U.S. House Subcommittee Hears Anti-Soring Bill Testimony

U.S. House Subcommittee Hears Anti-Soring Bill Testimony

The U.S. House subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade heard from both sides of the soring issue Wednesday (Nov. 13) during hearings on HR 1518, or the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

Photo: Photos.com

The U.S. House subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade heard from both sides of the soring issue Wednesday (Nov. 13) during hearings on HR 1518, or the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

Soring is the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high stepping gait. The practice is illegal under the Horse Protection (HPA) Act of 1970. Introduced in April 2013 by U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield (Ky.) and Steve Cohen (Tenn.), HR 1518 would amend the HPA to boost maximum violation penalties, and increase 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. 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. In addition, HR 1518 would forbid trainers to use action devices including metal chains, so-called “stacks,” and pads, also known as performance packages.

On Nov. 13, members of the House subcommittee heard from HR 1518 proponents who would like to see stiffer penalties and better USDA oversight in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. In his testimony, American Veterinary Medical Association Chief Executive and Executive Vice President Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA, said bill passage is necessary to provide the oversight necessary to protect Tennessee Walking Horses' health and well-being.

“As the former administrator to the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service charged with overseeing enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, I have witnessed the long-lasting and damaging effects that soring has on horses and feel that this bill is necessary to stop a culture of abuse that has existed for more than 40 years in the Walking Horse industry,” he said.

Teresa Bippen, president of Friends of Sound Horses, told the subcommittee that the measure was necessary in order to eliminate the stigma associated with the “big lick” industry and preserve the economic stability of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry as a whole.

“Because most true horsemen to do not wanted to be associated in any way with animal abuse or illegal activity, fewer horses are being bred, raised, trained, shod, boarded, fed, treated with veterinary care, and shown in our breeds,” she said. “The negative impact on the economy caused by the ongoing presence of soring and the failure of the HPA to eradicate the problem is far-reaching; The PAST Act is needed to fix the deficiencies in the current law, restore honor to the breeds afflicted by soring, and bring more people and dollars back into the horse industry.” Marty Irby, a former president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, also testified in favor of the PAST Act on grounds that the legislation was necessary to “save the breed.” Irby called the bill “one of the greatest events in Tennessee Walking Horse history.

“Soring, stacks, and chains have been a plague for far too long,” Irby said. “I hope Congress will now move quickly. Business and usual won't fair well in the public eye.”

But HR 1518 supporters were not alone in letting lawmakers know how they felt. In its written testimony, the Performance Show Horse Association (PSHA) told subcommittee members that HR 1518 would financially burden the USDA with conducting inspections at Tennessee Walking Horse events. In addition, the PSHA's testimony said HR 1518 would “eliminate approximately 85% of the current Tennessee Walking Horse industry and 8% of the industry's economic value to the communities and families that make up this industry.

“It would result in the unconstitutional taking of over $1.3 billion in property without just compensation through the elimination of the value of these performance horses,” the PSHA testimony read. “It would result in a negative economic impact of over $3.2 billion and the loss of thousands of jobs in each of the affected areas.”

PSHA Executive Director Kathleen G.. Spears declined further comment on the legislation.

While Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW)—the horse industry organization (HIO) that managed the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration—became inactive this month, the group issued a written statement Nov. 14 indicating it remains HPA compliant and stands by its record of compliance.

“Despite the testimony yesterday, SHOW has not been decertified by the USDA and, in fact, are in full compliance with all USDA regulations for HIOs,” SHOW's statement said. “We are proud of our compliance with the HPA and over 98% compliance of our entries at our horse shows.”

Irby said Nov. 14 that HR 1518 had 230 co-sponsors in the U.S. House of representatives, and 27 co-sponsors in the U.S. Senate.

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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