Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) reintroduced The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act , S.1007, to protect horses from the abusive practice known as “soring,” in which show horse trainers intentionally apply substances or devices to horses’ limbs to make each step painful and force an exaggerated high-stepping gait rewarded in show rings.
Although federal law currently prohibits soring, a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General (IG) has found that some horse trainers often go to great lengths to continue this inhumane practice.
“Horses have been a part of our Commonwealth’s history and culture since the settling of Jamestown, and like all animals, they deserve to be treated with care and compassion,” said Sen. Warner. “The PAST Act will further protect these animals from the cruel practice of inflicting deliberate pain and suffering for show purposes.”
“I support the humane treatment of all animals and the responsible training of horses,” said Sen. Crapo. “I remain committed to ending the cruel practice of soring, and will continue to promote enforcement of current animal welfare laws.”
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act would:
In 2017, the USDA Office of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) moved to strengthen certain aspects of the Horse Protection Act by incorporating some of the major tenets of the PAST Act. However, the rule was not finalized before the end of the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration has halted the process. The PAST Act would codify these changes into law.
Joining Warner and Crapo in the introduction of The PAST Act, S.1007, are U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Steve Daines (R-MT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Edward Markey (D-MA), Pat Toomey (R-PA), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The Humane Society of the United States released footage Thursday it says shows evidence of continued abuse to the Tennessee Walking Horse, further confirming the use of soring in the industry.
Soring is the practice of intentionally abusing a horse to accentuate its gait and often includes the use of caustic chemicals that eat away at the skin. Those who sore cause horses pain each time they step so they lift their front legs in an exaggeration of their natural gait in what is called the "big lick."
The video was taken by the United States Department of Agriculture in an inspection of the Maryville, Tenn., barn of top trainer Larry Wheelon in April 2013 and obtained with an open records request. The horses can be seen struggling to stand, walking stiffly and flinching away from the inspectors' touch. Photos from the same inspection show what appear to be scars around the horses' pasterns.
The video release comes as the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville goes into its final days for 2016, and as what appeared to be a sored stallion was discovered at an auction in Cookeville on Tuesday. The Horse Protection Act prohibits sored horses from participating in auctions, shows, exhibitions or sales.
Wheelon, who was arrested and charged with cruelty to animals, had 15 felony charges and three misdemeanors dropped, according to the Humane Society, when Blount County Judge Tammy Harrington ruled his Fourth Amendment rights had been violated in the raid.
When he was arrested in 2013, Wheelon was an active member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainers Association, sitting on its ethics committee. He did not respond to a request to comment made through his lawyer.
The USDA has since proposed some amendments to the Horse Protection Act.
One of those changes would mean the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would train and license Designated Qualified Persons to inspect the horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions for compliance with the HPA, whereas now, they are initiated and maintained by horse industry organizations. Many argue the current setup poses a conflict of interest.
Another amendment would ban the use of all action devices, pads and foreign substances at horse shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions, aligning the HPA regulations with existing equestrian standards set forth by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.
The USDA is accepting public comments on the proposed amendments until Sept. 26, but some have asked the organization to extend that deadline by 60 more days. Doing so could push the decision off onto a new administration that may not prioritize an end to soring.
Mike Inman, CEO of Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, denied that the stacks and chains cause horses to experience pain. Stacks are elevated pads attached to the horses' front hooves like high heels, and the chains are wrapped around their ankles.
"There is no big lick gait," Inman said. "Animal welfare is number one for The Celebration."
He said each horse must pass as many as 13 inspections by those belonging to horse industry organizations and the USDA, which test for foreign chemicals, palpation, locomotion, CT scanning and digital radiography.
"We urge the USDA to move away from subjective inspection and toward objective inspection," he said, arguing that digital radiography is the only objective exam. "We don't want any sore horse in the ring."
But Keith Dane, senior adviser on equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States, said some can fool the machine by making a ball out of hoof clippings and acrylic to match the density of the surrounding tissue.
Inman said no one has ever been disqualified for placing a foreign object between the shoe and the hoof at The Celebration, a practice called pressure shoeing.
The horse must also be clear of visible scars.
"If (the soring) is done to the extent where it causes physical damage, they can't show them anymore," said Tawnee Preisner, founder of the Horse Plus Humane Society. "They're worthless to them after that."
Preisner said she found Skywalks Magical Dream, a 4-year-old registered Tennessee Walking Horse stallion on stacks with chains, dumped at an auction on Tuesday. She took him to an equine veterinarian, who documented the damage and scarring on the horse's skin. Dream's last owners are listed as Sammy and Gayle Cogle, the owners of last weekend's champion Extra Special Jose.
Sammy Cogle said they were no longer in possession of the horse as of last January. "I'm sorry but the lawyers told me not to say anymore."
Preisner said it's the third time she's found sored horses at an auction in Tennessee.
Dane estimates there are up to 15,000 horses put on stacks and sored at any given time. He urged the USDA to pass the reforms to stop the remaining abusers.
"The culture is evolving," he said, comparing the competition of sored horses to dogfighting or cockfighting. "People are turning away more and more."
Source: The Tennessean
Those interested in submitting a comment to the USDA can do so at: http://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=APHIS-2011-0009.
The Humane Society of the United States releases analysis of Walking Horse Trainers Association board rap sheet and 2013 USDA foreign substance results
Following the announcement of the new board of directors of the Walking Horse Trainers Association, The Humane Society of the United States released research into the board members’ past violations of the federal Horse Protection Act.
The act outlaws “soring,” the abusive methods used to force Tennessee walking show horses and other related breeds to perform an unnatural high-stepping gait for competitions. A review of records of Horse Protection Act violations turned up 116 total citations for soring and related offenses for the seven-person board. One board member had only one violation; one has been cited for violating the act 39 times. The majority of these citations never led to meaningful penalties.
Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “It’s stunning that with the eyes of the world upon them, trainers among the ‘Big Lick’ crowd continue to put perpetrators of soring into leadership positions. Their vision for the breed’s future seems to be the status quo of abuse and corruption that has plagued it for decades. We envision a sound and thriving future for these horses, but that will require Congress to act.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released results from its 2013 testing of show horses’ legs for illegal substances used to sore horses or hide the evidence of soring. More than half of the limited number of samples USDA was able to test were found positive in violation of the Horse Protection Act, a result that confirms the ongoing pattern of noncompliance within this faction of the industry. Of the 314 samples taken by the USDA at 17 shows, 195 were positive for illegal foreign substances, including soring, masking and numbing agents. The USDA regularly issues letters of warning based on these violations, which indicate that evidence exists that horses were exposed to prohibited substances, but that the case was never prosecuted by USDA. Five of the seven Walking Horse Trainers Association board members have also received warning letters.
USDA only inspects for soring violations at a small percentage of horse shows, while industry-run organizations have for decades been allowed to self-regulate – thus furthering a widespread industry tolerance for soring.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.1518 / S.1406, is advancing through Congress to amend the Horse Protection Act to end the failed self-policing scheme. The legislation would also ban the devices associated with soring, and strengthen penalties for violators.
The Walking Horse Trainers Association licenses walking horse trainers, names the “Trainer of the Year,” and names the winners of the industry’s Riders Cup award (the 2012 winner of which has a history of 47 citations for soring and related issues).
Until his arrest in April on felony animal cruelty charges stemming from suspicions of soring, walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon was an active director of the group, sitting on its ethics board.
Wheelon, two of his employees and a farrier were indicted last month by a Tennessee grand jury on 15 felony counts of aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy.
Summary of findings:
Contact your legislators and ask them to help protect horses from soring by coponsoring The PAST Act! Click Here to TAKE ACTION!