Animal welfare organizations applaud members of Congress for introducing federal legislation to stop the cruel practice of “soring”—the deliberate infliction of pain to the hooves and legs of horses to produce an artificial high-stepping gait that gains unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2013, H.R. 1518, was introduced by lead sponsors U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., along with Reps Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Jim Moran, D-Va., as original cosponsors.
The PAST Act strengthens the Horse Protection Act, originally passed in 1970. The bipartisan bill is endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), along with a broad and unusually diverse coalition of horse industry and veterinary organizations, including the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
The Horse Protection Act was enacted more than 40 years ago, but the systematic abuse of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds persists. Unscrupulous trainers spend their efforts devising a gruesome array of techniques to make it painful for these gentle creatures to take even a step, so they will lift their front legs extremely high in the unnatural gait known as “the Big Lick,” rewarded by judges at some of this industry’s horse competitions.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, said: “Without these strong amendments to the decades-old Horse Protection Act, ‘Big Lick’ show horses will continue to suffer at the hands of unethical trainers and owners who abuse
horses to win blue ribbons. We’ve upgraded our federal laws in recent years relating to dogfighting and cockfighting, and now it’s time to do so for horse soring.”
Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations, added: “Soring is a particularly cruel form of abuse as these gentle animals are tortured through the intentional application of intense and chronic pain throughout their show career. The Horse Protection Act was specifically enacted in 1970 to prohibit this abhorrent practice, and yet it is still a pervasive practice in the gaited horse industry four decades later. We thank Representatives Whitfield and Cohen for introducing legislation to protect these loyal horses and bring an end to soring.”
URGE YOUR LEGISLATORS
THE PAST ACT
Rep. Cohen said: “In Tennessee, soring horses is illegal and unacceptable. Those responsible for abusing these horses should be punished severely and banned from the sport. How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation. There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one’s humanity.”
Former Sen. Joseph Tydings, D-Md., the author and original sponsor of the Horse Protection Act of 1970, said: “I commend Congressman Whitfield on his leadership in organizing this bipartisan effort to strengthen and improve the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which is long overdue and greatly needed.”
A 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Act enforcement program found that trainers in the industry go to great lengths to evade detection of the cruelty to which they subject their horses, rather than comply with federal law and use humane training methods. The O.I.G. audit also pointed out the serious conflicts of interest in the current system, which allows inspectors to be chosen by the horse industry organizations representing the trainers and putting on the competitions.
Key reforms in H.R. 1518:
- Mandates that USDA, rather than industry organizations, assign licensed inspectors to horse shows when requested by show management—a reform that will create consistent, rigorous inspections and enforcement of penalties for violations.
- Prohibits the use in the Tennessee walking horse, Racking horse and Spotted Saddle horse breeds of “action devices”—chains strapped to a horse’s lower front legs, which agitate and strike the flesh already injured by caustic chemicals, causing the horse to lift his front legs higher off the ground in reaction to the pain.
- Prohibits the use in the same three named breeds of “stacks” or “performance packages”—tall, heavy stacks of material nailed to a horse’s hoof to lift her feet higher and strike the ground hard at an abnormal angle. The stacks are also often used to hide hard sharp objects inserted into the tender part of a horse’s hoof to increase the pressure and pain, creating the desired gait.
- Prohibits the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling the horse, as well as the act of directing another to sore a horse for these purposes, and strengthens penalties to establish a more meaningful deterrent. The current Horse Protection Act’s misdemeanor criminal penalties would be raised to felony-level, providing up to three years’ jail time for each violation, and potential fines would be doubled. A third violation could trigger permanent disqualification from participating in any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction.