In a report issued recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Office of Inspector General recommended that veterinarians replace current inspectors for the purpose of examining show horses for evidence of soring, an illegal practice in violation of the Horse Protection Act.
The USDA’s Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service (APHIS) program is responsible for evaluating the horses, but their budget is grossly inadequate, allowing them to send veterinarians to only a very small percentage of horse shows each year.
Conflicts of interest are also a problem.
In order to bridge the APHIS inspection gap, horse show sponsors hire their own inspectors, known as Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). Since the DQPs are employed by the people putting on the shows, and are often exhibitors themselves, they are not highly motivated to ticket other exhibitors or remove horses from shows.
Penalizing exhibitors with sored horses can result in retribution if those exhibitors work as DQPs at other shows. Pulling sored horses from shows affects the bottom line, which is not something the organizers are in favor of.
As a result, DQPs issue few violations when not accompanied by an APHIS employee.
Another problem is the overt hostility of exhibitors toward APHIS workers at horse shows. The USDA audit revealed cases of inspectors denied access to horses requiring examination, and instances of verbal abuse of inspectors. The hostile environment has led APHIS to bring armed security or police with them to shows.
The USDA’s report states, “Many in the horse show industry do not regard the abuse of horses as a serious problem, and resent USDA inspections. The practice of soring has been ingrained as an acceptable practice in the industry for decades.”
In its response to the report, APHIS states that it will seek another $400,000 in funding for 2011 to bring its budget up to $900,000 per year. Another recommendation from the report, publishing lists of Horse Protection Act violators on its website, already has been put into effect by APHIS.
But turning the inspections over solely to veterinarians is not a move APHIS is willing to make right now, says USDA spokesperson Dave Sacks.
“We want to revise the regulations to require those DQPs to be licensed with APHIS and independent from the horse show industry instead of saying it’s going to be nothing but veterinarians,” Sacks explains.