And then it was done. For years, animal advocates and a core group of lawmakers have pushed for crucial reforms to provide additional protections for horses in the United States.
In the bold flourish of a Sharpie by the US president, the reforms passed days earlier by the US House and Senate were signed into law.
The main headlines around the bill just signed by President Donald Trump have focused on its provision of billions in much-needed Covid relief, but the massive 5000-page legislative behemoth is cause for much celebration among horse welfare advocates.
The president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, Kitty Block, in her blog with Sara Amundson, welcomed the legislative seachange.
“US federal law now includes critical protections for horses we have fought hard for over many years,” the pair wrote in the blog, A Humane Nation.
The package includes the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, widely supported for lawmakers. It contains measures to stop the drugging of racehorses and will bring about uniform drug controls in racing across the US, ending a long-criticized patchwork of different regulatory requirements.
It will also introduce stronger track safety measures.
The omnibus bill also contains defunding language that will keep horse slaughter plants in the United States shuttered. This language has been in place for all but two years since 2005.
The bill also doubles the fiscal year 2020 funding level for US Department of Agriculture enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to over $2 million to address the soring of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds.
“These are historic achievements,” said Block and Amundson, who is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
They say efforts will continue in the coming year to secure passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to decisively crack down on soring, the illicit practice of using chemical and mechanical irritants on the lower legs of horses to encourage the high-stepping gait known as the Big Lick.
The PAST Act passed the House in the 116th Congress by an overwhelming bipartisan vote and is co-sponsored by a majority in the Senate.
“We will also work with the Biden administration to swiftly reinstate a rule that would strengthen enforcement against soring, as the omnibus package urges the USDA to do.
“The rule, shelved in 2017, would end the failed system of industry self-policing and use of devices integral to soring, accomplishing much of what the PAST Act would do.”
They described the changes in the massive legislative package as landmark wins.
“In coming months we will be watching closely to ensure solid implementation of the new measures concerning horse racing, and we will continue to press forward to ensure that the cruelty of horse soring ends once and for all.
“We will also be pushing for the passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to permanently ban the brutal slaughter of American horses both here and abroad. The road ahead is long, but we’re in it until these measures to protect American equines cross the finish line.”
A ‘gold standard anti-doping program’
The Water Hay Oat Alliance (WHOA), a grassroots movement of individuals who support the passage of federal legislation to prohibit the use of race-day medication in horse racing, hailed the passage of the omnibus bill.
It said the inclusion of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act had made WHOA’s vision a reality.
Racing, it said, would now have a gold standard anti-doping program overseen and managed by the United States Anti-Doping Agency.
“After years of negotiation and compromise to fulfill our mission, today marks a turning point toward a bright future for American horse racing, the health and welfare of its horses and jockeys and the integrity of its sport,” it said in a statement.
It thanked its members, who it said had helped to swing the tide of industry consciousness.
“Hand-in-hand, we have worked diligently to reach this monumental day for our horses, our sport and racing’s future.
WHOA thanked House sponsors, Congressmen Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Andy Barr (R-KY), both of whom worked together for years to secure the bill’s passage. It also thanked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who brought the remaining diverse industry factions together in support of the bill.
“He carried it across the finish line in the Senate with a bill that will not only bring about drug and medication reform and the creation of a gold-standard anti-doping program, but also with an important track safety initiative.
“These three leaders were champions of our cause. We couldn’t have done it without them.”
It urged its members to support the newly formed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.
Seating of the Authority and its committees will begin in January. “It is of the utmost importance to seat the committees with independent experts in sport, anti-doping and ethics who have a vision for the health and safety of our horses and the integrity of our sport.”
Protecting Kentucky’s racing traditions
Congressman Barr voiced his pleasure at the passage of the racing reforms.
“After six long years of engaging with industry stakeholders, equine advocates and lawmakers, historic reform to strengthen the thoroughbred horseracing industry is finally here.
“This legislation is the most significant reform to Kentucky’s signature industry in over four decades, providing a uniform standard of competition as well as protection for equine athletes to ensure the industry thrives for generations to come.
“I want to thank Leader McConnell and Congressman Tonko for their partnership on this bill.”
McConnell said Kentucky’s cherished horseracing traditions deserved to be protected.
“I’m proud our legislation to preserve our signature racing industry and the 24,000 workers who support it is now law,” he said.
“With the leadership of Congressman Andy Barr and the partnership of sport leaders, horse advocates, and fans, we’re one step closer to promoting fairness and safety across Thoroughbred racing. As Majority Leader, I made this Kentucky-focused legislation a top priority in the Senate.”
US Jockey Club chairman Stuart S. Janney III said it had been a long journey. “But Thoroughbred racing will finally have national uniformity in its rules and regulations, and the sport will be safer for its athletes, both equine and human.”
He thanked the lawmakers who had promoted the bill.
The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity’s executive director, Shawn Smealie, said Congressman Barr had shown great courage in sponsoring this legislation at a time when the industry was divided on its medication policy.
“Poll after poll of racing fans and non-fans alike showed that medication policy and track safety were their biggest concerns.”
The new law addresses both issues head on.
“Congressman Barr never wavered in his support for uniform medication reform and independent handling of the sports anti-doping program.”