By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
The reinstatement of the 2016 federal rule to address the abhorrent and widely scorned practice of horse soring in the Tennessee walking horse industry should be an easy decision for the incoming administration. The rule, which the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund supported through investigation, public awareness work, lobbying and litigation efforts, would strengthen the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Horse Protection Act regulations by ending the use of cruel devices integral to soring and the failed system of industry self-policing. Best of all, President Biden could make it happen with a simple pen stroke.
The soring rule, which received over 100,000 supportive public comments, including bipartisan letters signed by 182 U.S. Representatives and 42 Senators, was announced by the USDA in the closing days of the Obama Administration. But when President Trump took office, it became one of the many regulatory changes frozen and left to sit on the shelf with no explanation, no justification, and no public comment solicited.
The HSUS and HSLF sued the USDA and the Office of the Federal Register to compel the reinstatement of the rule in a case still pending in the federal courts. But Biden has a simpler pathway. He was part of the administration that championed the rule, and as president he can easily resurrect it for implementation.
Political support for effective reforms to actually end soring is abundant in Congress. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2019, S.1007/H.R.693, passed the House of Representatives in July 2019 with a commanding vote of 333-96 and enjoys strong bipartisan support in the Senate with 52 cosponsors there. Recently, voters polled in Kentucky and Tennessee, the two states where horse soring is most prevalent, expressed overwhelming support for the solutions of the PAST Act, which includes much of what the 2016 rule proposed. So did the city councils of the states’ two largest cities (Louisville, KY, and Nashville, TN), which passed resolutions in 2019 encouraging their federal legislative delegations to make PAST the law of the land.
One thing we’ve learned over the years is that the “Big Lick” faction of the walking horse industry, people who force the cruelties of soring upon horses merely for show ribbons and fame, cannot be trusted in discussions of intelligent public policy about the practice. So it’s not a surprise to see them mounting a last ditch attempt to bamboozle legislators and others with a misleading new proposal that would fortify the status quo in soring, allow the use of soring devices, institute an inspection protocol designed to not find soring, and further shift enforcement responsibility from the USDA to industry self-policing interests. Nor is it a surprise that they recruited retiring Senator Lamar Alexander, the sponsor of a previous attempt at diversionary legislation, as their advocate.
But it is a strange and sad development to see one or two other organizations lining up with the horse sorers in this desperate gambit. It simply doesn’t make sense, especially given the prospects for both the restoration of the 2016 rule and the imminent release of a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine on methods of detecting soring.
Together with virtually all of the national veterinary, horse industry, and animal protection groups that have worked to end soring through the PAST Act and the 2016 Horse Protection rule, we’ve analyzed the new proposal, and of one thing we’re certain: Senator Alexander’s proposal is a backward step. We have joined AAEP, ASPCA, AWI and HSVMA in a letter to Congress strongly opposing Alexander’s proposal, and the American Horse Council, a partner in the coalition in support of PAST, has also issued a statement of strong opposition on behalf of more than 30 organizations including the AVMA. In short, we’re united in the conviction that the proposal is an effort to derail both the 2016 rule and the PAST Act. We can’t let that happen, given the favorable climate around this issue as we enter 2021 with a new President. For a detailed look at the proposal’s specific problems, see our comments.
If there was ever a proposal in Congress that deserved to be stopped dead in its tracks, it’s this one. Please contact your senators and urge them to cosponsor and help secure passage of the PAST Act of 2019, S. 1007—and to resist this red herring “compromise” that favors a recalcitrant minority that seeks to defend and perpetuate the scourge of soring. We’re confident that focusing on the 2016 rule with the incoming administration is the right path, and that’s the one we’ll pursue in the weeks ahead.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.