Horse advocates and countless members of the public want to see the Horse Protection Act of 1970 overhauled to provide clear language against the malicious soring of Tennessee Walking Horses and the ability to enforce stringent penalties to abusers. The out-of-date act needs amending to include tougher language in order to eliminate soring which is an abusive training tactic that intentionally inflicts pain to the horses’ lower legs to get the “Big Lick,” an exaggerated, high stepping and overreaching gait. It is now Oct. 23 and the National Celebration in Shelbyville, TN, ended several weeks ago. Most of the Big Lick horses that showed or were disqualified at the Celebration are most likely still suffering today. So we ask the question – what is the status of Prevent All Soring Tactics Act known as PAST [S.1121 and H.R.3268]?
An earlier amendment existed in 2013 but did not receive proper consideration by legislators and failed in committee. The current Prevent All Soring Tactics Act of 2015 “seeks to amend the Horse Protection Act of 1970 by establishing a new system for inspecting horses while strengthening penalties and enforcement procedures.” Soring has always been banned under the Horse Protection Act, but PAST allows greater capacity to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for enforcement and banning of soring devices.
Despite widespread congressional support, Rep. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) filed the Horse Protection Amendments Act which leaves the identification, inspection and penalty process surrounding soring up to a single governing body, the Horse Industry Organization [HIO]. This group is already instructed by law to locate and punish soring abusers during horse-by-horse inspections. The problem is that this program of self-policing is flawed by conspiring walking horse industry leaders and die-hard enthusiasts who permit Big Lick soring to continue.
When the USDA attempted to tighten up inspections and regulations at show level, legal action resulted in Contender Farms v. USDA, asserting that the department drifted over its regulatory boundaries. The resulting ruling was “Congress did not authorize the USDA to develop a private enforcement scheme administered by HIOs as a means of policing the Horse Protection Act.” This ruling defines the obvious – the Horse Protection Act must be strengthened to be effectively enforced.
The AVMA [view the attached important video by the AVMA] has staunchly come out against all soring practices. AVMA states, in part:
Regardless of whether soring is done using chemicals or physical methods, it’s unethical and illegal. It has always been unethical, and it’s been illegal since 1970 … but it continues.
So far, over 365 lawmakers have signed on in support of the PAST Act [S.1121 and H.R.3268]. Sadly, federal officials have confirmed the apparent fact that soring remains widespread in Tennessee Walking Horse show circles. At the 2015 77th National Celebration for Tennessee Walking Horses, 226 Horse Protection Act violations were officially recorded by USDA inspectors and 181 horses were disqualified. Designated qualified persons inspecting for the HIO noted only 35 violations. See Rucki article USDA inspection report of Walking Horses at 77th National Celebration.
The large inconsistency between the USDA numbers and the designated qualified persons’ numbers only makes matters worse for equine welfare advocates who believe self-policing is a flagrant conflict of interest. They cite the clear advantage of the proposed PAST Act:
The PAST Act calls for replacing DQPs with a new inspection system. It also directs USDA to prescribe new regulatory requirements to license, train, assign and oversee anyone hired by horse shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions to detect and diagnose sore horses at such events.
Both the Walking Horse Trainers Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association are not supporters of PAST although some individual members of both organizations appear on the Endorsements for PAST list.
Readers are encouraged to help the cause of the PAST Act. If soring incenses you, then perhaps a constituency nudge via phone call or email or letter to your state’s legislators is in order. Encourage legislators to help pass this all-important amendment on behalf of Tennessee Walking Horses.
Concerned horse people must work together to stop horse soring now!