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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Horse Soring in the Hot Seat on Capitol Hill

Tennessee walking horses got a well-deserved boost today in a House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade hearing on H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. The bill, introduced by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has the broad, bipartisan support of 230 cosponsors—more than half the House—and the Senate version, by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., has 27. At today’s subcommittee hearing, a number of lawmakers, including Rep. Whitfield and Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., spoke eloquently in favor of this critical anti-cruelty, anti-crime legislation to fortify the 43-year-old Horse Protection Act.

Horse soringSoring is the deliberate infliction of pain to the hooves and legs of show horses—applying caustic chemicals to their pasterns (ankles), inserting hard or sharp objects into their sensitive hooves, and using other painful techniques to force an artificially high-stepping gait. It’s a form of cheating that gives those who engage in this abuse a competitive edge over owners and trainers who do not, as exposed by an HSUS undercover investigation in 2012 at the training barn of Jackie McConnell, one of the breed’s most celebrated trainers caught on camera beating a horse and applying caustic chemicals on the legs to burn his flesh and then wrapping the treated legs in plastic to cook in the chemicals. It’s animal torture, and nothing less.

Despite enactment of the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to end soring, there remain those in the Tennessee walking horse industry who continue the abusive practice and go to great lengths to avoid detection. Decades of corrupt industry self-regulation have fostered an environment in which unscrupulous trainers and owners subject horses to torturous practices for the sake of prize money and a blue ribbon, with industry inspectors routinely turning a blind eye to soring violations and issuing weak penalties.

The committee heard witnesses on both sides of the bill, with the proponents, including Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council, and Dr. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and former administrator of USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, testifying that the PAST Act presents the best path forward to a sound economic and ethical future for the breed. Witnesses in favor of the bill also clearly explained how the PAST Act could pull the walking horse industry back from the economic brink by ending soring and thus removing the stigma of abuse from the breed, allowing sound, humanely trained walking horses to shine in the show ring.

The opponents of the PAST Act at the hearing lamented that soring is a terrible practice, but they simply argued for more industry self-regulation and didn’t have any proposed solutions for actually ending the abuse. It was like listening to members of the so-called gamefowl breeders association, saying that cockfighting is a cruel and terrible thing but we don’t need any laws or actual standards in society. It was the same tired story about how “a few bad apples” are committing the crimes, but we know based on federal audits and other independent reports that the problem is systemic.

If we really want to eliminate soring, which has been rampant in the industry for decades, we can’t just have more of the same. The PAST Act is our best opportunity to stamp out this cruelty, starting with stepped up penalties and accountability for anyone involved with this hideous practice. It bans the stacked shoes and chains used to cause pain to horses’ hooves and legs, and it closes the door on the corrupt self-policing system that’s allowed the problem to fester.

The subcommittee hearing was an important step, and we must keep pushing to get the PAST Act over the finish line and make soring a thing of the past. Now is the time to contact your U.S. representative and senators, and ask them to cosponsor and help enact H.R. 1518/S. 1406 into law.

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