Bill Would be Alternative to PAST Legislation

A bill that would give federal lawmakers an alternate way to prevent the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

Last year, U.S. Representative Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) introduced HR 1518, or the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, to amend the Horse Protection Act of 1970. That bill would increase penalties for anyone who sores a horse; would require the USDA assign a licensed inspector if a Tennessee Walking Horse show management indicates its intent to hire one; and would forbid the use of action devices, including metal chains, and stacks and pads used in performance packages. HR 1518 remains pending in the U.S. House of Representatives' Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade Committee.

On Feb. 26, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) introduced HR 4098, or the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2014. Blackburn's bill would create one horse industry organization (HIO) to manage shows where Tennessee Walking Horses would be exhibited. Under HR 4098, that HIO would be composed of equine veterinarians and industry experts who would develop and implement protocols, guidelines, testing policies, and inspection policies for the industry. Under the legislation, these industry experts would be drawn from states most impacted by the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. The bill also requires that testing used during horse inspections be done “though objective, science-based methods and protocols,” and preserves the oversight structure between the Walking Horse industry and the USDA. The bill does not forbid trainers from using metal chains, or stacks and pads used in performance packages.

A written statement provided by Blackburn's office said, “This continued partnership can be focused on solving the problems confronting the (Walking Horse) industry rather than just simply eliminating the industry, the economic impact, and the thousands of jobs that make up this industry as some have suggested.”

Whitfield was unavailable for comment on the new legislation.

James Baum, DVM, an equine practitioner in Shelbyville, Tenn., believes HR 4098 is necessary to give lawmakers a way to protect horses without putting an entire segment of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry out of business. He also believes that Walking Horse groups that do not comply with industry and USDA rules will eventually fade away.

“Trainers are on notice and people should realize that not all horses that are exhibited in 'stacks' are sore,” Baum said. “In fact, the industry and the USDA (posted) a 99% compliance rate last year; if we just keep doing what we are doing, we're going to have a healthy horse.”

Teresa Bippen, president of Friends of Sound Horses, a HIO that manages gaited horse shows, does not believe the Blackburn bill will eliminate horse abuse, in general, or soring, in particular. She opposes the establishment of a single group to manage and conduct inspections at Tennessee Walking Horse shows.

“ (The bill) creates an insider-managed inspection group operated by individuals that know little about soring,” Bippen said. “Walking Horse owners around the U.S. are completely removed from any of decision making (because) it is centered in the hands of Tennessee and Kentucky which have the greatest number of violations.”

Ultimately, Baum would like to see federal lawmakers act deliberately when they vote about horse protection legislation.

“The industry has had its problems, but the industry is cleaning them up,” Baum said. “In the meantime, this industry has done some wonderful things for kids and for families, and it would be a shame to see that come to an end.”

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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