More than 50 Congress members have asked USDA Secretary Tom Vilsak to instruct USDA personnel to take an active role in enforcing the Horse Protection Act (HPA) at this year's Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Meanwhile, Celebration Chief Executive Officer Mike Inman called the letter an “assault" on the USDA inspection and certification process.

Under the HPA, which forbids soring, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service enforces the act, certifies Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs), and trains Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). The HIOs hire DQPs to carry out HPA compliance inspections on horses presented for exhibition at the horse shows. Under existing HPA enforcement regulations, violation penalties can be set by either HIOs or APHIS.

In an Aug. 7 letter, 59 members of the House of Representatives, led by Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) and Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee), asked Vilsak to instruct USDA personnel to “aggressively” inspect horses in each class and “not merely monitor the performance of DQPs.” The letter also calls on Vilsak to instruct USDA inspectors to use available protocols and technology to enforce the HPA.

“We expect that the department's inspection protocol with include the use of thermography and pastern swabs to identify foreign substances, and that these tools will be part of the enforcement process and not just for information gathering,” the letter said. “In addition, because of the increased incidence of pressure shoeing, we ask that the department make good on past threats to remove shoes and pad packages as part of its inspection.”<