Much will be written and reported in the next 60 days regarding the USDA/APHIS’ just released proposed rule that would give the department the tools to effectively and efficiently enforce the Horse Protection Act designed decades ago to protect breeds of horses whose gaits have been exaggerated through abusive training and flat- out cruelty. Everyone who supports the USDA/APHIS position must weigh- in during the public comment period and, it can only be hoped, that the news of the proposed rule will spread far and wide, using all the resources of social media and every equine publication and blog that cares about the welfare of the horse.
These so-called “show” horses have one purpose : to flail around a track in endless loops in order to sustain a tradition that should have ended long ago. Ignoring what real horsemen understand about the bio-mechanics of how horses move, what constitutes appropriate shoeing, the necessity for all performance to be based on balance, good training, and the welfare of the horse’s mental and physical condition as the first requirements, this small group of die-hards, who love to use the term “government over- reach”, except when the government through pet politicians have over- reached on their behalf to thwart all attempts to end soring, are completely out of touch with the growing movement to put the horse first in all aspects of equestrian sport.
They do not see themselves as the rest of the world sees them; in point of fact, they are so busy seeing lawyers and raising funds to pay them, they do not see the rest of the world at all.
The USDA, responsible for enforcing the law and protecting not only the horses but competitors who have been cheated and defrauded by those who resort to illegal means to take that spotlight ride , has, regrettably over the years been out -lawyered and out -politicianed at every turn.
And, also regrettably, fissures, fractures, and personalities within the sound horse community have kept it for years from being as united as the opposition has been. The road to hell has been paved with good intentions, while the hell of it is, the opposition just kept paving its road to keep on keeping on. Today, a new road crew is in town.
In the real world, not the world of hopes and dreams, it has been a long and often discouraging haul to make progress on the issue of eliminating the sore horse from the show ring. Advocates and activists have wandered in the desert , or so it has seemed, with the promised land of ending soring, often visible in the distance but in the end always just out of reach.
Laudable progress has been made recently through protests of conscience in depriving these grotesque parodies of horse shows an audience; yet, ultimately, federal law and strict enforcement are needed to stop this abuse in its tracks.
The department’s publication of the proposed rule, demonstrates that at long last, help for the horses could be on the way. Although we can expect that the opposition will raise the money that it needs to fight the USDA in court , having already called the proposed rule “unconstitutional and illegal” before it was released to the public, momentum is a mighty force in all campaigns and, when we work together, there’s more of “us”, then there are of “them”.
Today, thanks to the efforts of the HSUS, the ASPCA, the AHC, the AVMA, the AAEP, organizations like FOSH and the All American Walking Horse Alliance, grass roots efforts like the Citizens Campaign, riding organizations across the country, and individuals in the United States and internationally who have said “enough”, the momentum is on the side of enforcing the law and stepping into the 21st century regarding animal welfare.
The court of public opinion has ruled in the case of the sored, built-up horse and the verdict is “No More”.
One person who is surely entitled to blog on this subject is Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the HSUS. Under his leadership, the organization has been directed to devote thousands of hours and make full use of its resources in the effort to bring about the end to the soring, stacking and chaining of walking, racking, and spotted saddle horses .
In his blog today, Mr. Pacelle wrote:
“No one should get away with animal cruelty. Not an individual and not an industry. But that’s what’s been happening with scofflaw owners and trainers within a segment of the Tennessee walking horse show industry.
This week, we applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing a proposed rule, fulfilling a number of the requests in a February 2015 rule-making petition filed by attorneys for The HSUS with pro bono help from Latham & Watkins. The proposed rule contains game-changing reforms to end the half-century-long battle against the soring of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses and related breeds – a vile practice in which caustic chemicals, chains, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques are used to injure the horses’ front legs and hooves and force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.” This sort of calculated, appalling cruelty should never be tolerated.
Since 1970, a federal law intended by Congress to end soring – the Horse Protection Act (HPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1821 et seq. – has been on the books. The USDA was charged with enforcing the law, but due to under-funding and political interference from those defending the horse sorers, for most of the past 40 years the very segment of the show horse world that created the soring problem has been allowed to police itself and perpetuate the rampant abuse.
Mainstream horse industry groups and veterinary organizations such as the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and American Veterinary Medical Association have tried to work with and encourage the walking horse crowd to bring about change from within – but more than a few stubborn horse owners and trainers continue to think they are above the law. Humane groups have lobbied the USDA for stronger enforcement, supported its efforts, and even sued the agency in an attempt to secure long overdue protections for the stoic, majestic equine victims of a culture of abuse as seedy and dark as the nation’s worst cockfighting and dogfighting rings.
The HSUS has conducted undercover investigations of leading horse training establishments, exposed the corruption and cruelty within the industry, and demonstrated that – as the USDA’s own Inspector General determined in a 2010 audit of the Horse Protection program – the current system is still hopelessly broken, and nothing short of significant reforms will fulfill the intent of Congress and break the cycle of cruelty that is so endemic to the big lick walking horse circuit.
In recent years, Congress has attempted to close loopholes in enforcement of the HPA through federal legislation. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.3268/S.1121, has garnered vast, nearly unprecedented endorsements by virtually all sectors of the horse industry, veterinary community, animal protection movement, law enforcement, key individuals in the walking horse show world, and a broad bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate with 314 cosponsors combined currently. But a handful of obstructionist federal legislators aligned with the soring crowd have thus far managed to block this broadly supported bill from coming to a vote. No longer can a handful of lawmakers stymie the will of the vast majority of key stakeholders and Americans.
The USDA has the authority under current law to strengthen its own HPA regulations to more effectively crack down on soring. The lead House and Senate sponsors of the PAST Act and 175 cosponsors sent letters this spring calling on the administration to move forward quickly with this rulemaking and ensure that it covers the key reforms. The agency has agreed, recognizing that these changes are necessary in order to effectuate the purposes of the HPA, and has put forth for public comment a robust set of regulatory changes in this proposed new rule, including the following:
Abolishing the current system of industry self-regulation and in its place implementing a network of independent, third-party inspectors licensed, trained, and overseen by the USDA, at no new cost to the taxpayer
Prohibiting the use of stacked horse shoes, ankle chains, and other “action devices” at competitions, on horses in the Tennessee walking, racking, and related breeds (those that have been chronic victims of soring).
These provisions, consistent with key elements of the PAST Act, The HSUS’ 2015 petition and the congressional letters, should finally help bring an end to soring and salvage the walking horse industry, securing its place in the humane economy of the 21st century and beyond.
It’s time for equestrians, animal lovers, and humane-minded people across America to step up and show their support for this proposed rule during the public comment period which ends September 26th. We should show a zero tolerance policy as a nation for this intentional cruelty to horses – especially when the goal of the sorers is nothing but a few ribbons at horse shows and notoriety within their small, insular subculture."
Amen and Hallelujah! ( Rejoice and then remember: this is good news but the battle is not over. To get to the finish line, find the avenue that best suits your style of advocacy, then get involved, stay involved, and don't quit five minutes before the miracle. We shall never, ever, give up until the sore horse is only a sad footnote in the history of what is a wonderful breed. )