Tennessean/ Bill meant to prevent mistreatment of Tennessee Walking Horses passes in U.S. House
In an overwhelming vote, the U.S. House on Thursday approved a bill meant to put a stop to the intentional mistreatment of Tennessee Walking Horses.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, won approval on a 333 to 96 vote. Known as the PAST Act, the legislation amends the 1970 Horse Protection Act and has been pushed in some form by animal welfare advocates for years.
Soring is a technique used by some trainers to improve walking horses' naturally high gait. The technique is accomplished by exposing horses to chemicals, putting foreign objects into an horse's hooves or placing heavy chains on horses.
The Horse Protection Act bans sored horses from competing in shows, exhibitions or sales. Advocates, however, said this legislation was ignored for years, enforcement is lax and loopholes have been found by trainers.
If the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, among others, becomes law, it would ban large stacked shoes and ankle chains used on horses, heighten penalties for violations and expand the Department of Agriculture's enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.
The new penalties would increase from $3,000 to $5,000 and extend prison sentences from one year to three years.
The legislation must still win Senate approval, where it faces an uphill battle. U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn have sponsored competing legislation.
According to Animal Wellness Action Executive Director Marty Irby, it has taken six years to get PAST to the House floor for a vote.
“We applaud the House for overwhelmingly passing the PAST Act to end a barbaric and indefensible practices that stained the horse show world for decades,” Irby said in a statement. “Today’s landslide vote is a powerful signal to the Senate that it should saddle up and end this cruelty to horses once and for all.”
During a Wednesday news conference, Cohen and U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon, a cosponsor of the bill, spoke at a podium in front of two 40-pound lead-weighted horse pads that rescuers had found on a Tennessee show horse called Gen’s Ice Glimmer.
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, another cosponsor of the act, also spoke at the conference and used the pads as an example.
Yoho said he recently had a lengthy conversation with an prominent representative of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Yoho said the representative told him the pads aren't proportionally any heavier than the watch the congressman wears on his wrist.
"That's probably true," Yoho said during the conference. "But there's a big difference ... I choose to wear this watch. That horse doesn't have an option, and when people do these things to the horses to win a blue ribbon, I think it's unconscionable. So you're either for animal abuse or you're against it."
Yoho also said the bill makes exceptions for stacked shoes and chains placed on horses after advice from veterinarians.
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association executive Steve Smith said Wednesday that he was not aware of the bill's existence.
“I'm against child abuse, I’m against murder and I’m against horse soring,” Smith said. “I don't know what legislation you're talking about.”
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, spoke in opposition of the bill during a House debate on Wednesday night.
He said horse inspectors were "abusing the process" and that owners were being disqualified from performing in shows.
"The only problem with the Tennessee Walking Horses today is that the current inspection methods are subjective," Desjarlais said. "PAST Act does nothing to change this. What's even more concerning is the PAST Act would increase fines and penalties, including up to three years in prison, while still utilizing subjective inspection methods."
He said a bill he's introduced, the Horse Protection Amendments Act, would be a better solution. He said his bill would require that all inspections be "objective and science-based."
Desjarlais' bill would also amend 1970's Horse Protection Act to provide increased protection to horses participating in shows, exhibitions and sales.
Under his bill, inspection methods would have to be the subject of testing and would have to produce "scientifically reliable, reproducible results;" be peer-reviewed; and be accepted in the veterinary and other applicable scientific communities.
Desjarlais said the PAST Act is a result of animal activist groups "spreading misinformation."
"The claims put forth by special interests behind this bill, that action devices are cruel or inhumane, rest on very little academic evidence," Desjarlais said. "I heard Dr. Yoho talk about it, about wrist watches. But you wear those all day and that doesn't hurt you."
DesJarlais represents Shelbyville, which is the center of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Each year, the city plays host to the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
Industry advocates have long argued that the chains and other action devices do not harm horses and banning them could hurt the industry and the area's economy.
The PAST Act garnered 308 cosponsors in the House, with the charge led by Schrader and Yoho. The companion bill in the Senate, which is not passed yet, has 40 cosponsors.
Reach Andrew Wigdor at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @andrew_wigdor