Senate tables bill to end South Dakota horse brand inspection
February 22, 2013
On Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, the South Dakota Senate tabled Senate Bill 21, "an act to eliminate ownership inspection for horses and mules." If enacted, the law, sponsored by the state department of agriculture, would have done just that – take away the third party verification system for those selling or moving a horse out of the inspection area, a requirement that many horse owners appreciate.
Senator Larry Rhoden, Union Center, said in senate testimony that he had voted in support of the bill when it came before the ag and natural resources committee the week before because nobody provided sufficient testimony as to why horse brand inspection should be maintained. But he decided to support the motion to table on Tuesday after hearing from quite a few horse owners who had been unaware that the measure was being considered, and who did not support it. One of his neighbors, Jim Hunt, a horse breeder from the Faith area, described to Rhoden several scenarios where brand inspection provided a deterrent for a would-be horse thief. "I decided we needed to have firmer footing as to what the implications would be, before even considering the idea," said Rhoden. Tabling the bill effectively killed it, he reported.
But not before horse owners across the state became concerned about the prospect of losing brand inspection for equines.
Chuck Crago who raises and sells horses as well as cattle near Belle Fourche, SD, said he strongly opposes the bill. "A horse is so easy to steal. Cattle can be easy to steal too but horses can be even an easier target because they are usually handled regularly and are gentle. Someone can just walk right up to a horse in the pasture, capture it and walk away with it." He added that valuable horses would be at particular risk and are often in public areas that might be tempting to a potential thief. "Someone could go to a horse show or a rodeo and just drive away with a horse. If they aren't required to travel with a bill of sale or some kind of paper work, they won't have any reason to worry about getting caught," Crago said.
Bruce Crago of Crago Quarter Horses is a brother to Chuck. He also operates a horse and cattle ranch near Belle Fourche. He sells horses privately and at his family's horse sale, and would not like to see horse brand inspection halted. "I'd hate to see them do away with it, my brand is my legal proof of ownership but it doesn't mean much if there is nobody enforcing it." He feels the same way about cattle brand inspection.
South Dakota Stockgrowers Association past president Kenny Fox, a rural Belvidere, SD, rancher, said the organization opposed the measure for several reasons. "One thing that concerns me is that they would have changed the state's definition of livestock – horses would no longer be included in this category. That could open up the possibility of a lot of problems if organizations like the HSUS believe that our state is classifying a horse as a pet," said Fox. He added that he believes as a horse owner, he is entitled to protection similar to a car owner. "I feel that our property should be protected the same as anyone else's property whether it is automobiles or whatever. They say that sixty percent of horses aren't branded but if mine is branded and he's inspected, the inspector will catch him. A lot of cattle aren't branded but they can still be identified as a stray." Brand inspection isn't "foolproof," Fox said, but it is a deterrent to theft and he believes that eliminating it would just make it even easier for people to steal horses.
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South Dakota Brand Board Director Larry Stearns, said the board didn't take any official position on the measure but they were all "kind of in favor of it." The five member board appointed by the governor meets at their Pierre, SD, office and is responsible for the oversight of state's brand recording, inspection and investigations.
Lyla Hutchison a rancher near Wounded Knee, SD, took part in her first meeting in January as a newly appointed brand board member. She was startled to hear of the legislation at first but has now decided that it would be in the best interests of the brand board to see the bill become law. "Horses have very little value anymore – well no value – unless they are a really good horse, and you can still brand if you want, this bill wouldn't change that. She said it doesn't make "a nickel's worth of difference" to her if horse inspection stays or goes, and sees the elimination of horse brand inspection as a convenience. "We still brand our horses and buy and sell some on occasion, but this way we wouldn't have to have them inspected when we leave the state."
Other brand board members are: Wanda Blair, Vale, Bart Blum, Reliance, Curt Mortenson, Fort Pierre and Scott Vance, Faith.
Senate Bill 16, which would have allowed the Brand Board to charge an additional $25 fee to producers for local inspections of 100 head of livestock or less was also tabled by the Senate.