By: Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division
New legislation introduced on Capitol Hill this week is being promoted as an alternative to the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 1406/H.R. 1518), but in fact will do nothing to protect gaited horses and stop the egregious practice of soring. This legislation is nothing more than an attempt to maintain the status quo in an industry riddled with abuse and will ensure that the broken system of seeing horses sored at an alarming rate does not have to answer for its crimes.
Soring is the unethical and illegal practice of deliberately inflicting pain to exaggerate the leg motion of horses to gain an unfair advantage in the show ring. The chest-high stride achieved by soring is known in the industry as the “big lick.”
The AVMA is staunchly opposed to H.R. 4098, the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2013, because its implementation will not result in any improvements for the welfare of horses or enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. Unlike the PAST Act, H.R. 4098 does not make the actual act of soring illegal; it only continues the existing prohibitions on the sale, auction, transport and exhibition of sored horses. Soring is WRONG! It must be stopped at its source, not after the harm has already been done.
The legislation also does not address the action devices and performance packages, known as “stacks” and “chains,” that are used to hide and worsen the effects of soring on horses. That’s because the supporters of the legislation know that by taking action devices and performance packages away, we remove one more tool from their abusive toolbox. The AVMA and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) jointly called for an end to the use of these devices in 2012.
Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 with the goal to end soring and then added amendments that enabled the industry to self-regulate in 1976. In other words, the industry has had almost 40 years of opportunity to clean up its act—and it hasn’t done so. Instead, they’ve circled the wagons to defend the status quo. H.R. 4098 not only retains the industry’s failed self-regulatory structure, it makes it even less effective by placing authority in the hands of a small group of people who will be selected and driven by the politics and influence-peddling of those who want to see soring continue.
So what changes must be made to help stop the abuse and protect the welfare of walking horses? The PAST Act, which AVMA supports, takes many important and necessary steps to end soring. It makes the act of soring illegal; overhauls the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement system; bans incentives to sore; and improves the penalty structure against violators. The bill is supported by the AVMA, AAEP, every state veterinary medical association in the United States, and numerous other groups and individuals. The bill also has overwhelming support in Congress, with more than 260 cosponsors in the House and more than 45 in the Senate.
Soring has been illegal for more than 40 years, yet it continues to cripple horses and cause them unjust suffering. Horses deserve better.