Lawmakers seek to end self-policing in walking horse industry

The ASPCA's Nancy Perry
The ASPCA’s Nancy Perry

Two lawmakers have been praised by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for seeking to toughen the law around horse soring.

Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) are seeking to amend the 42-year-old  federal Horse Protection Act, which bans the use of  abusive techniques to encourage the high-stepping gait so desirable in the walking horse industry.

Whitfield and Cohen seek to enhance the US Department of Agriculture’s ability to enforce the act by eliminating self-policing inspection practices, increasing penalties, and designating additional soring practices as illegal.

“Soring is a particularly cruel form of abuse as the horses are forced to endure years of chronic pain throughout their show career,” said Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA government relations.

“The Horse Protection Act was specifically enacted in 1970 to prohibit this abhorrent practice, and yet it continues to pervade the gaited horse industry four decades later.”

She thanked the lawmakers promoting and supporting the bill.

Ed Whitfield
Ed Whitfield

Whitfield said: “Far too often, those involved in showing the Tennessee Walking Horse have turned a blind eye to abusive trainers, or when they do take action, the penalties are so minor, it does nothing to prevent these barbaric acts.

“This amendment does not cost the federal government any additional money and is essential in helping to put an end to the practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses by abusive trainers.”

Cohen continued: “In Tennessee, soring horses is illegal and unacceptable. Those responsible for abusing these horses should be punished severely and banned from the sport.

“How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation. There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one’s humanity.”

The training method known as “soring” involves the deliberate application of pain-causing chemicals, cuts or foreign objects to a horse’s limbs or hoof pads to cause such pain to the animal’s front limbs that any contact with the ground forces the horse to fling its leg back up into the air.

Steve Cohen
Steve Cohen

Additionally, trainers may attempt to mask soring by “stewarding” Tennessee Walking Horses, which conditions the horses to remain still by beating, torturing or burning them.

In 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General conducted an audit of the horse protection program, finding that trainers in the industry often go to great lengths to evade detection rather than comply with federal law and train their horses using humane methods.

The office made several recommendations, including stiffer penalties and abolishing the self-policing practices currently allowed, where the Horse Industry Organizations are able to assign their own inspectors to horse shows.

The new bill would eliminate the current self-policing practices by requiring the USDA to assign a licensed inspector to a horse show. Second, it would prohibit the use of action devices on the various horse breeds that have frequently been the victims of soring. Action devices, such as chains that rub up and down an already sore leg, intensify the horse’s pain when it moves, so that the horse quickly jolts up its leg. Lastly, the amendment increases the penalties on an individual caught soring a horse.


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