The head of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has taken aim at a group of American lawmakers, labeling their walking-horse industry bill a sham, a cover-up and a distraction.
HSUS president and chief executive Wayne Pacelle condemned the bill offered as an alternative to the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which has the backing of the society and a wide number of horse industry organisations across the US.
Late last month, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced the Horse Protection Amendments Act, S. 1161.
Alexander described the bill as “a proposal to end the contemptible, illegal practice of horse soring once and for all”.
He asserted that the HSUS bill, which has been introduced to both the House and Senate, would destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition. It would, he argued, do little more than create another layer of bureaucracy at the US Department of Agriculture.
“In baseball, if a player illegally uses steroids you punish the player – you don’t shut down America’s pastime,” Alexander said.
“We need to punish and stop any trainer, owner or rider who engages in the illegal practice of horse soring – not shut down a treasured and important tradition in both Tennessee and Kentucky.”
But Pacelle wasn’t buying it, suggesting the only bill that would put an end to soring – the use of burning chemicals or mechanical irritants to encourage the high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” – was the PAST Act.
He described the PAST Act as a piece of unfinished business from the 2013-14 Congress. The bill was widely supported in both the House and Senate, but did not get to a final vote in either chamber.
Pacelle, writing in his blog, A Humane Nation, suggested that the bill introduced by Alexander, Paul and McConnell would not protect a single horse from abuse.
“On the contrary, it would actually weaken existing protections for horses,” he said, in reference to the existing Horse Protection Act.
The senators’ bill would maintain the failed system of industry self-regulation, he said, while designating a single horse industry organization to manage the inspections and penalty process.
“This will only make matters worse by giving the very figures in the industry responsible for abusing horses the power to rewrite the rules, while eliminating reputable horse industry organizations that have a zero tolerance policy for horse soring at shows they now oversee.
“Titular oversight of this self-policing scheme would be placed in the hands of agriculture commissioners in Kentucky and Tennessee – the two states where state authorities have proven themselves most unwilling to confront soring.”
He said the PAST Act, by contrast, would end self-policing and put the US Department of Agriculture in charge of inspections, rather than having horse industry organizations “choose cronies from inside their own ranks to conduct inspections”.
The PAST Act would also ban the use of devices, such as stacks and chains, which are associated with soring in the Tennessee Walking, Spotted Saddle and Racking Horse breeds.
“Former industry insiders and veterinary experts have made it clear that without stacks and chains, horses wouldn’t respond to the soring used to achieve the Big Lick gait,” Pacelle said.
“The ‘alternative’ bill introduced by Senator Alexander does not address stacks and chains at all, and does nothing to strengthen the penalty structure of the Horse Protection Act,” Pacelle said.
“There is no doubt that the PAST Act is the only bill that will end horse soring: it will strengthen penalties against violators of the law by establishing felony-level jail time for core offenses, increasing fines, and allowing permanent disqualification for repeat offenders and disqualification of sore horses for increasing periods based on the number of repeat violations.
“The current penalties amount to nothing more than a slap on the wrist and allow violators to continue evading the law and exhibiting sore horses at competition. Stronger deterrents are necessary.”
Pacelle noted that more than 600 groups and key individuals, including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Horse Council, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the state veterinary medical associations of all 50 states, supported the PAST Act last Congress.
“We expect all of them to get on board with the same bill this year. The only folks on board with the Alexander bill are those representing the horse soring crowd.”
Pacelle argued that the PAST Act was urgently needed to finally accomplish what Congress set out to do nearly 40 years ago – stop soring and protect America’s walking horses.
“The Alexander bill should be seen for what it is – a cover-up, a distraction, and a sham.
“It’s time for leaders in both chambers to allow a debate and a fair vote on the issue.”
But Alexander championed his bill. “I hope those in Congress who want to address this problem will work with us to get a result. The Humane Society bill would destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition,” he said.
Alexander said the PAST Act would ban many industry-standard training and show devices that did not harm horses on their own.
Horse soring was already illegal under federal law, he said. His legislation would take six additional steps to end horse soring.
He said his bill would create consistent oversight, require term limits for board members, protect against conflicts of interest, require input from veterinarians, stipulate a requirement for objective testing, and add suspensions from horse shows.
Owners whose horses were found to be sore would be required to have their horses on a 30-day suspension for the first offense, with additional offenses requiring 90 days.