Talking Heads v Talking Points

One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.

Mark Twain

Back in the day when callow youth  were admonished for interjecting themselves into conversations, parents and elders  would say to them, “ You talk like a man with a hole in his hat!” .  As there is no age limit on speaking from a position of ignorance  the admonishments became more rudely expressed  as the violator got older and should have known better.


Filling the air with comments meant to sound like you knew something when in fact you knew very little was viewed as a harmless but nonetheless irritating habit by the  people on the receiving end of this  “look at me” attempt.


Today , when it comes to the PAST Act,   people  that do  know better insist on  talking  like that man with his famous  chapeau.  Unlike children, however, their  intent  isn’t harmless; it’s meant to mislead.


A recent explanation of the effect  of Senators Ayotte  and Warner’s PAST Act, S.1121 ran in a walking  horse publication and  included the following statement:


“The PAST Act, S. 1121, introduced by Senator Ayotte along with 11 of her colleagues follows the agenda of the Humane Society of the United States and eliminates most if not all of the competitive divisions of the breeds affected.  The PAST Act eliminates the use of any weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof band or any action device.

The PAST Act would also eliminate all HIOs and utilize the USDA for complete enforcement of the HPA.  “


That same release  also offered a glowing review of the alternative legislation introduced by Tennessee’s  Senator Lamar Alexander who was joined by Senators McConnell and Paul, both of Kentucky.  The description of it follows.


introduced legislation that would eliminate the current system of competing HIOs and form a single, independent HIO that is charged with enforcement of the HPA.  The single, independent HIO would utilize objective, science-based inspection protocols to ensure the welfare and compliance of horses competing.  The legislation, S. 1161, also would not alter the equipment currently used in competition as studies, such as the one conducted by Auburn University, have confirmed that the equipment utilized does not harm the horse in any way. 


First, to be clear, decades ago the ancient history called the   Auburn Study never “studied” equipment used as it is today. The researchers never explored what the use of chemicals,  when combined with the action of the chain that is legal weight in the ring today,  produced because the  chain of today was not in use at the time of the study.  Instead,  the researchers only observed the use of an action device of this weight on a chemical free leg. They found even without the chemicals that the lighter  action device did in fact produce visible irritation in the pastern but did not produce the open lesions that chemicals and a heavier action device produced. 


They also found, at a time when thermography and other measures of pain and inflammation  were less sensitive, that there was significant inflammation associated with horses wearing both packages and action devices.  


Second, the idea of "competing HIOs" being a problem that must be addressed is an idea that comes straight from the magic hat. As an example, some of the USDA approved HIOs refuse to inspect big lick horses. They insist on strict enforcement of the HPA. They do not solicit horse shows and serve a population that believes in the tenets of complete enforcement.  They are hardly in competition with an HIO like SHOW, that serves the majority of the big lick shows.  Yet,  Senator Alexander’s legislation would eliminate those HIOs, the ones that have been most supportive of full enforcement of the HPA,  as well as all  the other HIOs that do inspect big lick horses and are actually in competition with SHOW. Alexander would replace them , the good, the bad and the ugly,  with a one- size- fits- all snap brim, that would be designed and run  , coincidentally, by the same interests that now operate the big gorilla that wants all the bananas.

They call this speaking with one voice, even when it is clear from petitions, to protests, to exhibitions  in Washington DC,  that there are many people with walking horses who don't want this crowd  speaking for them on any subject.


Third, no matter what happens with the HIOs,  a private entity can not be charged with enforcement of the HPA as the piece on Alexander’s legislation states.


 Ayotte’s legislation would eliminate the HIOs and replace them with independent inspectors, trained, licensed, overseen,  and assigned by the USDA to show managers who would like to hire them.  Significantly, VMOs would  continue to monitor these inspectors at random shows  just as they do today but most importantly the inspectors would report to the USDA, not to industry officials and supporters.


  Although the USDA can delegate a portion of its  authority to inspect under the current HIO system  or to inspectors that it trains and licenses, the responsibility for enforcement has always and will always remain solely  with the USDA. If you don’t believe it, ask the USDA's  Office of the Inspector General  about  what they have to say on the subject. 


When approaching senators and,  in the future,  representatives in the House  to ask them for support for the PAST Act, having valid talking points and consistent messaging is much more valuable than blowing smoke  through your ball cap.


Here are fact based talking points related to S.1121 that you might like to incorporate into your discussions on the subject.


The PAST Act S.1121  will:


·      Incorporate reforms recommended in a 2010 audit by the USDA Office of Inspector General.


·      End the failed industry self-policing system.  USDA will train, license, and assign inspectors to horse shows upon request, instead of having Horse Industry Organizations choose who conducts inspections.  As in current law, shows will have the option to hire inspectors, with the incentive that doing so will shield them from personal liability if soring is detected at their show.  But when inspectors are hired, they will be legitimate – assigned by USDA and accountable to the agency – rather than “in cahoots” with show management and encouraged to turn a blind eye to soring, as too often occurs now.


·      Ban the use of chains, stacks, heavily weighted shoes, and other devices associated with soring, for the three breeds (Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse) known to be subjected to soring with these devices.


·      Strengthen penalties.  Establish felony-level jail time for core offenses, increase fines, and allow permanent disqualification for repeat offenders and disqualification of a sore horse for increasing periods, based on the number of repeat violations involving that horse.  


·      Make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal, as well as directing another to do so.


·      Not increase the deficit.  The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said the PAST Act “would not affect direct spending.”  It will simply enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient, effective way.


The PAST Act doesn’t :


·      destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse industry – it will save it . Only about  10% of the overall walking horse activity  is involved in showing and promoting the  big lick performance horse.


·      eliminate the majority of the divisions in horse show competition. It will retain some existing classes, the entire versatility division,  and allow new under saddle and in-hand  opportunities to develop, while  encouraging people who have left breed competition because of the soring to return to show rings.


Senator Alexander’s legislation  S.1161 does:


·      maintain industry self-regulation, which has been a failure according to the USDA Office of Inspector General’s  2010 audit pointing to extensive evidence of corruption and conflicts of interest.


·      make the current problem worse by establishing a single Horse Industry Organization (HIO) – essentially, giving the industry “bad apples” the opportunity to set the rules and manage all inspections, while eliminating those HIOs that actually insist on no soring at shows they oversee now.  His bill contains no provision for removal of this single HIO if it is failing in its charge.


·      give titular oversight to agriculture commissioners in Kentucky and Tennessee – the two states where soring is most concentrated.  There are already laws prohibiting soring on the books in these two states, but enforcement is rare and the illicit practice appears to be tolerated by some officials.  Little real action to curb this cruelty has ever been taken by those states themselves, other than two recent prosecutions (one driven by an HSUS investigation). 


·      fill the seats of this new  HIO with selections from  those two agriculture commissioners and their hand-picked representatives from within the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry ( that means that it is likely that a preponderance of those seats will be filled by big lick supporters, including representatives of the Walking Horse Trainers Association.  A recent analysis of the violation history of the top 25 trainers in the industry’s 2014 Rider’s Cup award program found those trainers have collectively amassed more than 500 citations for violating the HPA.  )


Senator Alexander’s legislation does not


·      address the use of devices (chains, stacks, heavily weighted shoes, etc.) directly associated with soring in the development and maintenance of the Big Lick gait of the “performance horse.”  The AVMA, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and American Horse Council have called for an end to the use of this equipment as a prerequisite to ending horse soring.  A shocking 93% of HPA violations involve Big Lick horses subjected to these devices.


·      meaningfully strengthen HPA penalties that are currently so weak they are routinely ignored by those engaged in soring, identified as a key enforcement problem by USDA’s Inspector General.



There is also  is that scientific, evidence based component  that Senator Alexander addresses to consider because it sounds really great.


·      Advocates of S. 1161 claim it will introduce objective, science-based, peer-reviewed inspection techniques. 


Instead, consider this:


The inspection  methods now in use already meet the criteria in Alexander’s  S. 1161’s definition –

·      digital palpation (considered by the veterinary community as a reliable means of identifying pain responses in horses);

·      thermographic examination used to detect inflammation and visual inspection to identify patterns of scarring – both indicative of soring;

·      foreign substance testing so advanced that it can break into chemical components the different illegal substances found on the horses’ legs, including agents designed to numb the legs and mask pain;

·      digital x-rays revealing pressure shoeing and the insertion of foreign objects used to create pain or add illegal weight to shoes.


( The big lick  industry is in opposition or debates the validity of all of these techniques now in use.)


When talking about inspections, what’s needed is a will to fully  enforce the HPA,    not to merely  regulate the scourge of soring.


If you address that philosophy with the public and with  elected officials  when  comparing  and contrasting  the bills now  in play, you’ll  be speaking  from a position of strength.  


  • When what you say is informed and informative, people will listen.
  • Listening helps  brings about change.  
  • Change is what is needed.
  • Put your thinking cap on and let’s get to it.