By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
More than 83% of Tennessee voters want Congress to end the terrible practice of soring walking horses and related breeds to win ribbons at competitions, a new Humane Society of the United States poll shows.
Respondents belonging to both parties in the largely conservative state overwhelmingly supported passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, a bill that would crack down on soring, the practice of inflicting pain on the legs and hooves of show horses to force them to perform the artificial, high-stepping “big lick” gait. Only 7% of respondents opposed the bill and 10% were undecided. Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy interviewed a total of 625 registered voters by phone between Jan. 28th and 30th for the poll, which had a plus or minus 4% margin of error.
The PAST Act has already cleared the U.S. House but has failed to see any action in the Senate because of political maneuvering, including strident opposition from the two Tennessee Senators, Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn.
We are releasing the poll just as the walking horse industry wraps up its biggest annual event, the National Celebration, in Tennessee. Once again this year, several trainers scheduled to begin long federal disqualifications stemming from citations for soring violations exhibited their horses and won. These included 2019 Walking Horse Trainers of the Year Philip Trimble, Trainers Association president Bill Cantrell, Howard Hamilton, Patrick Thomas and Herbert Derickson. The trainer of the horse named 2020 World Grand Champion, John Allan Callaway, served a disqualification that ended in 2018.
Two trainers who exhibited at the show, Gary Edwards and Casey Wright, have brothers who share a training operation with them and who are currently on federal disqualification. Edwards is scheduled to serve his own disqualification period starting in 2022—as soon as his brother ends his.
This is now a common theme at walking horse events, where the industry doesn't just turn a blind eye to those cited for abusing animals—it actually rewards them. What is making matters worse is the USDA’s lax enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. The federal agency is charged with inspecting horses at shows, but it has increasingly failed to issue citations and even allows violators to serve deferred disqualifications. The federal agency does not consider it a violation if a trainer on federal disqualification continues to advertise their training operation.
All of this proves just why we need the PAST Act to become law as soon as possible. The bill would end the cruel practice of soring and amend the Horse Protection Act by banning the use of devices integral to soring, replacing the failed system of industry self-policing with a team of independent inspectors overseen by the USDA, and increasing penalties for violations.
The bill passed the House of Representatives in July 2019 by an overwhelming, bipartisan margin (333 to 96) and currently has 52 Senate cosponsors, but political cronyism has kept it from moving forward in the Senate. Sens. Alexander and Blackburn are not only opposing the PAST Act, they are instead sponsoring competing legislation that would make the situation worse, by doing nothing to prohibit the torturous devices used in soring and by codifying the industry’s failed system of self-policing while actually further weakening USDA oversight. They should take note of these poll numbers that clearly show what their constituents really want their elected lawmakers in Congress to do about soring.
There should be no debate over ending soring—it’s animal abuse of the worst kind, and it needs to stop, period. The PAST Act is endorsed by every major horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection group in the country, and it’s time our Senators put politics aside to pass this commonsense bill. Please contact your U.S. Senators today. Urge them to cosponsor and do all they can to help pass the PAST Act without further delay.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.