TWHBEA President Backs Anti-Soring Bill

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) president has voted to support controversial legislation which would expand the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to forbid the use of action devices and increase penalties for anyone convicted of soring horses.

Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve a high-stepping gait. Passed in 1970, the HPA forbids the practice, places the USDA in charge of enforcement, and establishes penalties for violators. The law's penalty protocol became controversial when some equine welfare advocates claimed that sentencing in a recent high-profile soring case was too lenient. In response, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (Tenn.) introduced HR 6388. That bill would have amended the HPA by stiffening soring penalties, but it died in committee.

Subsequently, on April 11, 2013, Whitfield introduced HR 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, into the U.S. House of Representatives, which remains in the House's Committee on Energy and Commerce. If passed, HR 1518 would increase penalties for HPA violators and forbid trainers from using action devices, including metal chains and stacks and pads (known as performance packages).

On May 25, Tracy Boyd, TWHBEA executive committee president, voted to support HR 1518; six other executive committee members also voted in support of the bill. Even so, the full TWHBEA board of directors declined to ratify the executive committee vote, Boyd said.

In a May 27 statement, Boyd said that while he continues to support the sport—or padded—horse division of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, going on record in support of the bill was in TWHBEA's and the industry's best interest. Boyd's statement said that largely due to growth in the so-called “padded” market, the Tennessee Walking Horse industry flourished in the late 1990s and early 2000s, with members breeding 25,000 mares and registering 14,000 foals. Also in those years, TWHBEA's membership swelled to 20,000, the statement said. By 2013, breeding numbers had shrunk and association membership had declined to 8,300 worldwide, the statement said.

“It is our reputation. It is soring. It is our image,” Boyd's statement said. “It is clear to me that our past has finally caught up with us and the image currently conveyed by our performance horse is no longer accepted in 2013.”

TWHBEA director and former president Marty Irby called the executive committee's vote the “boldest and most courageous move” the organization had ever made.

“I am … disappointed our international board of directors chose to 'not ratify' the executive committee actions,” Irby said. “I still believe the executive committee action made a tremendous statement and let the equine world know that TWHBEA's leadership is committed to the welfare of our horse.”

Likewise Teresa Bippen, president of Friends of Sound Horses, praised the executive committee vote, but said that lack of TWHBEA board support illustrates the need for more federal legislation.

“The overturning of this decision by TWHBEA directors confirms that cheating and the illegal, cruel practice of soring are still widespread in many show rings,” Bippen said.

No one from Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly—the horse industry organization that manages the annual National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration—was available for comment.

Others in the industry don't believe further legislation will eliminate soring. In a written statement, Terry Dotson, interim chairman of the Performance Show Horse Association (PSHA), said passage of HR 1518 would “punish the vast majority of those who are doing the right thing.

“The elimination of the weighted shoe, performance package, and action devices won't do anything to eliminate soring; even as Mr. Boyd points out, the pads and action devices do not harm the horse,” Dotson's statement said. “But his endorsement (of HR 1518) is unfortunate.”

In his statement Dotson also said the industry is actively working to eliminate soring from “the inside,” and that a 97% HPA compliance rate at a recent fun show proves that effort is effective.

“The Walking Horse is still the most tested and inspected horse in the entire equine industry, and it is working.” Dotson's statement added. “We still have work to do, but we will continue to place our emphasis on the welfare of our great horse along with consistent enforcement of the HPA.”

Meanwhile, Dotson said that the PSHA is currently working on its own anti-soring legislation.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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