With so many lawmakers signed on to legislation that would substantially upgrade the federal law against horse soring – the practice of deliberately wounding a horse’s legs and hooves to create the artificial, high-stepping gait known as the “big lick” – we hear from industry leaders that they have cleaned up their act. They say there’s no need to do away with the industry self-regulation program, and no need for felony-level penalties for soring abuses.
But results from the major Tennessee walking horse show for the year – known as the Celebration – reveal that a core segment of the industry cannot kick the soring habit and has almost a seemingly pathological commitment to concealing horse abuse.
A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released last week revealed 219 violations among 1,075 horses inspected at the Celebration. That’s double the number of violations at last year’s Celebration. The USDA and industry-retained inspectors carried out inspections. But as usual, the USDA found many more violations and disqualified many more horses than industry inspectors did. Of the 360 “big lick” horses inspected by USDA officials, 145 – more than 40 percent – were disqualified.
In fact, only three horses even passed inspection and entered the Grand Championship event. It’s like having an Olympic event where every entrant medals.
These weren’t the only embarrassments from the events in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Organizers of the Celebration told the public that it had created a Veterinary Advisory Committee to improve inspections and add a layer of protection for the horses. The committee turned out to be a sham, with one of the three veterinarians named to it revealing publicly that he had not even served on the committee. One other member has been a long-time booster of the industry and a denier of soring. There was no real protection of horses – just a fancy name and false promises, with nothing behind it.
But not too many people noticed the lack of competition. This year, stands were mostly empty, even on championship nights.
The incidents in Shelbyville make the case better than we could imagine for enacting the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S.1406, which now has more than 360 cosponsors in Congress. It would eliminate the industry’s failed self-regulation scheme, strengthen penalties for violators, and ban devices used to carry out soring. The comprehensive bill has the support of the nation’s veterinary community, the horse industry, newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee and the general public.
The Big Lick segment of the industry rewards the abuse of walking horses instead of punishing it. Consider this: the top 25 trainers in the industry’s Rider’s Cup award program have collectively amassed more than 500 citations for violating the Horse Protection Act.
And at the Celebration, we got one more in-your-face example of the industry’s tone-deaf approach on animal welfare. A video surfaced of B.L. Cozad, a vociferous cockfighting proponent in the country, delivering a speech to a pro-cockfighting group at an event held on Celebration grounds. In his speech, Cozad falsely refers to both cockfighting and horse soring as “victimless crimes,” and to all animal cruelty laws as unconstitutional and illegal.
Soring – like cockfighting – is a crime. Its victims are the gentle horses who are forced to endure cruelties like having blistering chemicals poured on their feet and having their hooves cut to cause them excruciating pain. Congress should deal with this issue in the most emphatic way possible, and before the session adjourns.