Court of Appeals, the organisation said.

It argues the  new rule violates the United State Constitution, the Horse Protection Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Under the Horse Protection Act, Congress protected an accused’s due process rights by requiring that only the Secretary of Agriculture could issue civil penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act and only after the accused was given notice of the violation and a right to a hearing before an administrative law court.

The act also specifically grants the right to appeal an agency decision to the appropriate United States Court of Appeals.

None of these constitutional protections are address by the new rule, SHOW argues.

As private organizations, horse industry organisations such as SHOW do not have the authority or expertise to interpret federal law as they would be required to do under the new scheme, it argues.

Such organisations do not possess subpoena power and do not have the personnel to act as investigators, judges or “court” staff.

Under the new rule, horse industry organisation are required to find a violation, prosecute the alleged violation and process any appeal within 60 days or be decertified.

“This 60-day requirement to issue a federally mandated suspension has been imposed despite the fact that in cases prosecuted by the USDA the average length of time between an alleged violation and the finalization of an appeal is 70 months,” SHOW said.

SHOW said it, and other horse industry organisations, 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.

As a result, SHOW and the other plaintiffs in the case – Contender Farms, and Mike McGartland, a Tarrant County, Texas, resident and owner and general partner with Contender Farms – would not be able to continue to participate in the system, hindering their efforts to protect the wellbing of  horses.

The proposed scheme will also provide a disincentive for participants to show at events that are inspected by horse industry organisation because of concerns surrounding the lack of due process, SHOW argues.

“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 said its leaders created the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) to lead the effort to institute reforms that will protect the wellbeing of walking horses and maintain the integrity of the sport.

“TWSHO leaders understand that the industry will not survive if those who love the walking horse, as well as the sport, do not crack down on those bad actors who are in it only for themselves. ”


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