Today, in a show of legislative horsepower, U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, HR 1847, with nearly half the lawmakers in the U.S. House joining them in a quest to close loopholes in the almost 50-year-old Horse Protection Act that have enabled the cruelty of horse soring to persist. They were joined by a strong leadership team of Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and a whopping combined 209 original cosponsors – a level of support for bill introduction that is very rare in Congress.
Identical to the bill of the same name introduced two years ago, the PAST Act contains the reforms that are so urgently needed to crack down on soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to create the exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.” It will end the corrupt and failed system of industry self-policing and ban the devices used in, and integral to, the soring process. Reps. Yoho and Schrader are both veterinarians with experience treating horses, and they spoke compellingly about soring at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill.
The nationwide campaign to end the cruel practice of horse soring came so close within the last year, and we’re still reeling from the failure of Federal Register personnel to properly publish a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule to crack down on the activity. Last July, the USDA announced a proposed rule that was years in the making, to ban the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and legs and to eliminate the industry self-regulation program that has enabled corrupt practices to persist on such a widespread basis.
Although Congress passed and President Nixon signed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to stop soring, the practice has continued to infect shows for Tennessee walking horses in Tennessee and other states where these exhibitions occur, due to weak regulations and underenforcement. The agency’s proposed rule received more than 100,000 supportive public comments and was endorsed by numerous equine industry groups, key veterinary organizations, and 224 Representatives and Senators who called on the USDA to finalize it swiftly. But in a tragic one-two punch, the Obama administration fell literally one day short of publishing the final rule before leaving office, and it then got caught up in the Trump administration’s blanket regulation freeze. Thankfully for the horses, the bill introduced today provides a potential source of relief.
The PAST Act goes beyond the pending USDA regulations in that it will create stronger penalties for violators, to more effectively deter this criminal activity. PAST has overwhelming support, with endorsements by the American Horse Council, the United States Equestrian Federation, more than 60 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the hotbeds of soring), among hundreds of groups and key individuals.
The pro-soring coalition has its own bill that masquerades as reform. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ “Horse Protection Amendments Act” is nothing more than a smokescreen for big lick torturers, and shamefully, 10 Representatives (from Tennessee, Kentucky, and one from Mississippi) have cosponsored this sham bill. These legislators represent the very region where the horses need the reforms of PAST the most. Rep. Cohen of Tennessee, on the other hand, has been an unwavering champion for animal welfare and continues to help lead the PAST Act, while Rep. John Yarmuth, D–Ky., is a PAST Act cosponsor again.
While the provisions in the USDA rule that’s on hold are critical, we also knew that we’d have to go to Congress to increase penalties. So now we have two pathways for reform — unfreezing the rule and getting the PAST Act over the finish line. With more than 200 lawmakers joining together to introduce this legislation, we welcome a vote on the issue and call on House leaders to take up the PAST Act within a reasonable time frame. Our nation should no longer tolerate trainers and owners intentionally and maliciously injuring horses in order for them to win ribbons at shows. The ribbons mean nothing to the horses, and this human blend of vanity and cruelty should be stamped out by national lawmakers and by President Trump.