An “alternative” federal bill proposed in the anti-soring debate could make matters worse for walking horses, animal advocates believe.
They were commenting after a companion bill to the one introduced to the US House of Representatives was introduced to the Senate on Tuesday.
Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is behind the bill, with its companion being promoted by Represenative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in the House.
The director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, Keith Dane, described it as a sham alternative bill to the widely supported Prevent all Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.
“Like Blackburn’s bill, it will enable the Big Lick faction of the industry to preserve the sore status quo,” Dane said.
“It’s not intended to protect horses, but simply to block the PAST Act from passing – even though a majority of both Houses of Congress cosponsor it.
“Lawmakers sincerely interested in combating the criminal practice of soring should get behind the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act,” he said.
“We call on House and Senate leadership to swiftly move the PAST Act to the floor for a vote, and end the unconscionable suffering of these horses.”
The society argues that the alternative bill would weaken protections for horses under the federal Horse Protection Act by placing enforcement authority in the hands of individuals with ties to the Tennessee walking horse industry.
This would codify – and potentially make worse – a scheme of self-regulation that the US Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General called a failure and recommended be abolished, the society said.
The alternative bill has been widely condemned by the horse industry, veterinary community and animal welfare groups.
Humane society president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle said the bill would do nothing to end the soring of Tennessee walking horses.
“It amounts to a prescription for continued abuse of horses by the Big Lick faction of trainers who seek to gain an advantage in competitive shows by intentionally injuring the animals. It puts a criminal faction of the industry in control of oversight.”
The PAST Act would eliminate industry self-policing, ban the use of “stacks” and chains on horses’ front limbs to produce the Big Lick gait, and increase penalties.
The PAST Act is endorsed by the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and dozens of leading horse industry organizations.
It is cosponsored by a majority of both the House and Senate – 269 Representatives and 51 Senators.
However, Senator Alexander, in arguing the merits of his alternative bill, said: “In baseball, if a player illegally uses steroids, you punish the player – you don’t shut down America’s national pastime.
“With Tennessee Walking Horse shows, when trainers, owners or riders illegally sore a horse, we should find a more effective way to punish and stop them – not shut down one of Tennessee’s most treasured traditions.
“The problem with the Humane Society bill is that it destroys a Tennessee tradition known around the world. Our goal is to find a way to preserve the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition and stop the cruelty to horses.”