Reps. Ed Whitfield (KY-01), and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), on Thursday introduced H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012. The Amendment will make changes to the Horse Protection Act of 1970, to provide additional protection to prohibit the soring of horses, an abusive practice used by some horse trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.
“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,” Rep. Whitfield said. “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.”
Rep. Cohen said, “In Tennessee, soring horses is illegal and unacceptable. 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 proposed amendment will accomplish three major goals. First, it eliminates self-policing by requiring the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assign a licensed inspector if a Tennessee Walking Horse show management indicates its intent to hire one. The hiring of a licensed inspector is voluntary and not a mandate. The incentive for show management is to ensure an honest and fair show, and protect itself from liability if soring is found at the show by a USDA spot inspection. Second, it adds a prohibition on the use of action devices on the horse breeds that have been the victims of soring. Action devices, such as chains that rub up and down an already-sore leg, 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.
Horses in the Tennessee Walking Industry are known for possessing a smooth, natural gait, but in order to be successful in competitions their natural gait is often artificially exaggerated to ensure an extreme, high-stepping gait.
Some horse exhibitors, owners, and trainers use abusive and inhumane training methods to produce the higher gait. The abusive practices are called “soring,” which is accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse’s forelegs through the application of caustic chemicals such as mustard oil, cutting the horse’s hoof painfully short, or the use of mechanical devices to inflict pain, so that it hurts the horse to step down.
The USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an audit of the Horse Protection Act Program, finding that trainers in the industry often go to great lengths to evade detection rather than comply with federal law and train horses using humane methods. The OIG made several recommendations, including stiffer penalties and abolishing the self-policing practices currently allowed under regulations, where the Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) are able to assign their own inspectors to horse shows.