Walking horse industry won’t regulate itself

An inspector checks a horse for signs of soring during last year’s Spring Fun Show, the first big event of the Tennessee Walking Horse season. (Photo: File / The Tennessean )
An inspector checks a horse for signs of soring during last year’s Spring Fun Show, the first big event of the Tennessee Walking Horse season. (Photo: File / The Tennessean )

Cross-posted from The Tennessean

It’s seldom that a bill in Congress boasts a substantial majority of members as co-sponsors and still is in a precarious position. But that is the case with the only real attempt before Congress to protect Tennessee Walking Horses from soring and other abuse.

The bill in question is Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST), introduced by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky. The companion legislation in the Senate was introduced by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. On Wednesday, the bill was approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, and it has 50 Senate co-sponsors. Whitfield’s bill has 268 House co-sponsors.

However, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee have introduced their own measures to head off the PAST bill, and their bills have the strong support of the largest horse industry organizations.

PAST would enable true enforcement of the Horse Protection Act of 1970, with an independent horse inspection process before and during walking horse competitions. It would further ban the use of chains, pads and other devices on the horses’ legs and hooves to produce the “Big Lick” gait the industry prizes. These devices also often help abusers hide traces of caustic chemicals used to “train” the horses through excruciating pain.

Blackburn’s and Alexander’s bills allow the devices and both largely leave enforcement to the industry, which counts among its leaders numerous individuals with multiple citations for soring offenses stretching back years. Alexander’s bill differs slightly, with provisions for suspensions for soring.

Often, industries can be trusted to enforce rules as a matter of self-interest; not so in the show-horse world. For decades, exhibitors and trainers have repeatedly broken the rules and have received only a slap on the wrist. The blows to the horses are far more injurious.

The Blackburn and Alexander bills, clinging to a sad past, perversely proclaim that they are preserving the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. The Whitfield-Ayotte bills, supported also by major veterinary organizations, represent the future, where brutality toward animals is not tolerated for any reason.

We believe the great majority of Tennesseans support that future, and Rep. Blackburn and Sen. Alexander should accept it as the will of the people and drop their opposition to the PAST act.

Read report here >>