By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
A strong team of bipartisan lawmakers has reintroduced a bill to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, a core priority for us here at the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund.
The bill, introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is identical to the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act that attracted overwhelming bipartisan cosponsorship from 290 representatives and 46 senators in the last Congress. The only difference is the title – it’s now named the “U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act” to honor the memory of the former senator from Maryland who introduced the original Horse Protection Act enacted in 1970 and championed efforts to crack down on this cruelty. Sen. Tydings worked tirelessly with us on the PAST Act until his death in October 2018, and securing its passage in 2019 will be a fitting tribute to this hero for the horses.
Soring is the practice of intentionally inflicting pain on the hooves and legs of performance walking horses – using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting and other gruesome techniques – to force them to perform a pain-based artificially high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows.
Congress hoped to end soring when it passed the Horse Protection Act nearly 50 years ago, but a 2010 audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General and undercover investigations by the HSUS in 2012 and 2015 at top Big Lick stables found that rampant soring persists within a subset of the walking horse industry. These scofflaws, who insist on having their horses perform this grotesque exaggerated gait instead of valuing the beauty of the animals’ natural gait, don’t speak for the whole industry. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 10 percent of all Tennessee walking horses are shown in the Big Lick classes. And thanks to increasing public awareness about the cruelty of soring, Big Lick shows are losing attendance as well as corporate and charitable sponsors, while the shows that feature these magnificent animals without subjecting them to painful manipulation are thriving. That’s as it should be.
H.R. 693 will amend the Horse Protection Act to eliminate the failed walking horse industry system of self-policing (i.e., the fox guarding the henhouse), and put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of licensing, training and oversight of all inspectors, as recommended by the Inspector General’s 2010 audit. It will also ban the use at horse shows of devices that are integral to the soring process, strengthen penalties for violations, and hold abusers accountable. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the legislation will accomplish all of these needed reforms without any additional taxpayer burden.
The PAST Act enjoys broad support from a coalition of the nation’s leading horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection organizations, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation and 67 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, state veterinary groups in all 50 states, the animal protection community, the National Sheriffs' Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most concentrated).
All reputable horse breed and show organizations endorsed the PAST Act. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are involved in this cruel practice and are profiting from it, and their handful of defenders in Congress.
We expect a Senate companion bill to be reintroduced soon by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va. Please contact your U.S. representative and two U.S. senators now at 202-224-3121 and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act and do all they can to secure its swift passage.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.