In a bulletin dated October 21, 2016, the USDA announced “Progress on Horse Protection Goals”. While the title of their bulletin struck fear in horse owners, those fears quickly turned to triumph when reading the bulletin.

The USDA claims that to enhance their working relationships, create better and more transparent lines of communication, and build trust, they are revising their online publications and official correspondences to better explain their regulatory activities.

The USDA has agreed to update their Form 7060, an official letter of warning, to ensure alleged violators of the Horse Protection Act and the public understand it better. Moving forward, the USDA pledges to have up to date information available on their website regarding Horse Protection Act activities and have removed out of date information from their website such as foreign substance reports from 2007-2011 and reports of HIOs from 2010 – 2014. In their place, the USDA promises to post current information to meet their objective of transparency.

Bernadette Juarez, deputy administrator said “By taking these measures, we have begun the very real process of making good on the goals in our strategic plan.”

While all of that sounds like fluff, typical of the USDA, they have changed their categories in their 2016 Activity Report from “Violation” to “Total Number of USDA VMO’s Inspection Results Indicating a Reasonable Belief a Horse Was Sore and Other HPA Noncompliances” and are using the terms “reasonable belief” and “noncompliance” rather than “violation”.  This is a victory because there is a big difference between reasonable belief and violation.

The USDA has also issued a couple of Tech Notes. One is Questions and Answers: APHIS Form 7060, Official Warning Letter Horse Protection Act, which clearly states Form 7060 is administrative correspondence and further states that issuing the Official Warning Letter does NOT constitute a finding of a violation by the agency. This is also  progress because previously, APHIS Form 7060 stated “The Department of Agriculture has evidence that on or about (date) you or your organization committed the following violation of the Federal Regulations:: and also stated “Since violations of the regulations can have serious and costly impact detrimental to the public interest, you are warned of this violation. Any further violation of these regulations may result in assessment of a civil penalty or criminal prosecution.”  It will be nice not to be labeled a violator of a federal law no less for using fly spray on a horse.

Among other things, the Contender Round 2 lawsuit specifically seeks to have the Court rule APHIS Form 7060 unconstitutional because it notes a violation of a federal law while denying the accused the right to due process. While that court case concerning this and other other issues is still pending, it would appear by the USDA agreeing to change the language and clarify that a LOW is NOT a violation is feeling the pressure of litigation and pressure by our lawyers rather than their self proclaimed efforts to build trust.

In a separate Tech Note, dated October 2016, entitled Questions and Answers: Responsibilities of Horse Exhibitors and Transporters under the Horse Protection Act, the USDA has clarified that the Horse Protection Act applies to ALL breeds. That Tech Note states, in part:

Q. Does the HPA apply to horses other than Tennessee Walking Horses and racking horses?

A. Yes. The HPA applies to any horse regardless of breed. However, certain requirements contained in the HPA regulations only apply to Tennessee Walking Horses and racking horses.

The HPA and the regulations established thereunder apply to any person who enters a horse in a horse show or exhibition for the purpose of showing or exhibiting the horse.”

In addition, the HPA applies to any person who shows or exhibits a horse in a horse show or exhibition, such as the rider of a horse.”

In addition, the HPA and regulations apply to any person who allows a horse that he or she owns to be shown or exhibited in a horse show or exhibition.”

This Tech Note also clarifies that the responsibility for disqualifying a sore horse is placed solely on the management of horse shows not APHIS and that you can request a re-examination and testing of the horse immediately after the horse has been examined by the APHIS representative but it must be done before the horse is removed from the APHIS inspection area.

Since the USDA has removed five years of industry violations which are not considered HPA violations, clarification given on the thousands of positive foreign substance results that were previously classified as “violations”, and disqualifications reclassified removing the term “violation”, what’s left?   There are currently 28 individuals listed as being on federal suspension stemming from cases that originated from 2006 through 2016 serving suspensions from eight months to ten years and 1 lifetime ban. 28 individuals who have been afforded the right to due process, though several could not afford legal representation and were forced to consent to fines/suspensions, is a much more accurate number than those thousands previously reported as “violations” where due process was denied and where no legal finding of guilt was ever made.

Please remember that if you bought a bumper sticker, t-shirt, cap or made a donation to FAST, the industry thanks you and it is because of you that progress is finally being made!   We’re not there yet, but this is progress. #WalkProud and stay #WalkingHorseStrong