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Walking Horse Show Supporters Criticize Federal Enforcement Of Anti-Abuse Law

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By Jason Lamb

TULLAHOMA, Tenn. It’s an industry that has been plagued with allegations of animal cruelty, but supporters of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry said feds in charge of upholding an anti-animal abuse law may be going too far.

Jerry Harris covers the walking horse industry for a cable access show in Tullahoma, and in recent years, said he’s seen a startling trend in the USDA government regulators who inspect horses for abuse before and after shows, under the federal Horse Protection Act or HPA. 
He said it seems they’re issuing violations where none actually exist.

At issue is a horse named Master Class, shown at the Kick-Off Classic in Shelbyville last month.

Master Class passed a pre-show inspection by horse show managers, but just 10 minutes later, after the competition, USDA gave the horse a violation for showing evidence of being scarred.  Harris says that's impossible, especially when he said he has video taken after the violation that shows Dr. John Bennett, an independent equine vet, saying nothing was wrong with the horse.  The USDA responded today, saying, in fact, it is possible to show evidence of scaring that quickly, saying training tools, lubrication, or even sweat, dust and dirt can irritate a horses skin and result in a scar rule violation.

But Harris said that explanation doesn’t account for cell phone video he has of Master Class’s actual USDA inspection last month, showing the USDA inspector pulling back hair on the horse.  Harris says pulling back the hair makes the horse appear to have scars, while photos of the horse are taken for evidence.

“You and I both know hair doesn't grow on a scar, but if I start pulling hair apart and pinching it apart, it will show skin down there,” said Harris.

The USDA responded by saying it’s important to look at skin condition of a horse in determining if it has been sored, and pulling back the horses hair allows for that.

The USDA told NewsChannel 5 it is simply trying to uphold the federal Horse Protection Act meant to keep horses from being abused, but Harris said he thinks USDA inspectors are trying to save their jobs by continuing to issue violations, even when he said they’re not necessary.

Congress is currently considering several different bills on Capitol Hill that would amend the current Horse Protection Act, including bills written by Senator Lamar Alexander, Representative Marsha Blackburn, and Kentucky Representative Ed Whitfield
.

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