New bill promotes soundness of horses, integrity of sport

Rep. Marsha Blackburn has introduced new legislation that would bring more science and an objective testing process to inspect Tennessee Walking Horses.

Blackburn’s bill, H.R. 4098, also would create one independent inspection entity instead of the current multiple HIO system managed by industry participants and would call for inspectors to be without conflicts of interest.

Also, unlike other proposed legislation, which creates an additional layer of government bureaucracy with a significant cost to taxpayers and eliminates 85 percent of horses competing today, the Blackburn bill would require the industry to utilize the Independent Inspection entity that would implement objective inspection methods to improve the recent industry monitoring of itself, which has resulted in a sharp decline of soring practices in the last couple of years. Recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture shows a compliance rate greater than 96 percent.

The bill was met with immediate praise by those involved in the performance or walking horse industry, including Jim Cortner, chairman of the Performance Show Horse Association.

“We have maintained all along that there are means of addressing the issue without the draconian measures outlined in the PAST Act,” Cortner said. “I’m glad to see that Congresswoman Blackburn and her staff have come up with a commonsense approach that puts objectivity and science at the forefront of our inspection program like most other equine breeds. This is a bill we can get behind.

“Protecting the soundness of the horse and the integrity of the sport is a requirement,” Cortner added. “We’re moving from a situation where even USDA inspectors sometimes disagreed on whether a violation has occurred to an era where regulations and violations are based on science and technology that is proven, reliable and reproducible.”

Among other provisions of the bill are: objective inspections; using science based protocols, that are capable of producing scientifically reliable, reproducible results; create a single Independent Inspection HIO; governed by an independent board appointed by the heads of State Agriculture agencies from Tennessee and Kentucky, which in concert with the industry representatives will select three additional independent members; and the independent HIPO will only license qualified, conflict free inspectors

Blackburn is the primary sponsor, but she already has secured additional co-sponsors, including members of the delegations in Tennessee and Kentucky, which have the most Tennessee Walking Horses in the country. Other co-sponsors are expected to sign on in the next few days.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors Association, founded in 1935 with more than 7,500 members, Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, founded in 1939 and crowning World Champion Tennessee Walking Horses for 75 years, and the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association all support the bill. In meetings of the boards of directors and executive committees of the organization, the new legislation received a unanimous vote of endorsement by each one.

Posted on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 2:55 pm