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Judge lets stand rules protecting show horses

By KAREN LEE SCRIVO

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge let stand Tuesday an interim Agriculture Department decision to impose stricter rules protecting show horses from painful treatment that improves the look of their gait.

The decision came after attorneys for the Agriculture Department, the American Horse Protection Association, Inc. and Tennessee Walking Horse organizations failed to agree on interim rules during a short recess in the hearing.

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Judge Oliver Gasch denied the requests to intervene in the case from the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, Inc. and the Friends of the Show Horse.

'We're disappointed,' John Harmon, an attorney for the Friends of the Show Horse, said after the hearing. 'There are otherlegal alternatives under consideration,' he added, but did not elaborate.

Many horse shows have been called off since March 21, when Gasch ruled that the U.S. Agriculture Department had not been enforcing the 1970 Horse Protection Act. Horse show representatives said the city of Shelbyville, Tenn., where many shows are held, could lose as much as $25 million as a result of the canceled shows.

The Agriculture Department law, aimed at the walking horse industry, banned soring -- a practice some owners and trainers used to enhance the animal's high-stepping gait. When horses are sored, their feet or legs are injured with chemicals, tacks or other methods to cause them pain so they will reach out with their front feet.

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The Agriculture Department, which inspects walking horses at shows, has allowed the use of bracelet-like chains up to 10 ounces on the horses' legs and 4-inch pads on their feet. But the agency interpreted the federal ruling as banning the use of pads and chains.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association and Friends of the Show Horse, which object to the agency's interpretation, say that the pads do not hurt the horses as long as they do not change the angle of horse's foot.

'We want to eliminate the cheaters, we want to eliminate soring,' Harmon told the court. 'We want to compete fairly.'

But Patricia Carter, a U.S. attorney representing the Agriculture Department, said that the department came up with the interim decision to comply with Gasch's original order..

Attorney Russell Gasper, representing the American Horse Protection Association, Inc., argued that the ban was needed because pads can be used to conceal soring and there is no inspection of this at the shows, he said.

The Tennessee Agriculture Department issued a statement last week in support of the multi-million dollar walking horse industry. In the written statement, Commissioner A.C. Clark defended the use of pads and chains.

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Gov. Ned McWherter, who once owned an interest in a walking horse, said he supports the industry, but would not condone cruelty.

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