Current law against soring horses is full of holes, says HSUS boss

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Thermographic image showing excessive warmth (seen as red and orange colors), which may be caused by inflammation from soring. The pattern seen is consistent with soring using a chemical agent. © USDA
Thermographic image showing excessive warmth (seen as red and orange colors), which may be caused by inflammation from soring. The pattern seen is consistent with soring using a chemical agent. © USDA

Soring is illegal, but the law against it is nearly half a century old and full of holes that lawbreakers exploit, the head of the Humane Society of the United States says.

Its president and chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, has expressed his dismay that the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, which starts this weekend, will see people competing to win championship prizes by performing the “Big Lick”.

Pacelle, writing in his blog, A Humane Nation, described the high-stepping action as a manufactured, pain-based gait.

“It’s all done for a two-dollar blue ribbon and the fading applause generated by a shrinking base of followers within this small, corrupt slice of the horse show world.”

The nonprofit group has for years campaigned against those trainers who choose to sore their horses – the illegal practice of using chemical or mechanical irritants in training to encourage horses to use the high-stepping gait.

He said that this time last year, when he wrote about the Celebration, he expressed hope for a transformed event that put the natural talents of horses and riders together in fair competition, without the taint or tarnish of cheating and abuse.

“But that day has been indefinitely delayed because of a fumble in the final days of the Obama administration when bureaucrats didn’t properly finalize a rule to reform the industry. The Trump administration then froze all Obama rules in motion, including the anti-soring proposal, and that, at least for the time being, has maintained the status quo – where soring is illegal, but the law against it is nearly half a century old and full of holes that lawbreakers exploit.”

Pacelle said the Obama rule contained game-changing reforms – banning the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and eliminating an industry self-regulation program – which promised to end the 50-year-long battle against the soring of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses, and related breeds.

“This cruel practice … has continued because of the scofflaw conduct of a few hundred owners and trainers who want to get a leg up on their competitors.

“For years they fought off reforms, but the Obama rule would have been their undoing. Yet, even with that rule in abeyance, they are still pleading for the attention of their small but influential cadre of allies on Capitol Hill to carry their false narrative.

“But these lawmakers have an uphill climb, given the immense bipartisan support for legislation that is even stronger than the anti-soring rule that was sidetracked.”

He urged federal lawmakers to pass the The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which not only has broad congressional support but is also backed by a range of high-profile groups, including the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“Leaders in Congress must step up and show their support for the PAST Act, and bring it to the House floor for a vote. And the president should direct the USDA to revive the anti-soring rule, so that the federal government speaks with a clear voice that this intentional cruelty won’t be tolerated in the United States.”

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