Roy Exum: Our Ruse In Congress

Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The scurrilous crowd that is desperately trying to halt a national effort to eradicate horse abuse, or soring, of Tennessee Walking Horses has just gotten 10 despicable friends. Shockingly, the 10 are actual members of Congress and seven are from Tennessee, the epicenter of a depraved and sadistic method of “training” the beautiful animals with caustic wraps and electric shocks in order to achieve an unnatural and sickening gait called the Big Lick.

Currently there is a very good bill pending in Congress called the PAST Act, which stands for “Prevent all Soring Tactics.” The bill, sponsored by Ed Whitfield (R-Ky), is quite popular; a majority 265 of 435 members of Congress are now listed as co-sponsors of H.R. 1518. A similar bill in the Senate (S. 1406), sponsored by Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), is also well on its way with 47 of 100 senators listed as co-sponsors.

But there is fierce opposition to the legislation in Tennessee. A small segment of the Walking Horse industry, called the “Big Lick” crowd, has generously funded the state’s representatives for years and as the PAST Act gained momentum, Republicans from Tennessee in both Congress and in the Senate refused to endorse the bill and some have vociferously spoken against it.

Instead, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN7) recently introduced an alternative bill, HR 4098, that would greatly reduce the measures being sought by Whitfield’s PAST Act. Blackburn’s bill would not only allow the grotesque pads, or stacks, which are believed to be used to hide “action devices,” but would also virtually eliminate inspection efforts called for in the PAST Act that a great many believe are now necessary to stop over a half-decade of torture and the scofflaw reaction to it.

Not surprisingly, the rest of Tennessee’s embarrassing Republicans in Congress have co-sponsored Blackburn’s laughable alternative. They are Diane Black (R-TN6), Scott DesJarlais (R-TN4), John “Jimmy Duncan (R-TN2), Stephen Fincher (R-TN8), Charles “Chuck” Fleischmann (R-TN3), and David “Phil” Roe (R-TN1). The three others who have endorsed Blackburn’s bill are Garland “Andy” Barr (KY6), Nick Rahall (D-WV3), and Harold “Hal” Rogers (R-KY5).

The PAST Act, which has been endorsed by the nation’s leading equine groups and largest veterinarian organizations, is being promoted by over 50 animal protection groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, while Blackburn’s proposed bill is drawing fire from those who believe it to be a toothless ruse, this especially after the “Big Lick” feted Blackburn at a reception in August that allegedly raised $70,000 for her campaign.

Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director for the American Veterinary Medical Association, scoffed at Blackburn’s bill, saying, “In fact (it) 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,” Dr. Miller explained, “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,” he said. “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.”

Dr. Miller is convinced the stacks on the horse’s front hooves are also wrong. “They 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.”

So what should the Congress and the Senate do? “The PAST Act, which AVMA supports, takes many important and necessary steps to end soring,” Dr. Miller said. “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 many other groups and individuals.

“Soring has been illegal for more than 40 years, yet it continues to cripple horses and cause them unjust suffering. Horses deserve better.”

Apparently, so do the voters of Tennessee. The public outcry to soring has been deafening but the Republican members of Congress have a different agenda some believe is fueled by campaign money. Thus far, the state’s two senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, have not endorsed the S. 1406 and, to date, there is no accompanying bill in the Senate to Blackburn’s bill.

Alexander’s state campaign chairman, Steven B. Smith, however is very active in the “Big Lick” and is president of the embattled Breed Registry.

Until Tennessee’s Congressional representatives are held accountable, the state of Tennessee will maintain its reputation as the capital of horse abuse in the world.

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