Senators in the United States are being urged to back legislation that would get tough on the illegal practice of horse soring.
Soring involves the intentional use of chemical or mechanical irritants on the lower legs of horses to encourage the high-stepping known as the Big Lick in the Tennessee Walking Horse show ring.
Soring has no place in society, Kitty Block and Sara Amundson wrote in their blog, A Humane Nation.
Block, who is president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, and Amundson, who is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, described soring as a deliberate and wanton torment of horses.
“A more pointless cruelty you would be hard-pressed to identify, and it’s been going on for decades,” the pair wrote.
“Now, with the reintroduction in the US Senate of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, we can finally end soring. We want an end to self-policing in the sport. We want the devices so integral to soring cast into the dustbin of history. We want to bring an end to weak and ineffectual penalties.”
Block and Amundson noted that the legislation, sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), and Mark Warner (D-Va) is off to a strong start, with 48 senators — nearly half of the Senate — already co-sponsoring the bipartisan bill.
The PAST Act would amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act, directly tackling its shortcomings that have allowed horse soring to endure for so long.
It would, they said, ban forever the torturous devices that are an integral part of the soring process. These include chains used in combination with caustic, burning chemicals to inflame the horses’ tender ankles, the heavy stacked shoes that cause tendon and joint damage, as well as the hard and sharp objects inserted to exacerbate the torment.
The legislation, if passed, would also put the US Department of Agriculture back in charge of the oversight of inspectors, scrapping what the pair termed “the fox-watching-the-henhouse approach” that has played into the hands of sorers for several generations.
“Finally, it would impose penalties that constitute a meaningful deterrent, and make illegal the act of soring a horse for the purpose of showing, exhibiting or selling the animal at a public sale or auction.”
In the last Congress, PAST passed the House of Representatives by a broad bipartisan margin of 333-96, when it was co-sponsored by 308 representatives and 52 senators.
The nation’s leading horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection organizations support this bill, which has been endorsed by major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (where soring is most prevalent).
The evidence of the need for reform has never been greater, they said, citing the society’s undercover investigations in 2012 and 2015 at top “Big Lick” training stables.
“More recently, we conducted an analysis of Horse Protection Act enforcement data provided by the US Department of Agriculture covering 2018-2020. The analysis concluded that soring persists unabated — and that industry inspectors are continuing to fail to detect these violations. This is especially evident at shows where USDA veterinary officials are not present to oversee inspections.”
In January this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report confirming that industry inspectors often conduct improper and inadequate examinations, and recommending that US Department of Agriculture rely solely on qualified veterinarians as inspectors — a preference built into the PAST Act.
The pair urged US citizens to contact their senators and urge them to back the bill if they haven’t yet done so.
“However, there is no reason the horses should wait for the legislation to work its way through in order to secure immediate relief from this atrocious cruelty,” they said.
The US Department of Agriculture itself could accomplish much of what PAST attempts to achieve right now under the authority granted by Congress to the Secretary of Agriculture, they said.
“That’s why we are again calling on Secretary Tom Vilsack to reinstate and publish in the Federal Register a strong rule amending the agency’s soring regulations.”
That measure was finalized in 2017 during Vilsack’s tenure as secretary of the agency during the Obama Administration but shelved under the Trump Administration.
“Vilsack can ban soring devices and return full enforcement oversight to his agency, where we know it belongs. As the secretary himself understood, a tougher enforcement system and a prohibition on the instruments of soring will make a world of difference. And that’s the kind of world we’re working for.”