On the Heels of Walking Horse Celebration, House Revives Legislation to End Brutal Practice of Horse Soring

A rider competes on a horse with a high-stepping gait
Photo by HSUS

Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) welcomes Friday’s reintroduction in the US House of Representatives of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to combat the inhumane practice of “soring,” whereby individuals intentionally inflict pain on horses’ hooves and legs to produce an exaggerated high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” during competitions and shows.

Led by Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Vern Buchanan (R-FL), the PAST Act represents the most significant protections for Tennessee walking horses and related breeds since passage of the Horse Protection Act in 1970.

“The practice of soring, which is the intentional infliction of pain on horses’ feet and legs using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform a pain-based artificially high-stepping gait known as the ‘Big Lick,’ is completely unacceptable, inhumane, and unsportsmanlike,” said Cohen, a longtime member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. “Unfortunately, the practice has marred the Tennessee Walking Horse and related breeds for more than six decades. I am proud to reintroduce the PAST Act to finally eradicate this indefensible practice and show that Americans will treat animals humanely.”

The PAST Act overwhelmingly passed the House in 2019, with 333 lawmakers voting in favor of the bill. However, it was not taken up by the Senate, despite more than half of senators supporting the legislation. The bill’s reintroduction in the House, with more than 200 original cosponsors, comes less than a month after the close of the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the largest horse show for the breed.

Soring still persists in large part because of inadequate enforcement and an ineffective self-policing system. Methods used to sore horses include applying diesel fuel and kerosene to burn the skin, grinding down hooves to expose sensitive tissues, and applying sharp or abrasive objects to tender areas to maximize pain.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee attended the walking horse celebration last month, calling it a “proud Tennessee tradition.” In fact, several horses exhibited, including a World Grand Champion contender, were affiliated with a stable owned by Herbert Derickson, who is serving a five-year federal disqualification for 27 alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act.

Also in attendance was former Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell, even though he was banned for life from the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, after he pleaded guilty to 22 counts of animal cruelty in 2013 for physically abusing horses in his stables.

Congress passed the Horse Protection Act more than 50 years ago to protect horses from the abusive practice of soring, yet these animals continue to be mutilated for the sake of winning trophies and other prizes,” said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. “We urge lawmakers to unite behind adopting the PAST Act to strengthen USDA enforcement, increase penalties, and eliminate any incentives associated with soring.”

The PAST Act currently has 49 cosponsors in the Senate (S. 2295).

“The antiquated and inhumane practice of soring intentionally inflicts pain on show horses for the mere purpose of winning a ribbon at a competition,” Fitzpatrick said. “Our bipartisan PAST Act gives voice to these suffering animals and will finally put an end to this cruel practice by banning devices integral to soring, strengthening penalties, and holding abusers accountable for their crimes against innocent horses.”

“The horrific practice of horse soring needs to end,” Schakowsky added. “I am proud to stand alongside so many constituents, animal welfare groups, and a bipartisan group of my colleagues on Capitol Hill to demand that enough is enough, and ensure that we close the book on this inhumane treatment once and for all.”

“The practice of horse ‘soring’ is nothing less than animal torture,” Buchanan said. “As the co-chair of the Animal Protection Caucus, I am pleased to back this legislation to end this inhumane practice. Anyone who abuses horses in this manner should be held accountable.”

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128