Note: The Jurga Report is monitoring updated information from Washington that will describe the proposed changes to showing rules for Tennessee walking horses as described in this article. Unfortunately, the information has been delayed by the absence of a key policy adviser. This article represents the information provided last week and will possibly be updated when clarification arrives.
Within hours of a press conference in Congress, the?American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) applauded US Representatives Ed Whitfield?(R-KY) and?Steve Cohen?(D-TN) for introducing legislation to amend the federal Horse Protection Act of 1970.
The goal of the new legislation? To eradicate the abusive practice of horse soring.
H.R. 6388 ("Horse Protection Act 2012 Amendment) would enhance the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) ability to enforce the Horse Protection Act by eliminating self-policing inspection practices, increasing penalties, and designating additional soring practices illegal. Currently illegal under the Horse Protection Act, soring involves using painful chemicals and devices to inflict pain in horses to compel an exaggerated show-ring gait so desirable in the multimillion-dollar Tennessee Walking Horse industry.
However, in spite of being on the books for more than 40 years, the Horse Protection Act has been unsuccessful at ending soring. In the process, attempts to enforce it have polarized segments of the Walking horse industry from the USDA and horse welfare advocates that have attempted to end the practice.
"Soring is a particularly cruel form of abuse as the horses are forced to endure years of chronic pain throughout their show career," said?Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations. "The Horse Protection Act was specifically enacted in 1970 to prohibit this abhorrent practice, and yet it continues to pervade the gaited horse industry four decades later. We thank Representatives Whitfield, Cohen, Schakowsky, and Moran for introducing legislation to protect these gentle animals and bring an end to horse soring."
Note: Ms. Perry paints other gaited horse breeds as being involved in soring when, in reality, most other breeds have distanced themselves from these practices by operating their shows under strict shoeing and medication rules. Saddlebreds are governed under US Equestrian Federation (USEF) rules for their breed. Hackneys, Morgans and Arabians also have strict rules under USEF. Walking horses are not part of USEF.
"Until Congress strengthens the Horse Protection Act, we expect that unethical trainers and owners will continue their illegal ways and sore horses, in order to win blue ribbons and profits," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS, who attended this year's Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration. "This legislation will make the Horse Protection Act work better, and it will fortify the existing law and outlaw training methods and devices or implements used to injure horses in these shows."
The Humane Society of United States, via its web app "Humane Alert",? urged members to contact their representatives in Congress and urge the passing of the amendment. The app provides a built-in message for sending the message directly from the HSUS site.
"Far too often, those involved in showing the Tennessee Walking Horse have turned a blind eye to abusive trainers, or when they do take action, the penalties are so minor, it does nothing to prevent these barbaric acts," said. Rep. Whitfield in a press release announcing the amendment. ?"This amendment does not cost the federal government any additional money and is essential in helping to put an end to the practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses by abusive trainers."
"In Tennessee, soring horses is illegal and unacceptable," said Rep. Cohen. "Those responsible for abusing these horses should be punished severely and banned from the sport.? How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation.?? There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one's humanity."
The training method known as "soring" involves the deliberate application of pain-causing chemicals, cuts or foreign objects to a horse's limbs or hooves to cause such agony to the animal's front limbs that any contact with the ground forces the horse to fling its leg back up into the air.? Additionally, trainers may attempt to mask soring by "stewarding" Tennessee Walking Horses, which conditions the horses to remain still by beating, torturing or burning them.
In 2010, the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the horse protection program, finding that trainers in the industry often go to great lengths to evade detection rather than comply with federal law and train their horses using humane methods. The OIG made several recommendations, including stiffer penalties and abolishing the self-policing practices currently allowed, where the Horse Industry Organizations are able to assign their own inspectors to horse shows.
The new legislation is especially significant because its main sponsors are from two states where the Walking horse industry is very active: Kentucky and Tennessee. It also reflects bi-partisan sponsorship: a Republican and Democrat worked together to make this happen.
H.R. 6388 would eliminate the current self-policing practices by requiring the USDA to assign a licensed inspector to a horse show. Second, it will prohibit the use of action devices on the various horse breeds that have frequently been the victims of soring.? Action devices, such as chains that ?welfare advocates say rub up and down an already sore leg, and intensify the horse's pain when it moves, so that the horse quickly jolts up its leg.? Lastly, the amendment increases the penalties on an individual caught soring a horse.
Walking horse industry reaction to H.R. 6388 has not been enthusiastic. The industry has made efforts to improve self-policing and independent inspections at shows, particularly at the National Celebration, held each September in Shelbyville, Tennessee. At the 2012 Celebration, the horsemen even provided swabbing tests for all horses in the show, so that pasterns could be tested for foreign substances.
Both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) have spoken out this year against the soring practices. So far, neither organization has published a statement in response to H.R. 6388.
Walking horse soring will have its day in court tomorrow (September 18, 2012) when convicted horse trainer Jackie McConnell will receive his sentence in a federal court in Chattanooga, Tennessee. McConnell was filmed abusing and soring a Walking horse on an undercover video released by HSUS and shown on national television.