Where Are We with the Proposed USDA Rule?

The election to end all elections is over. Now it's time to see how the old saw "elections have consequences" plays out;  but,  before inauguration day, there is at least one "consequence" of more than 40 years of flouting the federal law, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, that still has time to be addressed.

That consequence is taking affirmative   action on the    rule proposed by the USDA that would amend its regulations under   the Horse Protection Act, as is allowed by law.    When enforced it    would     finally bring about an end to abusive training and shoeing practices, as well as dodgy in-house inspection schemes, that have allowed walking, racking    and spotted saddle horses to suffer for man's insistence on showing exaggerated gaits that have no relationship to the natural movement of    horses or    even the range of motion of   highly trained horses that do   show athletic animation in their gaits rather than forced exaggeration.

So, after watching the PAST Act stall in two sessions of Congress, despite it having the most co-sponsors and bi-partisan support in both the House and the Senate of any piece of legislation introduced in these sessions, thanks to a handful of bought and paid for legislators from   a few southern states who,  playing the rules of both chambers, managed to keep the bill from ever getting   a vote, the ball now rests in the court of an outgoing administration and the Secretary of Agriculture, all   lame ducks,  to put the proposed rule into action. 

Is there time to do this   before Inauguration Day-- Yes?  Will it get done? There's the rub.  People who support a sound show horse and humane training and shoeing practices continue to work for exactly that end and continue to make the case to the general public. 

A petition now trending on Change.org posted by the Equus Society,  gave both a written   lesson in exactly what's wrong with these shoeing practices from a bio-mechanical point of view and a visual lesson with a video attached to the petition showing big lick show horses, current examples, in action.  The petition has already gathered over 53,000 supporters asking Vilsack to act.

When combined with the over 70,000 individual    pro-rule comments, building to over 100,000 affirmative    comments when including consolidated submissions from various groups,      submitted to the USDA on its official website in October, Secretary Vilsack must know    that there is widespread public support for the USDA to finally end gridlock on this issue and DO SOMETHING about the problem.  He can   even   point ( if he has a sense of irony) as a reason for action     to the road map laid out by    the new president-elect who   said in addressing a slice of our citizenry during his   recent   campaign, " What have you got to lose?"

Wayne Pacelle , CEO of the HSUS whose organization has worked tirelessly   for the past several years on the anti-soring issue, posted a blog that   asked the Secretary of Agriculture essentially that same question. His blog post   follows, in case you haven't seen it on some other site:

Obama should put a ribbon on anti-soring rule before Inauguration Day

By Wayne Pacelle on November 15, 2016


"The incoming Trump team, along with leaders from the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, have signaled to the Obama team that they want to see new rulemaking actions frozen. This is a bit of a ritual during any transfer of partisan power in the nation’s capital, but this year the rhetoric is at a particularly high pitch.

But not all rulemakings are alike, and not all of them are associated with partisan thinking. Some efforts, long in process and richly vetted and scrutinized, not only have immense support from the American electorate, but also huge bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. There’s no better case example than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s long-awaited and long-delayed plan to upgrade Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations to end the barbaric and gratuitous practice of horse soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of show Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, to force them to perform the artificial, pain-based “Big Lick” gait, all for the sake of a blue ribbon.

More than six years after the agency’s own Inspector General released a scathing audit that highlighted the gross inadequacy of current enforcement efforts (which rely heavily on failed industry self-policing), and more than six years after the USDA promised to implement new regulations to fix the problem, regulatory action is still pending.

In July, the USDA announced a proposed rule to end walking horse industry self-regulation and ban the use of the torture devices that are integral to the soring process – both key components of the widely supported Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1121/H.R. 3268, which was introduced largely because the agency hadn’t acted on its own to fix these problems. The legislation is led by two veterinarians in the House, Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., in the Senate by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and it is cosponsored by 50 Senators and 266 members of Congress. The public comment period on this rule closed on October 26th and there was an overwhelming outpouring of support, with well over 100,000 commenters (including actresses Priscilla Presley and Olivia Newton-John) urging the USDA to quickly implement this proposal. Former Sens. John Warner of Virginia, a Republican, and Joe Tydings of Maryland, a Democrat and the author of the original HPA, were among the many individuals and groups who voiced their strong support.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence of the breadth of support for this action is that 41 U.S. Senators and 182 Representatives – from both sides of the aisle – sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging that the agency swiftly adopt new HPA regulations before the end of the current administration.

None of us can predict how President Trump will address animal welfare in the first 100 days of his administration or beyond. But momentum is clearly behind this much-needed rule, and it’s been delayed for years. There’s no excuse for further dilly-dallying. It’s time to close the loop on an appalling abuse, and deal with people who are abusing horses in the name of entertainment and profit. The current administration must seize this moment to fix the USDA’s deeply-flawed regulations and adopt new regulations with real teeth in them that can finally bring about the reforms needed to end soring for good – as Congress intended when it passed the law in 1970. With more than 300 lawmakers cosponsoring a bill that goes well beyond the terms of the rule, there’s no reason for partisan politics to stymie this effort as we approach the finish line. More than four decades of this continued, poorly-regulated animal suffering is far too long, and President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack have a duty to end it, now."


In New York City, starting on November 17th, the Equus Film Festival rolls into town with both films and panel discussions available to those who attend. Two of the panels concern big lick show horses: Soring? What Are They Thinking? and Performance Tennessee Walking Horses--Training and Showing and Then What? 

Animal welfare advocates with backgrounds in the breed and facts at their fingers will be available to speak out and to answer questions from the audiences who attend. One of those advocates has just begun, and had IRS certified,  a new non-profit organization    devoted solely to rescuing Tennessee Walking Horses, many of them from show backgrounds who end up in auctions and sales, most of them headed to slaughter in Canada or Mexico.   She is committed to   finding them new homes and giving them a second chance, unlike the people who threw them away, like the people who wrote on the USDA site that if the rule were to pass , their show horses would lose their value and that the slaughter trucks would be pulled up to the    door.      Her voice should be a powerful oneon the panel.  People who love horses, don't dump horses, leaving others to clean up their mess.

Just like those who are already thinking ahead to the midterm general elections, anti-soring advocates working to end soring, stacking, chaining, and inspection programs that are far too cozy with certain players, must think    ahead to what must be done because    the reality is that if the USDA implements the rule, lawyers for the opposition position will have the Department in court as soon as they can get the papers filed.

The big lick faction, with some help from their friends, has already   raised a half million dollars   towards that end and are working on the second half million that they believe it will take to keep such a rule from ever being implemented. That should not concern us, nor should it concern the USDA.

Getting the rule on the books before the Obama administration leaves office   will be a huge psychological step and an important one, putting the big lick business on notice that business isn't going to be done   as usual, no matter what they think. But what if the rule doesn't make it out of the USDA?


  If ,    under a new administration, we have to start all over again to bring this disgrace to an end, well.... after the last few years of working with the House and Senate, of bringing the issue to the attention of the public, of newspaper and television coverage showing support for change, of diminished audiences for this sort of "entertainment", the blueprint is there for keeping the issue alive and continuing the fight. Support for the PAST Act even made the policy position section of one presidential candidate, proving that   the issue of the sore horse has climbedthe ladder ofgettingpublic attention. We have to keep that attention on this problemand we have to keep it focused.

No one who ever got involved in the drive to Stop Soring in its tracks   can be kept down for long. As the current president   reminded people in his party who had suffered a major disappointment , take time to mourn and then get back to work.  That's just what we, too,  must   do if the rule is not implemented because the sore horse will   still be with us and the fight must continue.

To put this in perspective, one of the people who left   comments on this issue was   clearly a newcomer.  The writer   couldn't believe that this obvious abuse to horses in the name of a show ring ribbon was allowed to continue    and   asked:  " Why doesn't someone do something?"

That’s when another person, speaking from a position much higher up, wrote back, “ God looked down. When asked why doesn’t someone do something, he replied, “ I did. I created you!

Each one of us is someone.