Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) endorses Thursday’s reintroduction in the Senate of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 2295) 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 US Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the PAST Act represents the most significant protections for Tennessee walking horses and related breeds since passage of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) in 1970.
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. Beginning August 25, the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the largest horse show for the breed, will be held in Shelbyville, TN.
Soring still persists in large part because of inadequate enforcement and an ineffective self-policing system. Although the US Department of Agriculture conducts some inspections, it mostly relies on “designated qualified persons” (DQPs), who are employees of the organizations that host shows and are often exhibitors of Tennessee walking horses themselves, to find evidence of abuse. Not surprisingly, under this system, individuals who abuse horses often go unpunished. A 2010 USDA inspector general investigation found that this model presents a “clear conflict of interest” and recommended abolishing the DQP program.
Moreover, earlier this year, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) released a report urging the USDA to discontinue its reliance on industry inspectors, and instead depend on veterinarians to inspect horses for soreness.
During the past four years, USDA enforcement of the HPA has plummeted, according to an AWI analysis of department data. The USDA issued 956 warnings for HPA violations in fiscal year 2016. Two years later, that number dropped to zero. Since 2018, the USDA has issued only one administrative complaint related to soring and has not conducted any investigations.
“Though the Horse Protection Act was signed into law more than 50 years ago to protect horses from painful soring, this abuse continues unabated,” said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. “We urge Senate leadership to quickly pass the PAST Act to spare horses from needless suffering, provide vital enforcement, and increase penalties for repeat offenders.”
A version of the PAST Act was first introduced in 2012 during the 112th Congress. Over the years, it has garnered tremendous support from animal welfare groups, the equine industry and the veterinary community. The PAST Act overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in 2019, with 333 lawmakers voting in favor of the bill. However, it was not taken up by the Senate, despite 52 cosponsors.
“I support the humane treatment of all animals and the responsible training of horses,” Crapo said after reintroducing the legislation Thursday. “Soring is cruel and inhumane and I remain committed to ending its practice. The PAST Act would finally end this horrible training operation.”
“For over 400 years, horses have been a quintessential part of Virginia’s culture and history,” Warner added. “I am proud to reintroduce the bipartisan PAST Act, which would protect horses from mistreatment and abuse by increasing penalties for individuals who engage in the harmful and deliberate practice of soring.”
Margie Fishman, (202) 446-2128, firstname.lastname@example.org