Vet groups urge vigilance at top walking-horse show

The annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which began this week, can be certain of one thing as America’s top walking horses strut their stuff – the show has never been under greater scrutiny.

Agencies have the show under a microscope over soring – the use of chemical or mechancial irritants on the lower legs of horses to encourage the higher gait so desirable in the walking-horse industry.

The illegal practice has been in the spotlight this year following  prosecutions.

The Humane Society of the United States said this week it would be assessing the effectiveness of the monitoring program at the show to catch soring offenders.

President and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said he had concerns about the validity and transparency of “this latest incarnation of the industry’s attempts at self-regulation”, which he said had failed miserably for over three decades.

The society has also offered a reward of up to $US10,000 to catch soring offenders.

Now, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) have chimed in on the soring debate.

They have urged veterinarians, owners, trainers, riders, event spectators, media and the public to redouble their efforts to identify and report sored horses at this year’s 10-day show in Shelbyville.

This included reporting suspected soring activity in barns and training facilities in the Shelbyville area, the groups said.

They urged vigilance because of concerns that sored horses would be participating at the Celebration.

“Soring is a federal crime, in addition to being a felony offense in Tennessee,” AVMA president Dr Doug Aspros said.

“It is up to each of us—veterinarians, inspectors, judges, owners, trainers, riders and even spectators at these shows — to take responsibility for ending soring.

“There must be zero tolerance for this abuse. While soring clearly violates the Horse Protection Act, failing to report soring is also ethically and professionally indefensible.

“We urge anyone with concerns to contact the USDA and local law enforcement officials.”

For more than 40 years, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has worked to enforce the Horse Protection Act, which bans soring.

The USDA recently took another step toward ending soring by instituting mandatory penalties for violators.

SHOW, a horse industry organization (HIO) that will be inspecting horses during this year’s Celebration, is one of three HIOs for which the USDA is pursuing decertification, citing failure to comply with USDA mandatory penalties.

SHOW has claimed a 98.5 per cent compliance rate with the act at events they inspect.

However, the USDA swab tests on 52 horses at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration resulted in 52 positive findings for foreign substances.

According to the USDA, 37 of the 52 horses tested positive for one or more anesthetic agents.

Anesthetic agents are frequently used to mask pain from soring during inspections.

In addition, three of the seven individuals listed as judges for this year’s Celebration have been cited for soring violations in years past.

The presidents of the AVMA and AAEP said they decided to issue a joint call-to-action encouraging all veterinarians to aggressively identify and report violators of the act and supporting strong USDA enforcement.

The move, they said, was “to heighten awareness and address failures in industry self-policing”.

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