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Horse industry numbs pain for abusers

Horse industry numbs pain for abusers

In two months of outcry over soring of Tennessee Walking Horses, a concerned public has seen the U.S. Department of Agriculture step up penalties and two veterinary associations call for a ban on devices and training methods that inflict pain on show horses.

Meanwhile, what have we seen from the Walking Horse industry itself? Not much.

The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association’s announcement last week of a “new” inspection procedure appears to be little more than an attempt to placate critics and perhaps divert lawmakers who might be inclined to beef up federal oversight.

The trainers’ group has begun doing swabs of horses’ lower legs for forensic testing. USDA inspectors already do this, at the fraction of shows they are able to attend.

If the test results are positive for caustic soring chemicals or masking agents, the trainers’ punishment is little more than laughable: a two-week suspension of the trainer’s license; publishing the violation on the association website; and a request that other industry groups honor the suspension.

Or, put another way: a two-week vacation for animal abusers; a free online ad where unscrupulous horse owners can find trainers who will do dirty work for them (after their vacation); and an empty gesture of solidarity that gives the appearance that the whole industry is tough on abuse.

We’ve seen this behavior before. Every time cases of soring get wide attention, leaders in the Walking Horse industry make empty promises that deflate criticism, the spotlight turns elsewhere, and individuals throughout the industry quietly go back to maiming animals for prize money.

This is not to say that everyone who shows Walking Horses is corrupt; far from it. But there is a habit in this industry of taking the easy way out: Rather than sincerely rooting out abuse, doing whatever it takes to keep the shows and the money rolling.

Consider this statement last week by Winky Groover, spokesman for the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association:

“We’ve been concerned with the swabbing results that the government (USDA) has been putting out and the Humane Society’s been putting out. We’re wanting to do something to prove that this horse can show and be sound and is not being abused. We’re trying to save our industry.”

The first sentence tries to cast doubt on the USDA and the Humane Society, whose videotape captured horse abuse for the world to see. Then the association wants to prove a horse “is not being abused,” rather than finding out whether it is abused. And most telling: “We’re trying to save our industry.”

As long as saving the industry comes before saving the horses, the abuse will continue. Walking Horse fans would do well to compare words with actions before they spend another penny toward a show ticket.

Source: The Tennessean

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