Former HBPA Prez On 5th Circuit Appeal: ‘No Matter The Result’ Both Sides Expect Supreme Court To Decide HISA’S Fate

U.S. Supreme Court | Getty Images

By T. D. Thornton

Leroy Gessmann, who served as president of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) from 2015 to 2021 and currently works as the Arizona HBPA’s executive director, told commissioners at the Arizona Racing Commission (AZRC) meeting Thursday that regardless of the decision gets handed down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, both the HBPA and its opponents in a 2 1/2-year-old lawsuit to nullify the Horseracing and Safety Integrity Act (HISA) agree that the nation’s highest court will eventually have to be called upon to settle the matter.

Gessmann spoke in the wake of Oct. 4 oral arguments in the Fifth Circuit case that pits the HBPA and 12 of its affiliates against the HISA Authority and the Federal Trade Commission. On May 4, a lower court deemed that the now-in-effect version of HISA is indeed constitutional because a 2022 rewrite of the law fixed constitutionality problems the Fifth Circuit had identified. Shortly after that lower court’s ruling came out in the spring, the HBPA plaintiffs then swiftly filed for another appeal back to the Fifth Circuit, which agreed to hear the case on an “expedited” basis.

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Horsemen’s Advisory: HELP STOP HISA Reach out to your Federal Representatives Today!!

Horsemen’s Advisory: HELP STOP HISA

Reach out to your Federal Representatives Today!!

Help the National HBPA and its affiliates help you! Simply go to the web link below and tell your Congressional Representative to join Rep. Higgins in sponsoring and voting for the Racehorse Health and Safety Act (HB 5693).

We need science-based change that makes racing and training horses safer and doesn’t threaten to put small racetracks and stables out of business while trampling on due process. RHSA uses existing regulatory infrastructure to create consensus-driven uniformity while being transparent and constitutional. Just go to the links above to TAKE ACTION, put in your name, address and email and an automated message will be sent to your member of Congress in the House of Representatives.

PROTECTING THE AMERICAN RACEHORSE, An Op-Ed by Attorney General Jeff Landry

When the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) was jammed into the COVID relief package and passed by Congress in the dead of night, we were told that it was for our own good and the good of America’s racehorses. Despite the fact that the states have successfully managed horse racing for two centuries, we were told by industry elites that uniformity was necessary to protect the health and welfare of the racehorse. In response, Churchill Downs quickly adopted HISA safety rules and was in full compliance during the Kentucky Derby — the first major race run under these new regulations. The result? In the aftermath of the Derby, twelve racehorses were dead. By September of this year, that number had risen to at least twenty-five.

When my office first pushed back against HISA, we were flooded with calls from political insiders who warned us not to get involved. It didn’t matter that HISA was drafted behind closed doors without widespread industry representation, or that its tremendous financial burden — an estimated $66 million in fees in 2023 alone — would put many generational breeders, trainers, and racehorse owners out of business. It didn’t matter that a private corporation would implement this program while keeping its operations and communications secret from the industry, or that its rules were based completely on public perception rather than actual science. It didn’t even matter that our office knew that HISA was unconstitutional — these elitists were hell bent on pushing it through, resulting in chaos, confusion, and the unnecessary death of American racehorses.

Lo and behold, despite all the grandstanding and potentially good intentions of those who lobbied for HISA, its implementation has been an absolute failure by every metric. In pushing a one-size-fits-all program that effectively grants control of an entire industry to a handful of elites within a private entity, the federal government’s plan has not only collapsed from underneath it, but it was also ruled unconstitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And now the time has come to discuss what happens next.

That is why I am proud to support efforts to repeal and replace HISA with the Racehorse Health and Safety Act of 2023 (RHSA). Instead of one-size-fits-all, RHSA offers scientific medication control and safety rules for each unique breed: Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse. It respects the differences between these three communities and actually involves individuals from those disciplines. RHSA has also crafted rules based on breed-specific science and peer-reviewed studies, as well as widespread industry feedback and expertise. If passed, RHSA would create a completely transparent governmental organization that would make its budget, meeting minutes, and communications open to the public. And instead of placing a harsh financial burden on those who work the hardest and receive the least, RHSA will utilize state racing infrastructure and resources to keep costs low.

Designed by horsemen and for horsemen, RHSA also takes its direction from the U.S. Constitution and gives regulatory power to an entity appointed by the states. That means no more grappling over foam whips and counting strikes, or debates on toe grabs and horseshoe shortages. It means industry representation rather than oppression, and uniformity in safety without compromising our differences. More importantly, it means security for horsemen rather than chaos and uncertainty for these hardworking Americans.

That is how we will save our horses: not through secret meetings and votes in the dark of night, but through transparency, open dialogue, and wisdom shared among industry leaders. HISA, for all its pomp and circumstance, never offered us solutions. For many horsemen, it only created illogical problems. That is why our office took the matter to court, and we will continue fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. However, if RHSA is passed by Congress, it will immediately repeal and replace HISA, allowing us all to get back to what we really love: the beauty and excitement of horse racing.

For those of us who have been in this fight from the very beginning, I think we can all agree, protecting the American racehorse is what matters most. That is why I firmly support RHSA as the next step forward.

US Rep Clay Higgins Will Introduce Legislation To Fight Against Federal Overreach And Oppressive Mandates To Improve Integrity Of Horse Racing

September 26, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Clay Higgins (R-LA) will introduce the Racehorse Health and Safety Act of 2023 (RHSA), which would protect the health and welfare of racing horses and improve the integrity and safety of horse racing.


In December 2020, through an omnibus bill, Congress passed the Horseracing Safety and Integrity Act(HISA), which was later signed into law by President Trump. HISA was passed with the intention of bringing uniformity to the horse racing industry by establishing a wide set of rules that would be implemented and enforced by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.


Since its passage, which Congressman Higgins opposed, HISA has been riddled with legal setbacks. After its full implementation, Churchill Downs Racetrack, home of the Kentucky Derby, was forced to shut down after twelve horses died in six weeks. Despite spending millions, the HISA Authority has failed to identify the cause of the problem.


The Racehorse Health and Safety Act would:

  • Repeal the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA).
  • Grant states the right to enter into the interstate compact, which is a contract between multiple states to develop nationwide rules governing scientific control and racetrack safety for horse racing.
  • Establish the Racehorse Health and Safety Organization (RHSO) which will regulate the horse racing industry.
  • Establish three Scientific Medication Control Committees (SMCCs) to draft recommended rules for each breed.


“Government should be a partner to Americans, not a predator,” said Congressman Higgins. “This legislation brings Constitutional liberties and rights to the forefront, protecting the horse racing industry and the beautiful animals that we love.” 


This legislation is endorsed by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent & Protective Association (HBPA), the United Trotting Association (USTA), the North American Association of Racetrack Veterinarians (NAARV), and others.


Read the legislation here.