House of Representatives
Background: Cruel Soring of Tennessee Walking Horses
Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act (HPA) in 1970 to make illegal the abusive practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on Tennessee Walking Horses' hooves and legs to exaggerate their high-stepping gait, known as “Big Lick,” and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse's flesh for days, attaching chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting hard objects such as screws and resins into tender areas of the hooves, paring the soles of the feet down to sensitive tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. Sored horses often live in constant and extreme pain throughout their careers.
Current Law Allows Industry to Police Itself
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has never been provided the resources to allow its inspectors to attend most of the shows. Decades ago, in an attempt to compensate, USDA set up an industry-run enforcement system in which Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) were authorized to train their own inspectors, called Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs), to inspect horses for soring at shows. However, DQPs are employees of these show organizations and are often exhibitors of Tennessee Walking Horses themselves. Not surprisingly, many DQPs avoid citing those who hired them for violations.1
USDA Inspector General Recommends Program Overhaul
Though the HPA was signed into law more than 40 years ago to protect horses from painful soring, this abuse continues unabated. A 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General (IG) exposed how trainers in the industry go to great lengths to evade detection rather than comply with federal law and train horses using humane methods.2 The IG recommended stiffer penalties and eliminating the flawed system of industry self-policing, as well as increased funding to enable USDA to more adequately oversee the law.
Equine Veterinarians and Horse Groups Call for Reforms
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), along with the American Horse Council and several show horse industry groups, all endorse this legislation. AAEP issued a 2008 white paper condemning soring, calling it “one of the most significant welfare issues faced by the equine industry.”3 It called for the abolition of industry-run inspections, saying “the acknowledged conflicts of interest which involve many of them cannot be reasonably resolved, and these individuals should be excluded from the regulatory process”; and further that the “adoption and strict enforcement of meaningful uniform standards and regulations, combined with more stringent penalties, are the cornerstones of establishing fair and humane competitions.”
In a joint statement issued late last year, AVMA and AAEP stated, “For decades we've watched irresponsible individuals become more creative about finding ways to sore horses and circumvent the inspection process, and have lost faith in an industry that seems unwilling and/or unable to police itself.”4
Undercover Investigation and Enforcement Track Record
An undercover investigation of champion Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell and his associates in 2012 revealed that trainers can sore horses and enter them into shows undetected under the current system, as McConnell did while serving a 5-year federal disqualification. Caught on video painting caustic chemicals on horses' legs, McConnell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the HPA. The video also showed horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and violently cracked across their skulls and legs with heavy wooden sticks. Prosecutors expressed frustration with the weak penalties available under the current HPA.
In another case only a year earlier, trainer Barney Davis pleaded guilty to multiple violations of the HPA and related financial crimes. According to Davis, “Everybody does—I mean, they've got to be sored to walk. I mean, that's the bottom line. It ain't no good way to put it, but that's it.”5 While we applaud these prosecutions, the violators had engaged in soring and gotten past industry inspectors for decades, as have many others. These prosecutions are noteworthy because they are so rare. HIOs claim a 98 percent compliance rate with the HPA. USDA inspectors, however, recently found exactly the opposite: 98 percent of randomly chosen horses (153 of 156) tested positive for prohibited foreign substances applied to their pasterns at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.6 This industry has been allowed to self-police for too long, penalties have been too weak to provide a meaningful deterrent even in the rare event someone is caught, and devices known to be associated with soring have been permitted.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act Would Implement Needed Reforms to End This Abuse of Horses
The Past ACT:
- Ends the failed industry self-policing system. USDA would train, license, and assign inspectors to horse shows instead of having HIOs choose who conducts inspections. Shows would still have the option of hiring inspectors or declining to do so; show management who opt out would (as in current law) risk greater liability if soring is uncovered at their show.
- Strengthens penalties. Violators of the law could receive up to three years' jail time for core offenses now treated only as misdemeanors. Maximum fines would increase to $5,000 per violation. Periods of disqualification would lengthen with each violation. A third violation could result in permanent disqualification from any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction.
- Bans the use of devices associated with soring. Chains, weighted shoes, pads, chains, and other devices used on three specified breeds (Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses or Racking Horses) to intensify pain and conceal foreign objects would be expressly prohibited.
- Makes the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling the animal illegal. Directing another to do so would also be illegal.
- DOES NOT add costs to the federal government. The PAST Act would enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient and effective way.
1 US Department of Agriculture, Animal Welfare Information Center. (n.d.) Horse Protection Act. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from https://awic.nal.usda.gov/government-and-professional-resources/federal-laws/horse-protection-act
2 US Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General. (September 2010). Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administration of the Horse Protection Program and the Slaughter Horse Transport Program (Audit Report 33601-2-KC). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved March 4, 2014, from http://www.usda.gov/oig/webdocs/33601-02-KC.pdf
3 American Association of Equine Practitioners. (August 2008). Putting the horse first: Veterinary recommendations for ending the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses. Lexington, KY: Author. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from http://www.aaep.org/custdocs/AAEPWhitePaperonTWHSoring.pdf
4 American Veterinary Medical Association. (November 13, 2013). Pass bill to end the abusive practice of soring, AVMA urges in testimony [Press release]. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from https://www.avma.org/news/pressroom/pages/Pass-bill-to-end-the-abusive-practice-of-soring-AVMA-urges-in-testimony.aspx
5 United States of America vs. Barney Davis. (February 27, 2012). Judgment Proceedings. Retrieved March 5, 2014, from http://www.forthetwh.com/Davis Original Sentencing Transcript.pdf
6 Mullins, S. (March 1, 2012). Walking horse industry responds to critical article. Shelbyville Times-Gazette. Retrieved from http://www.t-g.com/story/1821185.html