The passage of a bill through the US House of Representatives to tighten protections for walking horses against the illegal practice of soring has been hailed by animal advocacy groups.
The House of Representatives this week approved the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 5441, by an overwhelming 304 to 111 bipartisan vote.
The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund applauded the vote to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from soring, which involves the intentional infliction of pain on the animals’ legs or hooves, to force them to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick”.
Soring is already illegal, but the legislation would amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act, closing loopholes that have allowed violators to continue their abusive practices. It will end the system of industry self-policing.
In its place, the bill would establish a program of third-party, independent inspectors trained, licensed and assigned by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). It would also ban devices integral to soring and strengthen penalties.
The humane society documented the abuse of soring in undercover investigations of the Big Lick segment of the industry in 2012 and 2015.
“For decades, we’ve pressed to end soring by conducting undercover investigations, raising public awareness, lobbying to secure greater funding for enhanced enforcement by the USDA and working with champions in Congress and coalition partners to enact this legislation,” said Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the humane society and chief executive of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
“Now, we’re calling on the Senate to pass the PAST Act and send it to President Biden’s desk. There’s no excuse for further delays or obstruction; these animals have suffered for far too long.”
Sara Amundson, who is president of Humane Society Legislative Fund, described soring as one of the worst cruelties imaginable. Some unscrupulous trainers, she said, deliberately torment Tennessee walking horses to get them to fling their front legs high, just to win a cheap blue ribbon in a show ring.
“It would be like forcing an Olympian to wear broken glass in her shoes so the pain will make her leap higher over the hurdles.
“We are grateful to the House champions — Reps. Steve Cohen, Brian Fitzpatrick, Jan Schakowsky and Vern Buchanan — and to all who cosponsored and voted for this bill, as well as to Energy and Commerce Committee leaders Frank Pallone and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and House leadership for bringing it to a floor vote.
“The Senate should follow suit quickly to get the PAST Act over the finish line and USDA should note the broad bipartisan support for stronger enforcement to end this torture.”
Keith Dane, senior director of equine protection for the society said: “For over half a century, animal abusers in the Big Lick faction of the walking horse industry have managed to evade enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and continue their cruelty unabated — it’s long past time for it to end.
“Thousands of walking horse owners and others have worked side by side with us to abolish soring and the economic havoc it has wreaked on this breed.”
Dane is a former director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association and a lifelong horseman.
He continues: “These advocates have worked tirelessly to reform the breed from within, but they also know that the PAST Act is necessary to codify protection of our horses. We celebrate this action by the House and strongly urge the Senate to finally bring this crucial legislation to a vote.”
The PAST Act is endorsed by hundreds of leading groups and individuals in the horse industry and veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection communities, including the American Horse Council, US Equestrian Federation, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, key individuals in the Tennessee walking horse show world, National Sheriffs’ Association, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
In public opinion polls conducted in 2020 in Kentucky and Tennessee – the states where soring is most prevalent – respondents across all categories, political affiliation, gender, age and geographic region of each state voiced resounding support for the PAST Act’s reforms (78% in Kentucky and 82% in Tennessee).
The Senate companion bill, S. 2295, introduced by Senators Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., currently has 53 Senate cosponsors. The Senate Commerce Committee approved identical legislation in 2014.
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