Injured walking horses will not be eligible for breeders incentive fund

By Janet Patton - jpatton1@herald-leader.com

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Tuesday approved new standards designed to prevent injured walking horses from being eligible for the state's lucrative breeders incentive fund.

The new rules, approved unanimously, are "very significant" said commissioner Ned Bonnie. "It puts Kentucky in the leadership position with respect to how you treat horses and it has made the benefits contingent on treating horses fairly and taking care of them."

Bonnie said the move is designed to combat "soring," the outlawed practice of intentionally injuring Tennessee Walking Horses to achieve an exaggerated showy gait.

Under the new state rules, the Kentucky Walking Horse Association Breeders Incentive Fund will be reinstated next year, but the parent group will no longer be able to use its own inspectors at horse shows that award points.

To be eligible for incentives, the group will have to use inspectors from one of three "anti-soring" activist organizations — the Friends of Sound Horses, the National Walking Horse Association, or the Horse Protection Commission.

The Kentucky Walking Horse Association has operated the breed incentive fund since the state began the program in 2006, but it was suspended in February after concerns were raised about renewing the group's program.

Bonnie's committee "determined that prior actions of (the group) have not been consistent with the best interests of the walking horse industry or the (Kentucky Horse Racing Commission)," according to its findings.

Bonnie said Tuesday that the Kentucky Walking Horse Association's incentive fund also will be required to submit more financial information, including audits.

About $375,000 in state tax money that would have been available for horses competing in 2009 shows will go into an escrow fund to be added to the 2010 incentives. In 2007, the most recent year figures were available, more than $387,500 was set aside for walking horses from the sales tax on stud fees.

Earl Rogers, head of the KWHA incentive fund, would not comment.

Last year, despite assurances from Rogers that no money had gone to participants with violations of the federal Horse Protection Act, Herald-Leader and state investigations found that more than a dozen fund recipients had been cited.

Last October, the racing commission approved rules specifically making HPA violators ineligible for incentive funds.

Donna Benefield, administrative director of the Horse Protection Council, hailed the changes. "I think it's going to be a huge, huge incentive to fix a very long problem," Benefield said afterward.

"We want all the inspections done fairly and equally. ... I think this gives Kentucky the opportunity to become a leader in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry."

Also Tuesday, the commission approved a settlement with Thoroughbred racehorse trainer Richard Dutrow, who was cited in 2008 for improper medication use in a horse named Salute the Count. Dutrow will serve a 30-day suspension of his license from Nov. 15 through Dec. 15 and surrender the horse's purse.

Reach Janet Patton at jpatton1@herald-leader.com or (859) 231-3264 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3264.