With another horse show season approaching, there still is work to be done to minimize the disparity between inspection results found by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) licensed by USDA-certified Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs).

In addition to work on the alignment of findings, the USDA says it's also working to mitigate noncompliance with the Horse Protection Act (HPA) equipment prohibitions in order to ultimately improve HPA enforcement.

The HPA protects sore horses from unfairly competing with horses that are not sore. According to the HPA, soring a horse for the purpose of exaggerating its gait for competition is inhumane as it involves blistering a horse’s forelimbs through the use of chemical irritants or mechanical devices.

USDA and DQPs licensed by HIOs with USDA-certified programs help management by detecting sore horses through inspection.

On Feb. 3, 2018, USDA hosted joint training with DQPs to discuss updated inspection guidelines and participate in hands-on-inspection exercises.

USDA plans to observe DQP performance and inspect horses for HPA compliance at HPA-covered events it attends this year. It will not select horses that have been identified with a specific HPA noncompliance and are disqualified from participation in an event, for inspection.

In addition, USDA will continue to select a sampling of horses that have been identified as “unsatisfactory,” but without specific HPA non-compliances, to assess the consistency of USDA and DQP inspection findings.

USDA is also trying to change the frequent differences in the thoroughness of DQP inspections when USDA is or is not present at an event.

To eliminate this disparity, USDA says it will attend events connected with HIOs that detected very few or no HPA non-compliances (in padded and flat shod classes) when USDA was not present. It also will inspect horses whose performance fluctuates depending on whether USDA is present. This will identify the actual level of noncompliance at events.

USDA is also mitigating HPA non-compliances recorded during the last show season.

On Feb. 3, USDA and S.H.O.W. HIO hosted the first shoeing clinic open to all owners, trainers, exhibitors, and those who support them. Through this event, USDA and the industry were able to review the inspection process before the start of the show season, taking part in open dialogue and hands-on demonstrations for applying HPA regulations.

Thorough discussions were had on the scar rule, coronary (coronet) band, heel-toe ratio, toe length, heel height, 50% rule, metal hoof bands, objects or material inserted between the pad and hoof, and tack changes.

For more information about specific rules, read USDA’s open letter to those involved in HPA covered activities.