WASHINGTON D.C.— The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund applaud a historic move in Congress to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from the cruel practice of intentionally inflicting pain on the animals to force an exaggerated step that is prized in the show ring. The House of Representatives approved by an overwhelming 333 to 96 bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693. This much-needed legislation will amend the Horse Protection Act, closing loopholes that have allowed violators to continue their heinous practices undeterred.
Soring involves intentional infliction of pain on a horse's legs or hooves to force the horse to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.” The Humane Society of the United States has documented these abuses in undercover investigations of the big lick segment of the industry in 2012 and 2015.
“We’re delighted with this historic success. We have long led the charge to end soring, conducting undercover investigations, raising public awareness, working to secure greater funding and more support for enhanced enforcement by USDA and now, working with House champions and coalition partners to secure this important milestone for horses,” said Kitty Block, HSUS president and CEO. “We’re going straight ahead to press for Senate passage of the PAST Act. These animals have suffered long enough.”
“Horse ‘soring’ is one of the worst cruelties imaginable – where scofflaw trainers deliberately torment Tennessee walking horses to get them to fling their front legs high, just to win a cheap blue ribbon in a show ring. It'd be like forcing an Olympian to wear broken glass in her shoes so the pain will make her leap higher over the hurdles,” said Sara Amundson, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “We are grateful to the House champions – Reps. Kurt Schrader, Ted Yoho, Steve Cohen, Ron Estes, Jan Schakowsky and Chris Collins – and to all who cosponsored and voted for this bill, as well as to House leadership for bringing it to a floor vote. Now it’s up to the Senate to get the PAST Act over the finish line.”
The HSUS and HSLF also commend former Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Rep. Cohen for introducing the first version of this legislation in 2012.
“As a lifelong participant in the walking horse industry who has witnessed the physical and emotional damage that soring causes to horses and the economic havoc it has wreaked on this breed, this is truly a heartwarming day,” said Keith Dane, senior advisor for Equine Protection at the Humane Society of the United States. “The thousands of walking horse owners who have tried to achieve reform from within, only to have their wellbeing and that of their horses threatened, have been the backbone of support for passage of PAST and can truly celebrate today’s strong action by the House.”
Dr. John Haffner, a veterinarian who worked for decades in the big lick segment of the walking horse industry and is now a member of the faculty at Middle Tennessee State University, left his practice in disgust after he could no longer tolerate the abuse he regularly witnessed. He then became a very public opponent of soring and advocate for the PAST Act, saying: “The fact is that the big lick can only be accomplished by soring. When one soring technique becomes detectable, another is developed. The big lick is a learned response to pain, and if horses have not been sored, they do not learn it.”
The PAST Act would end the failed system of industry self-policing that has been in place since a 1976 amendment to the Horse Protection Act allowed the industry to take on the bulk of enforcement. The bill would substitute a cadre of third party, independent inspectors trained, licensed and assigned by USDA and accountable to the agency. It would ban devices integral to soring, strengthen penalties and hold abusers accountable.
PAST is endorsed by hundreds of leading groups and individuals in the horse industry and veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection communities, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, key individuals in the Tennessee walking horse show world, National Sheriffs' Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most prevalent).
The Senate companion bill, S. 1007, introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., currently has 41 Senate cosponsors. The identical legislation was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee in 2014.