Congress should work together to prohibit abuse of show horses

On April 11, 2013, I, along with Reps. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Joe Pitts (R-Pa.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.), introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives known as the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518, to end the horrific practice of “soring” Tennessee Walking, Racking and Spotted Saddle horses.

Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to horses’ feet to achieve the high stepping “big lick” pain-based gait that is sought after by many violators of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970.

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Endorsements of the PAST Act include the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and veterinary medical associations from all 50 states.

The Senate companion version of the bill, S. 1406, introduced by Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), was introduced on July 31, 2013, and currently has 57 bipartisan co-sponsors including Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), just to name a few. This legislation has cleared committee and is waiting for a vote. Today, the House version has 305 co-sponsors and is also awaiting further action.

Just last week former Republican governor of Tennessee Winfield Dunn contacted me in support of the PAST Act and expressed his personal view of the rampant soring that continues within the industry. Dunn said in his letter, “The abuse and suffering which these innocent and loyal animals now experience every day must be brought to an end. I have made my feelings known to members of the Tennessee delegation. I look forward to a day, very soon, when walking horse enthusiasts, both pleasure seekers and competitors, can enjoy the beauty and naturalness of the horse.”

Tennessee Walking Horses are shown throughout the United States, but the majority of soring occurs only in a few areas like Tennessee and Kentucky to attain the “big lick” gait. Veterinarian groups around the country support the PAST Act because they recognize that “big lick” cannot be attained without the use of soring, chains and pads to conceal the irritants. The PAST Act simply requires independent inspectors trained by the Department of Agriculture and eliminates chains and pads used to conceal the irritants.

The support for this legislation is astounding, and others who have contacted me in support of the bill for the future and welfare of these horses include Monty Roberts (author of The Man Who Listens to Horses), Bill Harlin (past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association), Pat Parelli (founder of Parelli Natural Horsemanship), Priscilla Presley, Kesha, Emmylou Harris and Alyssa Milano. In addition, thousands upon thousands of horse owners, exhibitors, trainers and breeders who have been oppressed by the pro-soring coalition in Tennessee support the bill.

The pro-soring coalition introduced its own bill, which has a mere 12 co-sponsors in the House. Moreover, the pro-soring coalition recently selected the judges for the 2014 World Championship, the Celebration, held next month in Shelbyville, Tenn. They continued their pattern of flagrant disregard for the federal law by naming HPA violators to all five of the judging positions.

It is long past time for Congress to bring this measure to the floor for a vote. I am not aware of any other proposed legislation that exists with this much broad-based, bicameral, bipartisan support. The American people have repeatedly expressed their displeasure with Congress, and this is a great opportunity for Congress to lead our country and show the people we can all work together and pass legislation through both houses that is beneficial to our country, our constituents, our economy and the welfare of these horses.

Whitfield has represented Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District since 1995. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee.