It’s hard to believe that there are any reputable politicians anywhere in the United States aligned with the horse soring crowd. The showing of sored horses has long been a federal crime, and it’s a gratuitous, inhumane act. To me, trainers who intentionally injure the legs and hooves of horses to get them to step higher and win ribbons in the show ring are architects of extreme animal cruelty, similar to cockfighters who persist with their organized criminal conduct.
Soring remains rampant in the “Big Lick” show world as our latest undercover investigation into ThorSport Farm, a major Tennessee walking horse training barn, made clear. That’s why we are working hard to upgrade the federal Horse Protection Act, give it some teeth, and close loopholes in the existing law. The bill we’re backing – along with the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Horse Council, more than 60 other national and state horse groups, American Association of Equine Practitioners, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the National Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and all major animal protection organizations – is called the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 3268/S. 1121). This legislation would prohibit the soring of horses, strengthen penalties from the misdemeanor to felony level, eliminate the failed system of industry self-policing, and prohibit the use of “stacks” and chains used in soring Tennessee walking, racking, and spotted saddle horse breeds.
Yet now comes competing legislation from the horse soring crowd that masquerades as a reform measure but does nothing to change the status quo. Congressman Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., is carrying the bill for the horse soring contingent, and it’s conveniently named the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2015 (H.R. 4105). In reality, it attempts to make lawbreakers into victims, while vilifying the dutiful staff of the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with enforcing the law.
Make no mistake, the PAST Act, introduced in the House by two veterinarians, Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and in the Senate by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., is the only bill before Congress that will make meaningful change to protect horses from the barbaric practice of soring. The PAST Act has more than 280 lawmakers signed on as cosponsors. The bill by Rep. DesJarlais, and a similar Senate bill from Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., have a combined 11 cosponsors between them. This “alternative” legislation is the product of a small group of lawmakers in Kentucky and Tennessee – where the “Big Lick” industry is centered – who have closely aligned themselves with the sorers.
The DesJarlais bill is identical to the sham bill introduced in the last Congress by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and does nothing to end soring. In fact, the DesJarlais and Alexander soring defense bills only weaken protections for horses under the Horse Protection Act by placing enforcement authority in the hands of individuals with ties to the “Big Lick” industry. This would make the disastrous scheme of industry self-regulation – documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a 2010 audit as a failure riddled with conflicts of interest – even worse by putting a criminal faction of the industry in control of oversight.
The PAST Act will restore the reputation of the Tennessee walking horse and the state for which it is named, and enable these horses to live their lives without the pain and misery of soring, while the DesJarlais/Alexander legislation simply seeks to give a free pass to people who injure horses as part of their normal approach to preparing them for the show ring. One bill represents real reform, and the other is a sham.