H.R. 4098: Not a solution for America’s walking horses

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.

Please take a stand to protect horses. Contact your congressional representatives right now and tell them to support the PAST Act and oppose H.R. 4098. For more information, see AVMA’s website.

8 thoughts on “H.R. 4098: Not a solution for America’s walking horses


  2. Thank you Dr. May!!! These in humane practices MUST stop, these are magnificent feeling living beings which deserve to be treated with respect and kindness and NOT tortured and I second that this is absolutely not propaganda. I rode hoses my entire childhood into young adulthood and will never forget at age 9 first witnessing what they were doing one of the walking horses (40 years ago) the horse was in obvious pain and when I asked why they were hurting him, they told me to make him pick his feet up high, I was a devastated little girl

  3. Jan, please point to the source of your information showing the HSUS wants to end people having companion animals? The president of HSUS has a pet of his own. Methinks those “animal welfare fanatics” may be right or your industry would WELCOME stopping the abuse and cheating instead of demonizing others. Your talking points sound like you’ve been listening to a bit of propaganda yourself.

  4. Thank you for this article. It will help me in composing a letter to all the Tennessee legislators and especially those who have found it difficult to support the PAST Act. All but Rep. Steve Cohen have, to date, refused to sign on support PAST. Who are they protecting/defending? Certainly not our beloved Tennessee Walking Horse, the Racking Horse or Spotted Saddle Horse. Shameful and I am embarrassed that I received a response from Rep. Black claiming that SHOW will take care of all this.

    • This article is nothing but a regurgitation of HSUS propaganda. HSUS’ goal is to destroy ALL animal-human relationships. Their stated goal is to end ownership of pets and to end ALL animal agriculture. For whatever reason (which I do not understand) the radical animal rights activists want to wipe all animal life from the face of the earth. If you continue to assist HSUS and its ilk, you will ultimately do yourselves out of work. I personally do not want to live in a world without companion animals and animal agriculture. People who would force their beliefs on others via laws and force must be stopped. Please examine the facts not just the propaganda.

      • People have always engaged in competition between themselves and using their animals. The Humane Society will never stop this. However, the abuse of TWH and other gaited breeds by soring and pressure shoes must end. Cheating by abusing animals is the practice of trainers who cannot train and who cannot ride the animals enough to produce the correct gaits. TWHs who pace may be good for the padded side of the industry but that gait is not the signature running walk comfortable gait. The PAST act must be passed for the health of the show industry in the walking horse world.

      • Jan, the AVMA and HSUS don’t see eye-to-eye on a number of issues, but there are issues -like this one – where we are in agreement. The simple facts are that the Walking Horse industry has had more than 40 years to clean up its act, yet the abuses continue. All in the name of a “Big Lick,” an exaggerated gait. These horses have naturally beautiful gaits that don’t need enhancement, and they deserve to be treated better. Putting them through agonizing pain to achieve a false gait is reprehensible. This isn’t about whether or not people should own animals, it’s about being responsible, caring animal owners and not intentionally inflicting suffering and pain.

        My first horse was a Tennessee Walking Horse. He was the most amazing, wonderful, loving horse I’ve ever known. He’d been shown when he was young (he was 25 when I got him), and he had the scars and chronic lameness issues associated with previous soring. It was a constant struggle to keep him comfortable as he aged, and I spent a lot of time managing his chronic foot problems (the result of soring) and praying that he could stay comfortable for as long as possible. I was able to keep him overall comfortable and happy for another 18 years, but every time his problems would flare up, I’d lose sleep, worrying if that was the time I wouldn’t be able to make him comfortable and that I’d have to put him down. As far as I’m concerned, whoever sored him and caused him that pain for the rest of his life is a criminal and there’s a special place in Hell for them.

        This isn’t about propaganda, this is about doing what’s right for the horses. The PAST Act must be passed to provide these horses with the protection they’ve been denied for more than 40 years.