This has been a big and challenging year for horses, with many equine issues covered in the news throughout 2013. There was the horse meat scandal in Europe, a move by the horse slaughter industry to resume killing on U.S. soil, continued excessive and often harsh round-ups of wild horses and burros in the West, Congressional hearings on the abuse of Tennessee walking horses and high-profile prosecutions of abusive trainers, and drugging of horses within the horse racing industry. There are so many challenges, and these issues are in great flux, but I want to point to progress we’re making, or at least the promise of change when it comes to the mistreatment of horses.
Defunding Horse Slaughter in the Congress
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
We successfully advocated for passage of amendments in the House and Senate Appropriations committees offered by U.S. Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and the late Bill Young R-Fla., and U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La. and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C, respectively, to defund horse slaughter inspections – language requested for the first time by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the president’s budget. The Congress is expected to take up the final FY 2014 spending bill in January, and if lawmakers retain the anti-slaughter language, we’ll restore the ban on horse slaughter in the United States, which had been in place from 2007 – 2011.
Playing it SAFE
We worked with U.S. Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sens. Landrieu and Graham, to introduce the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, which would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the United States and prohibit the export of horses abroad for that purpose. The House and Senate bills have nearly 200 cosponsors between them, and they enjoy strong bipartisan support. While defunding helps prevent slaughtering on U.S. soil, only the passage of the SAFE act will prevent the slaughter of our horses throughout North America.
Taking on the USDA on Horse Slaughter Permits
When the USDA issued grants of inspection to domestic horse slaughter plants, we filed a lawsuit under the National Environmental Policy Act and obtained a temporary restraining order, delaying horse slaughter plants from opening in New Mexico, Iowa, and Missouri. Those lawsuits blocked the opening of plants for four months, and now we are working at the state level to stop them from ever opening.
Putting PZP out on the Range for Wild Horses
Jacquelyn Pyun/The HSUS
A wild herd of horses in Colorado that The HSUS is
managing using immunocontraception.
We have continued our push to get the Bureau of Land Management to scale back its wild horse round ups, and to increase its fertility control efforts. A National Academy of Sciences report issued in May called for an increased use of on-the-range management tools, including the fertility control drug PZP. The Environmental Protection Agency granted approval of an equine immunocontraceptive vaccine developed by the USDA. The vaccine will be applied to adult female wild or feral horses and burros, and is the first single-shot, multi-year wildlife contraceptive for use in mammals.
Protecting Burros through the Platero Project
We launched the Platero Project to promote the protection of wild burros managed by the BLM. The aim of the project is to develop partnerships and programs to research the effectiveness of contraceptive vaccines on wild burro herds and to reduce the number of wild burros currently living in BLM holding areas, by increasing adoptions and relocating difficult to place burros to sanctuaries.
Finding Allies among Responsible Horse Breeders
We formed the Responsible Horse Breeders Council in recognition of the key role breeders can play in reducing horse suffering. The council has enlisted the support of more than 1,000 horse breeders from around the country who have pledged to assist with horses they’ve bred in the event that they become homeless or at-risk for slaughter.
Pushing the PAST Act
In April, U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., introduced H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, and in August, Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced the companion bill, S. 1406, to finally rein in the cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses and other related show horse breeds. The House bill had a successful hearing in the House Energy & Commerce Committee in November. The PAST Act has nearly 300 cosponsors in the House and Senate – more than any other animal protection bill in Congress – and it is endorsed by a host of horse industry groups, including the American Horse Council and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
New Rules Adopted by USDA to Crack Down on Soring
A federal court in Texas upheld anti-soring regulations adopted by the USDA following a legal petition filed by The HSUS, requiring that USDA-certified horse industry organizations impose uniform mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act. The USDA successfully defended its mandatory minimum penalty protocol under the HPA in federal court.
Wheelon Indicted and McConnell Guilty – Again
On Dec. 2, walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon and three of his employees were indicted by a Tennessee grand jury on charges of violating the state’s law against soring. The HSUS had previously assisted the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, Blount County SPCA, and Horse Haven of Tennessee with the seizure of 19 horses allegedly subjected to soring in Wheelon’s training barn. In July, Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell and two associates entered guilty pleas to charges of abusing horses in violation of Tennessee’s cruelty to animals statute. McConnell pled guilty to 22 counts of animal cruelty, and to avoid jail time, agreed to a sentence of one year’s house arrest followed by four years of supervised probation, a $25,000 fine, and a prohibition on his owning and training horses for 20 years.
Rewards and Recognitions Programs
The HSUS announced a new reward program to help expose corrupt activities within the “Big Lick” faction of the Tennessee walking horse show industry. The reward offers up to $5,000 for any tip leading to an arrest and conviction for bribery, intimidation, fraud, or other corrupt activities related to the inspection of Tennessee walking horse shows. The HSUS also rolled out the “Now That’s a Walking Horse!” grant and recognition program to recognize humanely trained flat shod Tennessee walking horses.
We are battling round-ups of wild horses, slaughter of tens of thousands of American horses, and soring of walking horses. The HSUS is committed to continuing the fight on all fronts, and turning around all of these problems. We’ll need your help in each case. Horses have served humanity for centuries, and it’s time to treat them with dignity and respect; not as vermin on our public lands, slabs of meat in the waiting, or instruments for trainers to manipulate and abuse to win ribbons at horse shows.