Times editorial: Long overdue rules will restore value to Tennessee Walking horses
NASHVILLE — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., is criticizing a new rule by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that impacts Tennessee's walking horse industry.
The senator said Saturday in a news release he hopes Republican President-elect Donald Trump's pick for Agriculture secretary won't agree with the rule, which gives the USDA authority to ban stacks, pads, chains and other devices designed to achieve a high-stepping "big lick" and allows the agency to take over training, screening and licensing of inspectors from a system that now polices itself.
"I am in favor of wiping out the contemptible and illegal practice of horse soring, not wiping out the century old tradition of showing Tennessee walking horses as this rule could do," Alexander said. "I and other members of Congress introduced legislation last Congress that would end horse soring."
He went on: "I would hope the new Secretary of Agriculture will not concur with this overreaching rule announced during the last few days of the Obama administration and instead will work with Congress to enact legislation that punishes trainers, owners and riders who abuse horses while preserving the opportunity for law abiding horse enthusiasts to participate in competitions that are the basis of the Tennessee walking horse industry."
Trump has yet to name his choice to head the Department of Agriculture.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, whose 4th Congressional District includes the walking-horse capital of Shelbyville, posted on Facebook the industry has worked to improve itself.
"The Tennessee walking horse industry has made enormous strides to correct its training practices," the South Pittsburg Republican wrote.
"Despite the one-sided story from opponents, industry professionals are making progress all the time, as fans expect them to. We want what's best for horses and a popular Tennessee tradition. But this latest midnight regulation could lead to its demise. I'm working with our state's delegation and the new Administration to protect the sport and also famed Tennessee walking horses."
The new USDA rule has been hailed by critics of the walking horse industry, including the Humane Society of the United States.
According to Alexander's office, the Tennessee walking horse industry supports more than 20,000 jobs nationwide and pumps $3.2 billion into the nation's economy. In 2014, there were more than 350 shows contributing millions of dollars to local economies. There are 275,000 walking horses registered nationwide, including more than 90,000 in Tennessee and more than 40,000 in Kentucky.
On Jan. 13, USDA published the final rule: "Horse Protection: Licensing of Designated Qualified Persons and Other Amendments." It requires the agency to assume responsibility for training, screening and licensing horse inspectors and bans the use of all "action devices."
The final rule could have "a significant negative effect on the Tennessee walking horse industry and the small businesses and communities benefiting from the industry," Alexander's news release asserts.
Last year, Alexander signed on to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's letter asking the assistant deputy administrator at USDA to extend the comment period for the proposed rule for at least 60 days to gather evidence and information.
In the last Congress, Alexander, McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced legislation to take additional steps to end horse soring, while preserving what they say is the "Tennessee walking horse tradition."