Horse industry inspectors are simply not doing their job.
03/30/2017 05:25 pm ET
COURTESY OF HSUS
A Tennessee Walking Horse lies in pain after being sored with caustic chemicals.
Tennessee Walking Horses are beautiful creatures that are routinely tortured in order to perform an exaggerated, high-stepping gait known in competition as the “big lick.”
Back in 1970, Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to make the practice of “soring” illegal. Soring is an inhumane practice. Caustic acid is applied to the horse’s legs and then covered with plastic wrap so it seeps into the skin for days. Metal chains are attached to the horse’s legs while he’s ridden, which strike the inflamed area to create immense pain. Hard objects such as screws are inserted into the tender area of the hooves. When it is time to compete, salicylic acid is use to burn off the scar tissue in order to disguise the sored areas. Without soring, the horses can’t achieve the “big lick,” which is highly prized in shows in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.
The problem with the HPA is that it relies on the industry to regulate itself by training its own inspectors to look for signs of soring. These inspectors are often also exhibitors of Tennessee Walking Horses and have no desire to stop soring, so the widespread abuse goes unpunished.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was reintroduced in the 115th Congress this week. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, along with the American Horse Council, all endorse this legislation, which will put an end to soring and punish those who continue the practice through fines and banning them from competition.
Reforms include ending the industry’s practice of self-policing, which has failed; banning the use of all devices connected with soring; and increasing penalties, including 3 years of jail time and fines up to $5,000 per violation. After the third violation, owners of Tennessee Walking Horses may be barred from competing in any horse show.
In a joint statement, these important veterinary groups state:
“For decades we’ve watched irresponsible individuals become more creative about finding ways to sore horses and circumvent the inspection process, and have lost faith in an industry that seems unwilling and/or unable to police itself.”
And important in budget-conscious Washington, all of this can be accomplished without increasing spending as it will enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient, effective way.
To those who think that regulating the show horse industry is not the job of the government, HSUS offers video, shot during an undercover investigation, of champion Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell and his associates routinely painting caustic chemicals on horses’ legs. The video also depicts horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and violently cracked across their skulls and legs with heavy wooden sticks.
It is difficult to prosecute someone like Jackie McConnell because of the weak penalties in the current law. Horse industry inspectors are simply not doing their job. They claimed that there was a 98 percent compliance rate at the 2013 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, but the USDA found that 67 percent of the horses examined at this competition tested positive for prohibited substances that could mask soring.
The PAST Act had 50 Senate co-sponsors and 273 House co-sponsors in the last Congress, and was reintroduced with over 200 original House cosponsors in this Congress. Yet there are powerful lobbying organizations that don’t want any restrictions on Tennessee Walking Horses, and members of Congress who are happy to do their bidding – so passage of PAST will be an uphill battle.
We need Congress to step up and stop the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses. Please contact your Representative and urge them to cosponsor PAST and do all they can to get it enacted.
March 30, 2017
Today, in a show of legislative horsepower, U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, HR 1847, with nearly half the lawmakers in the U.S. House joining them in a quest to close loopholes in the almost 50-year-old Horse Protection Act that have enabled the cruelty of horse soring to persist. They were joined by a strong leadership team of Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and a whopping combined 209 original cosponsors – a level of support for bill introduction that is very rare in Congress.
Identical to the bill of the same name introduced two years ago, the PAST Act contains the reforms that are so urgently needed to crack down on soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to create the exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.” It will end the corrupt and failed system of industry self-policing and ban the devices used in, and integral to, the soring process. Reps. Yoho and Schrader are both veterinarians with experience treating horses, and they spoke compellingly about soring at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill.
The nationwide campaign to end the cruel practice of horse soring came so close within the last year, and we’re still reeling from the failure of Federal Register personnel to properly publish a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule to crack down on the activity. Last July, the USDA announced a proposed rule that was years in the making, to ban the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and legs and to eliminate the industry self-regulation program that has enabled corrupt practices to persist on such a widespread basis.
Although Congress passed and President Nixon signed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to stop soring, the practice has continued to infect shows for Tennessee walking horses in Tennessee and other states where these exhibitions occur, due to weak regulations and underenforcement. The agency’s proposed rule received more than 100,000 supportive public comments and was endorsed by numerous equine industry groups, key veterinary organizations, and 224 Representatives and Senators who called on the USDA to finalize it swiftly. But in a tragic one-two punch, the Obama administration fell literally one day short of publishing the final rule before leaving office, and it then got caught up in the Trump administration’s blanket regulation freeze. Thankfully for the horses, the bill introduced today provides a potential source of relief.
The PAST Act goes beyond the pending USDA regulations in that it will create stronger penalties for violators, to more effectively deter this criminal activity. PAST has overwhelming support, with endorsements by the American Horse Council, the United States Equestrian Federation, more than 60 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the hotbeds of soring), among hundreds of groups and key individuals.
The pro-soring coalition has its own bill that masquerades as reform. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ “Horse Protection Amendments Act” is nothing more than a smokescreen for big lick torturers, and shamefully, 10 Representatives (from Tennessee, Kentucky, and one from Mississippi) have cosponsored this sham bill. These legislators represent the very region where the horses need the reforms of PAST the most. Rep. Cohen of Tennessee, on the other hand, has been an unwavering champion for animal welfare and continues to help lead the PAST Act, while Rep. John Yarmuth, D–Ky., is a PAST Act cosponsor again.
While the provisions in the USDA rule that’s on hold are critical, we also knew that we’d have to go to Congress to increase penalties. So now we have two pathways for reform — unfreezing the rule and getting the PAST Act over the finish line. With more than 200 lawmakers joining together to introduce this legislation, we welcome a vote on the issue and call on House leaders to take up the PAST Act within a reasonable time frame. Our nation should no longer tolerate trainers and owners intentionally and maliciously injuring horses in order for them to win ribbons at shows. The ribbons mean nothing to the horses, and this human blend of vanity and cruelty should be stamped out by national lawmakers and by President Trump.
Tennessee Walking Horse advocates visited the White House on Wednesday hoping to present a petition asking President Donald Trump to implement a USDA rule that would ban the use action devices sometimes used on some gaited horse breeds, which was one of several regulations frozen after the administration change in January.
Before Trump took office earlier this year, the USDA approved the rule, which prohibits the use of action devices on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. It also forbids the use of boots other than soft rubber or leather bell boots and quarter boots used as protective devices as well as pads and wedges, except for those with a therapeutic purpose.
The ban on action devices was slated to take effect in February, while the other rule provisions were scheduled to become effective Jan. 1. 2018.
The rule was among many frozen by executive order when Trump took office on Jan. 20. Such freezes are frequently imposed so new administrations can review new regulations, policy-related statement, budgets, and relevant legislation.
When the freeze took place, Mike Inman, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, said the Walking Horse industry will use the suspension period to talk with prospective incoming USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue about the “important facts regarding proposed rule-making.”
It is uncertain whether Perdue, who is expected to be confirmed shortly, will implement the rule once he takes office.
On March 29, members of the Tennessee Walking Horse advocacy group Citizens Campaign Against "Big Lick" Animal Cruelty sought to deliver a petition—started when the freeze took place—asking that the rule be published in the Federal Record and implemented, said the group's spokesman Clant Seay. He said more than 100,000 people from across the country had signed the petition.
“This petition is not going to a Congressman,” he said. “We'll get it in the White House one way or another.”
Meanwhile, Inman said he was not surprised about the petition effort, saying it is expected that the anti-soring “faction would continue their opposition to the Tennessee Walking Horse.”
A decision about the rule remains pending.