This week, a few hundred industry participants have gathered in Shelbyville, Tennessee, for the 80th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration: an event that has over the years seen many cruelly treated horses -- victims of a practice known as horse soring -- exhibited and their owners rewarded with world championships. Horse lovers from around the nation have worked to end soring, the intentional infliction of pain on the horses’ legs and hooves to produce an artificial gait known as the “big lick.” Despite the increased awareness and scrutiny of soring, it continues to plague this beautiful and noble breed. For the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, bringing an end to this torment remains one of our top priorities.

We continue to build broad public support for the passage of the federal Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.1847/S. 2957. Recently, we enlisted country music star Tanya Tucker to produce a video in which the singer, an outspoken advocate for animals, proclaims her revulsion to soring. We released the video last week to coincide with the Celebration, and in it Tucker expresses her support for the PAST Act. This urgently needed legislation will fix serious weaknesses in the 1970 Horse Protection Act and finally bring an end to the cruelty of soring by eliminating the failed system of industry self-policing, prohibiting the use of “stacks” and chains that are integral to the soring of Tennessee walking, racking and spotted saddle horse breeds, and strengthening penalties from a misdemeanor to felony level.

Several lead House and Senate sponsors of the PAST Act last week sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service fully enforce the law at the event using all the inspection tools available to the agency, and swiftly prosecute any violators cited at the show. In past years, winners at the event have included horses trained by ThorSport Farm, which, a 2015 investigation by the Humane Society of the United States found, was deeply implicated in soring horses trained at the barn.

APHIS recently released the year-to-date results of inspections conducted at 2018 shows. Not surprisingly, the results reveal fewer or no violations were found at shows at which no USDA staff were present to oversee industry inspectors, compared to shows where USDA inspectors were in attendance. Clearly, self-policing is not working.

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[media-credit name="Photo by Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue" align="alignleft" width="274"]

Last month, we heard of a 16-year-old Tennessee Walking Horse, Mel, who was seized along with a mare and colt and turned over to Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in West Virginia. As more details came to light, the rescue learned that Mel, who had been found knee-deep in feces, was a former world champion who had been painfully sored. Thankfully, he’s in good hands and doing well now.
Photo by Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue

[/media-credit] Last month, we heard of a 16-year-old Tennessee walking horse, Mel, who was seized along with a mare and colt and turned over to the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in West Virginia. The rescue learned that Mel, who had been found knee-deep in feces, was a former world champion who had been painfully sored.[/caption]

Even when industry inspectors do find violations, those industry organizations very seldom impose any penalties whatsoever for those cited, so unless the USDA initiates federal enforcement proceedings, violators get off scot-free.

In an instance that further highlights just how brazen this renegade crowd of lawbreakers involved in soring is, the Celebration recently sold naming rights to its main exhibition arena (now “Maverick Arena”) to Keith and Lorraine Rosbury, owners of the 2017 Celebration World Grand Champion walking horse, Gen’s Black Maverick, for the reported sum of $150,000. The Rosburys and their trainer, Bill Callaway, were cited for Horse Protection Act violations with that very horse at the 2016 Celebration, and were placed on federal disqualification related to that violation shortly after the horse’s win last year.

In recent years, the Humane Society of the United States has submitted several petitions to the USDA, urging the agency to upgrade its regulations to close loopholes, strengthen enforcement and finally, fully crack down on the scofflaw abusers. Although the USDA proposed to implement a final rule that would have addressed many of the persistent problems and a bipartisan group of 154 legislators urged the Trump administration to publish this rule, it stalled when President Trump froze all pending rules upon taking office. To date, the agency has failed to take adequate meaningful action against soring, so earlier this year, we sent a letter demanding satisfactory resolution. Their response was underwhelming and promised no new improvements or initiatives.

The administration’s inaction means that Congress must finally bring the PAST Act to a vote. Tell your senators and representative you want them to co-sponsor PAST if they haven't already, and do all they can to secure its swift passage so no horse has to ever endure the unnecessary abuse of soring.