Cross-posted from The Tennessean
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WRITTEN BY PAUL C BARTON
WASHINGTON — Witnesses with radically different perspectives on the extent of animal abuse in the walking horse industry came before a congressional panel Wednesday, leaving some lawmakers unsure what to believe.
“It’s like you are from two different worlds,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., told a witness table full of veterinarians and officials from varying horse organizations.
The Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on HR 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. The bill is an attempt to respond to a fresh wave of criticism of the industry that began in May 2012, after the Humane Society of the United States released a video of a Collierville trainer beating and soring horses.
His prosecution and coverage of the issue by The Tennessean prompted state lawmakers to make soring a felony.
On the one hand were those who argued that soring — inflicting pain on horses with chemicals or foreign objects to exaggerate their natural, high-stepping gait — was still firmly embedded in the walking horse industry more than 40 years after passage of the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which banned the practice.
On the other were those such as Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Brentwood, who said that while soring “is objectionable at every level” the bill was unnecessary because data show compliance with the 1970 law at rates of 96 percent to 98 percent.
The lower legs of many horses that compete in Tennessee “look like pizza with the cheese scraped off” said Marty Irby, past President of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association.
But advocates for Whitfield’s bill said soring remains more widespread than official figures show because of a weak Department of Agriculture inspection system that depends too heavily on horse industry organizations to spot and report violations.
The bill increases inspections by Department of Agriculture officials, rather than people designated by event managers to carry them out. The department says it can afford to staff no more than 10 percent of horse events held nationwide.
“I feel this bill is necessary to stop this culture of abuse that has existed for more than 40 years in the walking horse industry,” said W. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Whitfield said events centered around Shelbyville, home of the annual “Celebration,” the industry’s biggest competition, as well as those in Kentucky and Missouri continue to show “that self-policing is not working.”
DeHaven said when Department of Agriculture officials are on site to oversee inspections, the number of violations found goes up substantially. He said 78 percent of the violations found in 2012 were uncovered through the department’s supervising the few inspections it could.
— Tennessee Ag chief opposes bill to increase penalties for horse soring; Humphrey on the Hill; Nov. 2013