Congress first tried to end soring — the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to create the exaggerated, artificial show gait known as the “big lick”” — nearly half a century ago, with the passage of the federal Horse Protection Act of 1970. Nonetheless, unscrupulous trainers and exhibitors have found loopholes that allow them to routinely circumvent the law to continue this cruelty and the suffering it causes.
For many years, The Humane Society of the United States has been actively campaigning to end soring. Today, at the start of the three-day “Spring Fun Show” in Shelbyville, Tennessee, featuring big lick horses, two lawmakers who have demonstrated a continuing commitment to horses have reintroduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. Senate that will close loopholes in the Horse Protection Act and help end soring once and for all.
Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., are sponsoring the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 2957 (identical to S. 1121 in the 114th Congress), joined by a solid bipartisan leadership team of Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Edward Markey, D-Mass., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., as original cosponsors. To fix the key gaps in current law, the bill will end the corrupt and failed system of industry self policing (as recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s own Inspector General in a 2010 audit), ban cruel devices integral to the soring process, including weighted, stacked shoes and ankle chains, and create stronger penalties for violators.
The companion bill in the House, H.R. 1847, introduced last year by Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., both equine veterinarians, already has 281 bipartisan cosponsors – nearly two thirds of that chamber’s members.
Soring is so prevalent that at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the industry’s biggest event, the USDA found, in 2016, that nearly 90 percent of horses tested positive for prohibited substances that cause pain or camouflage evidence of soring. In 2017, nearly 62 percent of horses tested positive (even under a new administration committed to working closely with the regulated industry).
Over a year ago, the USDA took steps to strengthen its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, proposing and finalizing a rule to limit and curtail the corruption and abusive practices of the soring industry. The rule, which mirrored key reforms in the PAST Act, received more than 100,000 supportive public comments and was endorsed by numerous equine industry groups, veterinary organizations and 224 representatives and senators. Unfortunately, the Office of the Federal Register failed to publish the rule in a timely manner after the USDA announced the new policy on January 13, 2017, and the rule got swept up in a broader Trump administration policy to freeze rulemaking actions still in progress. Since that time, new leadership at the USDA has failed to indicate an interest in implementing the rule, despite continued petitioning from concerned citizens and members of Congress, including bipartisan letters that 154 representatives sent to President Trump in February 2017 and that 190 representatives and 38 senators sent to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee in the last two months seeking language directing the USDA to publish this rule.
Worse still, the USDA has actually wiped out vital animal welfare records from its website, thus preventing the public from readily accessing enforcement records on trainers and owners who intentionally violate the HPA and sore their walking horses to win blue ribbons.
The PAST Act has sweeping endorsements from hundreds of groups and leaders within the equine and veterinary industries, 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, and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys. It also commands the support of major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee – the heart of horse soring country.
The 2018 show season is now under way, and for many horses this is also a season of cruelty: they are confined to their stalls day in and day out, and they are forced to suffer in excruciating pain from caustic chemicals slathered on their lower limbs, with heavy chains banging on their burned skin, and dragging heavy platform shoes strapped to their hooves. All this just so they can perform the big lick for a dwindling audience.
Please join us to make this the year that the PAST Act becomes law, ending this suffering for good. Contact both of your U.S. senators and your U.S. representative to urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it over the finish line quickly.
P.S. The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee today voted to maintain the ban on horse slaughter for human consumption on U.S. soil. The provision is included in the FY19 agriculture appropriations bill that passed the committee today, and it would bar spending by the USDA to inspect horse slaughterhouses, saving millions of taxpayer dollars.