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History of the NASMA and the Gaited Saddle Mule
Policing Abuse in the Saddle Mule Industry


Boot Scootn Boogie
Boot Scootn Boogie

When The North American Saddle Mule Association began developing the show rules for approved NASMA events, the newly formed American Gaited Mule Association (AGMA) requested gaited rules be included that would govern the exhibition of the gaited mule. While AGMA includes all types of gaited mules from various gaited breeds of horses, Tennessee Walking Horses were, by far, the most popular source for gaited mule dams and the very smooth flat and running walk gaits. The desire of the newly formed organization in regard to these rules was to protect the gaited saddle mule, no matter what breed of origin, from the ever growing abuses that were coming under scrutiny in the Walking Horse industry. With the increasing popularity of the smooth gaited saddle mule for trail riding, AGMA realized that this mule would soon be a favorite in the show ring just like its gaited horse cousins.

Many of the Charter Members of AGMA are also Charter Members of NASMA. Their insistence on NASMA gaited rules that protected the animal from abuse and held owners, trainers and riders accountable for their actions resulted in rules and restrictions which prevented those actions prevalent in the horse industry. Realizing that unscrupulous individuals from the Walking Horse industry might see an opportunity to use their unprincipled practices in a new, unsuspecting equine venue, NASMA and AGMA decided to make sure the gaited rules prevented them from doing so. In other words, AGMA intended to head them off at the pass and NASMA helped.

One of the issues that needed to be addressed in the rules was the soring. This practice which is described according to the USDA, "The application of any chemical or mechanical agent applied to the lower leg or hoof of any horse that causes pain, or, can be expected to cause pain, for the purpose of "enhancing" the horse's gait for show purposes is strictly prohibited under The Horse Protection Act, as amended (15 U.S.C. SS 1821 - 1831)." There are many ways to sore horses. As a sore horse tries to escape the pain in his front feet and lower legs, he snatches them up quickly, which gives the "desired effect" of tremendous lift in the front. Meanwhile, he tries to take as much weight as possible off his front feet by shifting his weight to his back feet, squatting down in the rear as he reaches beneath himself with his hind legs.

In 1970 a Federal Horse Protection Act was passed as law to be enforced through the United States Department of Agriculture, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Congress found and declared that the "soring" of horses is cruel and inhumane and that sored horses when shown or exhibited compete unfairly with horses that have not been sored. Although a similar gait can be obtained naturally by conventional training methods, soring achieves the desired gait faster and more easily and gives the user an unfair advantage. Eventually, the definition of sored was expanded to include scars on the lower legs caused by inhumane treatment, along with illegal shoeing measures that produced exaggerated gait.

In l976 an amendment was passed to the above law to expand the inspection process (which had formerly been to allow only licensed veterinarians to inspect horses). The DQP (Designated Qualified Person) program was part of this amendment. A DQP is a person who under the law may be appointed authority by the management of a horse show or sale to inspect horses for the purposes of determining "soreness" and enforcing the law. Individuals who are licensed as DQPs are usually farriers, trainers or long-time horse people with a basic knowledge of horses and the equine industry. DQPs must successfully complete a formal training program before becoming licensed and attend a yearly "update" training course to stay certified and licensed. Although they hold a license "through" a breed organization (known as an HIO -- Horse Industry Organization), these licenses are good nation-wide and for any breed and are Federally sponsored.

Any horse show management may hold a horse show without having a DQP present, but should the USDA veterinary medical officers attend and find a sore horse, then there is no "middleman" (i.e. DQP) to protect the show officials from prosecution and/or fines for allowing a sored horse to show. Be aware that once the DQP is on the grounds, he/she is a Federal official with a lot of authority and should be treated with respect.

It was only a matter of time before the USDA would take notice of such large shows such as The Great Celebration Mule Show and begin to investigate possible abuse. Having a DQP present was obligatory in order to check abuse of the mules, but the prosecution of show management for allowing such practices.

At shows where a DQP is present, the horse MUST be presented to the DQP for inspection before it can enter the warmup area (usually two to three classes in advance) and ultimately the show ring as access to the show ring is only through the warmup area. The horse must be presented again each time it enters the warmup area.

In addition to the inclusion of the DQP as NASMA shows which offered gaited classes, AGMA and NASMA decided to include rules for the “built up” mules or mules on pads. These are mules who are not “flat shod”, but have had pads added their feet to affect their gait like Tennessee Walking Horses. The effect of pads on feet can be as abusive as soring with deterioration of the mule’s foot through disease. While NASMA has no authority in regard to these practices at the training farm, it does in any event sponsored by NASMA. And, that’s exactly why NASMA developed rules for built up mules. If classes for built up mules are outlined and can be provided by show management, unless those classes are offered, entry of built up mules into the flatshod classes is prevented. To avoid the unfair advantage pads would give that mules against naturally going mules, they were to have classes only for them. This also gave show management the opportunity to eliminate exhibition of built up mules at their show by NOT offering classes for them.

Consequently, NASMA included the use of the DQP and making a place for the “built up” mule in the rules regarding the exhibition of gaited mules to protect the mules, those who train them naturally and the show management. Apparently it was a good decision because, while the use of soaring may be considered and practiced by some mule trainers, the use of the DQP has prevented its pervasiveness in the mule industry as we’ve seen in the Walking Horses.

While some gaited exhibitors might complain about the cost of the DQP being added to entries, their use has safeguarded mules from soring abuse and reinforced NASMA objectives to protect the saddle mule. And, the use of pads to affect the mules gait has not been observed except in a few instances and no classes, as of yet, have been offered to encourage this practice.

It appears to have been a wise choice on the part of NASMA with the help of AGMA and the best way to police the saddle mule industry before the Federal Government gets involved as it had to in the horse industry.



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