New Bill Is Introduced to Protect Walking Horses from Abusive Soring

By: Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

Congress has, once again, stepped forward with legislation aimed at ending the egregious and abusive practice of soring. A bipartisan group of congressman, led by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act of 2013, or PAST Act, this week. H.R. 1518 would amend the Horse Protection Act by providing additional enforcement authority to federal regulators to prohibit the soring of horses.

Soring is the act of deliberately causing pain to horses’ legs to exaggerate the motion of their gait. It happens frequently in walking horse breeds, such as Tennessee Walking Horses.

The Horse Protection Act (HPA) passed in 1970 with the goal of ending this abusive practice. Unfortunately, due to insufficient funding and resources at the federal level to enforce the law, combined with unethical owners, trainers, and horse show judges, along with strong political influences, the industry has become so corrupt that more than 40 years later we are still seeing horses being sored.

For example, 37 of 52 horses tested positive for one or more anesthetics at the 2011 National Celebration. Well-known trainers, like Barney Davis and Jackie McConnell (now with a lifetime disqualification), have been convicted of this crime. Nine percent of participants at the 2012 National Celebration were found in violation of the HPA, which shows virtually no improvement from the 9.5 percent rate at the 2011 event. Also, the violation detection rates are consistently five to 10 times higher when U.S. Department of Agriculture regulators are present, compared to the shows in which the industry is self-policing.

Soring is still a major problem that needs to be addressed through increased enforcement at the federal level and a culture that needs to change within the walking horse industry.

The newly introduced H.R. 1518 would make several improvements to the existing law, including:

  • Ending the use of action devices and performance packages;
  • Eliminating the current self-policing system in the walking horse industry by requiring the USDA to license, train, assign, and oversee inspectors;
  • Makes the actual act of soring a crime;
  • Increases civil and criminal penalties for violation; and
  • Allows for the permanent disqualification of violators.

AVMA has issued a joint statement with the American Association of Equine Practitioners in support of H.R. 1518. AVMA had a position of Active Pursuit of Passage on similar legislation in the 112th Congress.

AVMA last year launched an educational campaign on the harmful effects of soring to shed more light to this unethical practice. All resources, statements, and actions from that campaign are available here. In addition, AVMA’s Governmental Relations staff worked with Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), one of two veterinarians serving in Congress, to bring awareness to this issue and last May, Rep. Schrader delivered a speech on the floor of the House of Representatives, which can be viewed here.

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