The time is right to reform American racing, say top animal welfare advocates

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Now is the time to reform American horse racing, according to the Humane Society of the United States, with strong companion bills now before the House of Representatives and Senate.

Reform efforts are now moving at full gallop, according to the society’s president and chief executive Kitty Block, and Sara Amundson, who is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

The pair, who publish the blog A Humane Nation, are backing the bills, which enjoy bipartisan support.

The bill introduced to the House is the Horseracing Integrity Act, while the bill in the Senate is the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.

They would ban race-day medications and create a racetrack safety program by establishing a uniform set of track safety standards.

They would also put in place a uniform anti-doping and medication control program for all 38 racing jurisdictions.

“These are exciting developments that we have long worked for,” they wrote.

“With an average of 8.5 horses dying at the races every week, the need for Congressional action is critical.”

Block and Amundersen say both the society and legislative fund teams have pushed relentlessly for horseracing reform, working with lawmakers and progressive industry reformers to draft and introduce the bills to clean up the sport.

“There hasn’t been a better time, or opportunity, to reform horse racing.

“The sport has been plagued by high-profile scandals, including a wave of horse deaths and the indictments earlier this year of trainers and veterinarians in a doping scandal.

“These incidents have finally focused the spotlight on problems that have long flooded horse racing, drawing criticism and calls for change from within the industry.

“A big part of the problem has been the lack of clear standards for medications trainers use to mask pain or enhance the performance of horses.

“Racing occurs in 38 states, and unscrupulous owners and trainers can currently move racehorses from one jurisdiction to another with fewer restrictions to continue doping horses and avoid penalties.”

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would give the job of implementing an anti-doping and medication program to the US Anti-Doping Agency, which handles drug testing for all US Olympic athletes.

It would also, among other things, establish uniform rules and sanctions for those who violate the rules, and include more oversight of racing surfaces, which are responsible for some racehorse injuries and deaths.

It will greatly improve protections for America’s racehorses, they say.

“We’ll be pushing for its passage with all of our might,” the pair wrote.

They urged supporters to write to their federal legislators. “Ask them to support the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020 and get it over the finish line in coming weeks.”

 

Tennessee voters want to end soring

In another blog, the pair revealed the results of a poll commissioned by the Humane Society, which showed more than 83% of Tennessee voters want Congress to end the practice of soring within the walking horse industry.

The society said respondents belonging to both parties in the largely conservative state overwhelmingly supported passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, a bill that would crack down on soring — the practice of inflicting pain on the legs and hooves of show horses to force them to perform the artificial, high-stepping “big lick” gait.

Only 7% of respondents opposed the bill and 10 percent were undecided.

Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy interviewed a total of 625 registered voters by phone between January 28 and 30 for the poll, which had a plus or minus 4 percent margin of error.

The PAST Act has already cleared the US House but has failed to see any action in the Senate.

Soring has been outlawed for decades under the Horse Protection Act, but advocates say lax enforcement has failed to end the illegal practice.

The PAST Act needs to become law as soon as possible, they say. “The bill would end the cruel practice of soring and amend the Horse Protection Act by banning the use of devices integral to soring, replacing the failed system of industry self-policing with a team of independent inspectors overseen by the USDA, and increasing penalties for violations.”

The pair noted that the bill passed the House of Representatives in July 2019 by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin of 333 to 96. It currently has 52 Senate cosponsors, but “political cronyism” has kept it from moving forward in the Senate.

They suggest senators opposed to the PAST Act should take note of the poll numbers.

“There should be no debate over ending soring — it’s animal abuse of the worst kind, and it needs to stop, period.

“The PAST Act is endorsed by every major horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection group in the country, and it’s time our senators put politics aside to pass this commonsense bill.”

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