No matter which side of the aisle that you prefer your elected officials to sit, we all can agree the U.S. presidential election and new administration have thrown prognostication and expectations out the window. Start with the wide assortment of candidates. Of course, this included former Rhode Island governor and plater Lincoln Chafee, whose campaign lasted about as long as the time needed to trim and shoe a horse. Then months and months of campaigning led to the stunning election results. Follow that with the inauguration and the continued inter- and intra-party fighting that brings us to where we are today.
So because the election cycle was so bizarre, then its influence on farriery was equally topsy-turvy. While it is too early to determine how policy will affect broad picture issues, such as how client income will be affected, which subsequently affects farrier income. Instead, the immediate affects arrived by how the USDA announced, backtracked, changed and then eventually failed in its attempts to address soring.
Things began in spring, as the USDA proposed changes to the Horse Protection Act (HPA). These proposed changes lacked definition and comprehensively lumped horseshoers together rather than specifying a breed or discipline. For example, the language indicated a full ban of pads, bands, toe extensions, and action devices, among others.
Hearings were held and the public’s input was collected. Months passed without clarification to the overriding concern that the proposed rule changes were too broad. The USDA amended the original proposal, but still failed to address the farrier industry’s concern.
Farriers dodged a bullet by the avoidance of the baby and bathwater soring for all performance.
After the election, but before the inauguration, the USDA did announce the final changes:
The final rule, which largely mirrors the bipartisan Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 3268/S. 1121), applies only to Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses. This is significant because the original language proposed Aug. 26, 2016, by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), included broad and ambiguous language that included breeds that “perform with an accentuated gait.”
“Congress passed the HPA to end the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses and stop unfair competition,” according to a statement from APHIS. “Strengthening the HPA regulations and the enforcement of alleged violations is the best way to achieve this goal. In addition, the prohibitions on the use of action devices and pads (with certain exceptions) are consistent with recommendations made by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and leading industry standards for equestrian sports.”
However, as the new administration moved in, the USDA’s announced changes were halted and didn’t become law. So months and months later, we have the same soring regulations that we had before the USDA made the springtime announcement.
So all the hubbub and we’re back to status quo. That’s good news for farriers — unless you shoe Tennessee Walkers. Although it is unclear of this administration’s goals, the USDA hasn’t succeeded in enforcement and, in one case featuring a Tennessee farrier, demonstrated an embarrassing attempt to do so.
It remains to be seen what will happen with enforcement. Will the USDA abandon this altogether? What about their original broad proposal? Will legislation proposed by Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander go anywhere?
I would guess that we shouldn’t expect supply shops to hold clearance sales on pads anytime soon. But then again, who knows? If this past election cycle has taught us anything — expect the unexpected.