OIG Condemns Industry Show Horse Inspection Program

show horseThe Horse Protection Act, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 1821 et seq. is supposed to protect horses used in shows and exhibitions from "soring" which is defined as:

  (A) an irritating or blistering agent has been applied, internally or externally, by a person to any limb of a horse,
(B) any burn, cut, or laceration has been inflicted by a person on any limb of a horse,
  (C) any tack, nail, screw, or chemical agent has been injected by a person into or used by a person on any limb of a horse, or
(D) any other substance or device has been used by a person on any limb of a horse or a person has engaged in a practice involving a horse,
 and, as a result of such application, infliction, injection, use, or practice, such horse suffers, or can reasonably be expected to suffer, physical pain or distress, inflammation, or lameness when walking, trotting, or otherwise moving, except that such term does not include such an application, infliction, injection, use, or practice in connection with the therapeutic treatment of a horse by or under the supervision of a person licensed to practice veterinary medicine in the State in which such treatment was given.

In the Act, Congress stated "the soring of horses is cruel and inhumane………[H]orses shown or exhibited which are sore, where such soreness improves the performance of such horse, compete unfairly with horses which are not sore". Horses found to be "sore" are disqualified from shows or exhibitions and cannot be sold at auction. 18 U.S.C. Sections 1822-1823. The regulations are at 9 CFR Part 11.

All well and good except the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture charged with enforcing the law through its agency, the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), has allowed the industry to provide its own inspectors called "designated qualified persons" or DQPs.

The Office of Inspector General for USDA has released an audit finding DQPS trained and licensed by the industry have a clear conflict of interest.

OIG found "DQPs do not always inspect horses to effectively enforce the law and regulations, and in some cases where they do find violations, they deliberately issue tickets to friends or family members of responsible individuals [or even employees like stable hands] so that the responsible person could avoid receiving a penalty for violating the Horse Protection Act."

OIG added: "Overall, we found that DQPs working independently issued few tickets; they were much more likely to issue violations when they were being observed by an APHIS employee. From 2005 to 2008, APHIS veterinarians were present at only 6 percent of all shows, yet DQPs issued 49 percent of all violations at these shows. In other words, DQPs noticed about half of the violations they found at the small number of shows where they were being observed by an APHIS employee." The OIG noted in its audit report that the DQPs identified much more closely with the needs of the exhibitor than of the horse. 

Also, the OIG auditors found that when DPQs did purport to look for soring, they often did not perform proper inspections.

"Additionally, the environment for enforcing the Horse Protection Act is hostile. Many in the horse show industry do not regard the abuse of horses as a serious problem, and resent USDA performing inspections. The practice of soring has been ingrained as an acceptable practice in the industry for decades….

"APHIS employees were subjected to intimidation and attempts to prevent them from inspecting horses. Show organizers, exhibitors, and spectators denied the inspectors the physical environment they needed to inspect horses, verbally abused them, and even made anti-USDA comments over the public address system. APHIS reports describe one incident where a representative of show management made a speech during a horse show discussing how the government bullied the walking horse industry and urged people to stand up to this unjust treatment. The crowd cheered these sentiments."

The OIG pointed out there are insufficient controls for APHIS to make sure horses of owners suspended or diqualified for violations, are not, in fact, participating in shows or exhibitions or sending sore horses for sale at auctions. OIG recommended abolishing the industry inspection program and seek additional funding for a veterinarian-based inspection program under APHIS authority. OIG also recommended (1) development of a searchable database of individuals in violation of the Act and suspended from participating in shows and exhibitions; (2) some way to penalize inspectors who fail to perform adequate inspections, and (3) development of protocols for more consistent negotiation of penalties for violators.

APHIS has said the agency will accept and implement OIG’s recommendations.