From: Shelbyville Times-Gazette
By: Jason Reynolds
Fifty-nine Congressional sponsors of the PAST Act are renewing their call to the USDA to actively inspect horses at The Celebration.
The representatives sent a letter on Aug. 7 to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. They repeated that call on Thursday in a press release to the media by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, and Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, two of the main sponsors of the PAST Act.
In the letter, the Congress members urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to “undertake a substantial and active on-the-ground role to ensure enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) at this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration,” according to the press release by Whitfield’s office.
The letter expresses concern with the decertification process against the SHOW HIO, alleged reports that SHOW inspectors have not been effective and concern over the judges selected for The Celebration. The letter also takes issue with The Celebration’s work with groups that oppose the PAST Act.
Mike Inman, CEO of The Celebration, said in a statement, “I find it unfortunate that these people are questioning his leadership (Vilsack) and the integrity of the USDA.
“Blanket attacks on individuals from the horse industry organization and non-conflicted inspectors is an assault on the USDA’s inspection and certification process,” Inman continued.
“These people are trained, tested and certified annually — regardless of how many years they have been doing the job — by the USDA. If the USDA did not feel they were competent, they wouldn’t hold these positions.”
The Times-Gazette asked the USDA to respond to the letter, including whether it will affect Celebration operations and whether the government will inspect horses before and after the show, and remove shoes and pads.
“APHIS VMOs observe horses during a show and may examine any horse for signs of soring or other violations of federal regulations, Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist, legislative and public affairs, U.S. Department of Agriculture-APHIS, said in response.
“The VMOs also evaluate DQPs’ inspection procedures. A DQP may have his or her license canceled if his or her inspection procedures do not meet federal regulation standards. APHIS decides which horses to inspect for multiple reasons.
“For instance, if during DQP inspection there is a noticeable reaction to palpation and/or abnormal movement but the horse is not found in violation, APHIS inspectors would inspect the horse. APHIS also randomly swabs horse’s legs to test for foreign substances. Post show horses are also randomly selected for inspection by APHIS inspectors.”
The press release by Whitfield and his colleagues continued: “We urge the department to aggressively inspect horses in each class, both pre-show and post-show, each night of the Celebration — not merely monitor the performance of DQPs.
“We expect that the department’s inspection protocol will include the use of thermography and pastern swabs to identify foreign substances, and that these tools will be part of the enforcement process, not just for information gathering. In addition, because of the increasing incidence of pressure shoeing in recent years, we ask that the department make good on past threats to remove shoes and pad packages as part of its inspection.”