Congress must act to end cruelty to show horses

Courtesy The Humane Society of the United States

Every day, behind closed stable doors, Tennessee walking horses suffer immense pain at the hands of their trainers.

The horses’ legs are soaked with caustic chemicals and wrapped in plastic to “cook” their flesh. Hard objects are wedged into the tender parts of their hooves making each step painful. Trainers use these cruel practices to force horses to perform the exaggerated “Big Lick” gait prized at some horse shows. To further accentuate this extreme, unnatural gait, tall, heavy “stacks” are nailed to the horses’ hooves, and chains are hung around their legs that exacerbate the pain.

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This abuse is unconscionable, and Congress passed the federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) in 1970 to stop it. But Big Lick trainers make every effort to evade detection of their crimes, and the industry has been permitted to police itself with devastating results. 

The fight to stop this practice, called soring, is personal for me: Elvis was a big admirer of Tennessee walking horses and together we owned several. Visitors to Graceland can still see these beautiful creatures grazing outside the barn.

I’m proud to continue that legacy at Graceland, and to be a permanent part of Tennessee’s culture. The Big Lick subculture of cruelty and corruption is giving the state a bad name. I want to see soring become a part of Tennessee’s past, and the only way is for Congress to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518 / S. 1406.

The PAST Act’s needed reforms to the Horse Protection Act will finally close the door on soring by banning the devices involved in the soring process, increasing penalties for violations and ending the industry’s failed system of self-policing, a recommendation of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General in a 2010 audit of the HPA enforcement program. 

The PAST Act is endorsed by the American Horse Council, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, every state veterinary medical association, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, more than 50 leading horse organizations and many others. It has been co-sponsored by 328 U.S. representatives and senators of both parties, and approved by the Senate Commerce Committee.

There is ample evidence that soring is rampant in the Big Lick sector of the walking horse industry, and its techniques for soring horses and duping inspectors have become more sophisticated over the years. In a further attempt to continue its abusive practices, this sector has found a handful of allies in Congress to push legislation that would codify, even worsen, the corrupt self-policing scheme that has allowed soring to continue. It’s clear that its main design is to stand in the way of meaningful reform and cause confusion. 

Congress and the public will not abide any more false promises of reform from Tennessee walking horse abusers. Support for the PAST Act is overwhelming, but congressional leaders need to bring it to a vote. This bill is the way forward, out of a long history of corruption and cruelty in this abusive faction of the walking horse industry and into a thriving, humane future for these horses and those who love them. Please join me in calling on our members of Congress to co-sponsor the PAST Act, and to do everything they can to ensure its passage. 

Presley, the ex-wife of Elvis Presley, is an actress and a businesswoman. She is co-founder of Elvis Presley Enterprises, the company that operates Graceland. She is partnering with the Humane Society of the United States to raise public awareness of soring.

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