These days, it can be rare for legislators to reach across the aisle and work together to achieve meaningful change. It’s even rarer for partnerships to reach across time. But that is exactly what’s needed now to protect horses. We may not have served in Congress for the same party, but we share a common goal today: to crack down on the inhumane practice of “soring”—intentionally injuring the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to force them to perform an exaggerated, high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick.” The Big Lick wins ribbons at horse shows across the country at the expense of the docile, trusting horses who are tortured day in and day out by their trainers.
As lifelong horsemen and former senators, we ask senators and representatives from both parties to override the lobbyists for the horse “sorers” and insist on a vote on legislation to protect these beautiful and defenseless horses from this vicious and ongoing cruelty. One of us, representing Maryland, first took on this effort by authoring the Horse Protection Act, which passed in 1970 and made it a crime to exhibit, sell or transport a sored horse. The other of us represented Virginia, home to many equestrian owners and riders, and he too has owned and ridden many horses over the past years and fully supports legislation that will better their lives. We both push forward on the cause by supporting the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. This legislation, S.1121/H.R.3268, is cosponsored by 50 senators and 240 representatives currently and will close loopholes that violators have exploited to carry on the unfair, illegal and cruel practice of soring.
The small subset of owners and trainers in the walking horse world that engages in soring has developed a variety of gruesome tactics to inflict pain and force horses to lift their legs higher. The trainers smear caustic chemicals on the pasterns (or ankles) of the horse and wrap them tightly to cook the substances into the skin. They attach metal chains to bang against the burned skin. The horses are made to wear heavy, stacked shoes that can conceal hard objects jammed into the tender flesh, where the hooves have been pared down to expose live tissue. And then these trainers go to great lengths to avoid detection—applying numbing agents to the horse’s legs on the day of the show, and using electric shock and beatings beforehand to train the horse not to react to pain during inspection.
The Horse Protection Act directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the law by inspecting horses at shows, but a 1976 amendment allows the walking horse industry to select its own inspectors, many of whom are participants with inherent conflicts of interest. This system amounts to the fox guarding the henhouse, and has been such a failure that a 2010 audit by the USDA Office of the Inspector General called for its abolishment and for USDA to resume full oversight of inspections—a key provision of the PAST Act.
Ending this cycle of abuse and corruption is long overdue, and the PAST Act is the solution. It was reintroduced a few months ago by Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteBiden's FDA nominee advances through key Senate committee The 10 races that will decide the Senate majority Manchin, Sanders will oppose Biden FDA nominee Califf MORE (R-N.H.) and Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerBiden moves to boost security of sensitive national security systems We are America's independent contractors, and we are terrified Hillicon Valley: Amazon's Alabama union fight — take two MORE (D-Va.), and Reps. Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoOcasio-Cortez: Gosar so weak he 'couldn't open a pickle jar' Rep. Gosar posts anime video showing him striking Biden, Ocasio-Cortez Will America fight for Taiwan? MORE (R-Fla.), Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), David Jolly (R-Fla.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), and already has robust bipartisan support of majorities in both chambers. The same legislation reached an overwhelming cosponsor count of 60 senators and 308 representatives during the two years of the last Congress, and was approved unanimously in the Senate Commerce Committee. This time around, we cannot allow industry interference to keep it from crossing the finish line.
Supporters of the PAST Act include the American Horse Council, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, most major horse breed and show organizations, animal protection groups, and all 50 state veterinary medical associations. Key newspapers in Tennessee and Kentucky, where the Big Lick is most prevalent, have editorialized in favor of the PAST Act, and local sheriffs have voiced their support. Celebrities in the world of equestrian sport, music and Hollywood enthusiastically endorse the bill. Priscilla Presley—the actress and savvy business mogul who has built Graceland into a top tourist attraction in Tennessee—came to Washington to make the case for the PAST Act.
Thanks to the work of brave undercover investigators and former industry insiders, the American public has learned the horrible truth about soring—and they will not stand for it. Bipartisan House and Senate leadership must listen to the public and bring this bill to a vote. If they do, it will pass; the votes are there, the support is there and it’s the right thing to do for the taxpayer, for this beleaguered industry and its law-abiding members, and for the animals that we must protect from this blatant cruelty.
Tydings served in the Senate from 1965 to 1971 and was the lead sponsor of the original Horse Protection Act in 1970. Warner served in the Senate from 1979 to 2009, and as secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974.