Congress is being applauded for moving forward with legislation that would protect Tennessee Walking horses from an abusive training technique known as soring.
The technique in question is all about causing horses to suffer pain to achieve an unnaturally high stepping gait otherwise known as the “Big Lick.” The greater the pain, the higher the step.
Soring typically involves putting caustic substances on the sensitive skin around their hooves, which makes them quickly lift their legs to avoid the pain. To add to that, chains can also be used to cause more pain when they rub on the burned areas.
Pads, or stacks, may also be used on the front hooves to raise a horse’s forehand to add even more animation, but this causes unbalanced feet, among other problems, while pads can also be used to hide objects to cause more agony. After all of that, some are trained not to react to having their legs touched so they can get past inspections at shows.
Even though soring of all breeds has been banned for decades under the Horse Protection Act, (HPA) which was passed in 1970, it’s still a widespread problem for Tennessee walking horses.
Some like to pretend it’s just a few unethical trainers that continue to do this and give everyone a bad name, but many experts in the industry contend that there’s no chance any Big Lick horse hasn’t suffered from this abuse at some point.
ABC News’ airing of an undercover investigation conducted by the Humane Society of the United States in 2012 and the subsequent prosecution of top trainer Jackie McConnell, who pleaded guilty to 22 counts of animal cruelty, helped bring more attention to the ongoing abuse within the industry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is supposed to regulate the HPA, but even though USDA inspectors are used, they can’t cover everything, and the system it set up to help essentially allows the industry to self-regulate. The law also doesn’t stop what happens at home, it only prohibits showing, transporting or selling horses who have been sored.
In 2006, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the top competition for walking horses, was cancelled after the USDA inspected and disqualified so many horses due to soring from the grand championship class that it couldn’t be held. At the 2012 Celebration, 145 horses out of 190 tested positive for foreign substances, while the event in 2013 was also plagued with problems, including the elimination of a popular champion and failed inspections for horses who were owned by the former president of the Performance Show Horse Association.
Last year Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act in an effort to protect Tennessee Walkers, racking horses and spotted saddle horses from soring. Its companion bill, SB 1406, was introduced by Senator Kelly Ayotte. The PAST Act would ensure all inspectors at shows and sales are licensed by the USDA, which would get rid of inspectors with conflicting interests, and would strengthen federal penalties for violators.
More importantly, the PAST Act would ban the action devices and performance packages used to sore horses, including chains, stacks and pads, which many believe need to be banned to stop soring.
Even with widespread support from members of Congress, equine professionals and endorsements from dozens of organizations including the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, some are still fighting to stop it.
People who are clearly okay with the continued culture of cruelty in this industry have found friends in Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Sen. Lamar Alexander, who have both introduced conflicting legislation that will continue to allow self-regulation and would also allow for the continued use of devices used to sore horses.
“Any legislation that does not ban stacks and chains; does not eliminate the failed self-policing inspection system; does not increase criminal penalties to provide a truly effective deterrent; and does not strengthen the USDA’s ability to enforce the Horse Protection Act, will not work,” said Whitfield.
The good news for horses is that Blackburn and Alexander don’t have much support and proponents of the PAST Act aren’t backing down. Last week the Senate Commerce Committee passed the Past Act by a voice vote, which means it will move on for further consideration.
It’s clearly past time for serious action to be taken to clean this industry up and change show standards to value the natural movement and athleticism of gaited horses, instead of rewarding abusers for producing exaggerated steps that are the result of ongoing torture.
Please sign and share the petition urging your representative to support the PAST Act.
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