Congress is in session for another week before the August recess, and has a lot of work to get done. While there have been a number of notable legislative achievements for animals so far in 2014—upgrading the federal animal fighting statute, de-funding horse slaughter plants, allowing mobile veterinary care, and defeating the noxious King amendment—there are a number of critical animal protection bills that still need to get over the finish line.
One of those measures, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, has more bipartisan support than nearly any other bill in Congress—with 304 co-sponsors in the House and 57 in the Senate. The Senate bill has passed the Commerce Committee in that chamber, but the House bill—even with seven of every ten House members co-sponsoring it—has not yet had committee action. As The Tennessean reported this week, the sponsors, Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., are calling on House leadership to bring up the bill for a vote. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who is not a co-sponsor, said it well: “Even with a Republican leading the charge, a bill with more than 300 co-sponsors can’t get a vote. House leadership should let members work their will.”
The PAST Act is critically needed to fortify the Horse Protection Act and end the criminal practice of soring—the intentional abuse of horses’ hooves and legs with chemicals and other substances to cause intense pain and force an artificially high-stepping gait in show competitions. It would strengthen the penalties for violating the law, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and replace the current failed system of industry self-policing with independent inspectors. A handful of lawmakers aligned with the “Big Lick” segment of the industry—led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—have introduced "alternative" legislation that would maintain the status quo and give the horse abusers a get-out-of-jail-free card. Here’s what some people who are familiar with the industry and are all endorsing the PAST Act have to say about horse soring and these bills:
“I've seen and have used every sort of caustic agent that can be used to enhance and to achieve the ‘big lick’ gait….[N]ow I realize that the horse was put in a great deal of pain, physically and emotionally, and it was simply struggling to move.” - Carl Bledsoe, trainer
“Personally I have invested nearly 47 of my 60 years into this industry….Unfortunately like all other farms associated with this industry we have seen the industry decline because of those who continuously abuse this great breed through inhumane training techniques and therefore keep it under a cloud of corruption.” - Clayton T. Harlin Sr., former Director, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association
“I was once at a barn in the early morning and found a horse dead, still hanging from the crossties… Severe abscesses are found in pressure shod horses. I worked on a horse whose entire sole had detached. His trainer didn’t want to miss a horse show …[H]alf the digital cushion had been eaten away by infection and the coffin bone was exposed.” - Eric Gray, farrier
“I vividly recall a person in a training barn that walked by me carrying a can of their mix of mustard oil and kerosene, and the smell was strong enough to cause me to recoil….The fact is the big lick can only be accomplished by soring. When one soring technique becomes detectable, another one is developed.” - Dr. John Haffner, veterinarian
“It’s been compared to a woman wearing high heels, but that comparison only works if you nail the heel to her feet then refuse to allow her to sit or lie down for more than a few minutes of time…for years…while she is forced to go running four or five days a week…carrying twenty percent of her body weight on her back.” - Pam Reband, MD; former Vice President, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association
“Over the years, Elvis and I owned several Tennessee walking horses, and I know them to be gentle, graceful creatures ….Congress must pass the PAST Act to end this torture of show horses….A campaign of misinformation is being waged by a small segment of this industry that has a cultural and financial interest in keeping the stacked and chained, chemically and mechanically sored show horse in competitions around the country.” [On whether ending the Big Lick will hurt the breed:] “It’s not going to ruin it; it’s going to save the breed.” - Priscilla Presley
“On behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and the more than 3,000 elected sheriffs nationwide, I write to express our support for S. 1406, the ‘Prevent All Soring Tactics Act’….The horse industry is littered with cases of neglect and abuse, which the current self-policing system has failed to properly address.” - Aaron Kennard, Exec. Director, National Sheriffs’ Association
“The AVMA is one of the bill’s strongest supporters. We really want this bill [PAST] enacted and we have every state veterinary medical association on board as well supporting this bill.” On the Blackburn/Alexander alternative (H.R. 4098/S. 2193), “AVMA is opposed to this legislation for several reasons, including: the bill fails to make the actual act of soring illegal; the bill does not improve enforcement because it retains and enhances the walking horse industry self-policing system; and it does not ban action devices and performance packages, which are known to exacerbate or hide signs of soring.” - Dr. Whitney Miller, American Veterinary Medical Association
“The Blackburn bill does not satisfy the concerns raised by the Department of Agriculture, by people who are opposed to soring. It allows action devices – chains, pads – to continue to be worn. It allows the DQP system to remain in the hands of the industry that is being regulated – the fox in the hen house type of thing. It doesn’t do what is necessary to stop this practice. The PAST Act does.” - James J. Hickey, President, American Horse Council
Add your voice to theirs, and ask your members of Congress to support the PAST Act, and to do all they can to get this critical anti-soring legislation passed this year.