House Bill would Amend Horse Protection Act

House Bill would Amend Horse Protection Act


A new bill introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives would amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970 by imposing stiffer penalties on anyone who sores a horse. Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait.

Currently the HPA establishes penalties for violators including maximum fines up to $3,000, imprisonment up to one year, or both. The penalty protocol contained in the law became controversial when some equine welfare advocates claimed that sentences connected to the federal case involving high-profile Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer Jackie McConnell were too lenient. Last year, U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, along with U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Tennessee, introduced HR 6388. That bill would have amended the HPA by stiffening soring penalties, however HR 6388 died in committee.

Whitfield's press secretary Chris Pack said that on April 11, Whitfield introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (HR 1518) into the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The bill is nearly the same as HR 6388 that was introduced during the last (Congressional) session,” Pack said.

If passed, HR1518 would boost maximum HPA violation penalties to $5,000, imprisonment up to three years, or both. The bill also increases penalties for those who disobey disqualification orders and for those who fail to pay a licensed HPA compliance inspector at horse shows, sales, and other events. In addition, the bill would also require the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if a Tennessee Walking Horse show management indicates its intent to hire one; the option of hiring of a licensed inspector remains voluntary under the proposed bill.

HR 1518 would also forbid trainers to use of action devices including metal chains and so-called “stacks” and pads, also known as performance packages. Performance packages are nailed to a horse’s hoof to add weight and height forcing the horse to lift its feed higher and to strike the ground harder. In some cases, sharp or hard objects can be concealed in performance packages to increase pressure to the soft tissue in horses’ feet to achieve a high-stepping gait. Metal chains can be attached the lower portion of a horse’s front legs and, in the case of sored horses, the chains rub against tissue sensitized by chemicals causing a horse to lift its front legs higher off the ground.

Teresa Bippen, president of Friends of Sound Horses, said passage of the legislation is necessary to protect gaited horses from harm.

“Soring is still rampant in many segments of the industry,” Bippen said. “Without this bill, there will be continued abuse of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Racking Horse.”

Michael R. Inman, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, and spokesman for Sound Horses, Honest Judging Objective inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW), the horse industry organization that manages the flagship Tennessee Walking Horse industry event, said SHOW “is committed to the welfare of the Tennessee Walking show horse,” but was disappointed in the bill's proposed ban on pads.

“In review of the recently introduced Whitfield bill we are disappointed that Mr. Whitfield is attempting to eliminate weighted shoes, plastic pads, and six-ounce action devices, all found to be non-harmful to any horse through scientific study,” Inman said. “In fact the therapeutic values of the plastic pads are highlighted in his bill.”

In a written statement, Tracy Boyd, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, declined immediate comment on the legislation.

“We, as an executive committee, have yet to review and discuss HR 1518 to determine how it compares it to HR 6388, but we have a meeting scheduled on April 25 and (I) am certain it will be discussed at that time,” Boyd said in the statement. “We will certainly issue an opinion once we've had a chance to review it and discuss it as a committee.”

HR 1518 has been assigned to the House's Committee on Energy and Commerce, Pack said.

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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