The new Democratic Congress has an opportunity to move legislation to help horses
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For the past eight years, Congress has failed to do much of anything to help the iconic American horses many of us revere as a symbol of our nation, and symbol of the trails our ancestors blazed across the old west – the very creatures whose backs America was built upon. The 19th-century economy could not have flourished without their labors, and horses helped in the fields, in human transport, the movement of goods, and even in delivering the mail with the Pony Express. Today, we don’t use horses nearly as much for work, relying instead on mechanized transportation, but they remain our trusted companions and are still widely part of our economy in the form of sport and recreation.

There have been three key pieces of legislation introduced in successive congresses, but House leadership didn’t act on them even though all the bills attracted broad bipartisan support. A few obstructionist members did the bidding for horse abusers and helped to thwart the advance of common-sense measures to help horses and the industries they serve.

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The first, with 290 co-sponsors in the House during the 115th Congress, is the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act that would end the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses – an issue I’m all too familiar with as a former Tennessean, eight—time World Champion rider, and past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association. The PAST Act would eliminate the use of large stacked shoes, ankle chains, and other torturous devices that are used to create an artificial, high-stepping pain-based gait, known as the “big lick,” and has been championed by U.S. Reps. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenJon Stewart excoriates lawmakers for skipping hearing on 9/11 victim fund Jon Stewart excoriates lawmakers for skipping hearing on 9/11 victim fund Democrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness MORE (D-Tenn.), Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderLiberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret Liberals rip Democratic leaders for writing drug pricing bill in secret Dems walk Trump trade tightrope MORE (D-Ore.), and Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoSecrecy behind Saudi nuclear talks infuriates Congress Congress can finally ensure horses are not tortured for ribbons and prizes Trump's decision on health care law puts spotlight on Mulvaney MORE (R-Fla.).

The use of these devices combined with burning caustic chemicals such as mustard oil, and kerosene applied to the front limbs of horses has created this freakish look that would easily fit into the scene of the abusive games found at the height of the Roman Empire. The PAST Act would also eliminate the industry’s failed self-policing program by replacing it with licensed USDA certified inspectors, at no cost to the taxpayer, and increase penalties for violators of the Horse Protection Act.

Secondly, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, most recently, with 219 co-sponsors in the House, led by U.S. Reps. Jan SchakowskyJanice (Jan) Danoff SchakowskyOmar blasts Trump's comment about accepting foreign campaign dirt as 'un-American' House Dem cites transgender grandson in voting for Equality Act Dems plan 12-hour marathon Mueller report reading at Capitol MORE (D-Ill.), and Vern BuchananVernon Gale BuchananMORE (R-Fla.), would end the slaughter of American equines for human consumption, and ensure that the horses wouldn’t be transported under horrific conditions across the country and into Mexico, and Canada.

Besides being flight animals that are much more skittish than the farm animals typically consumed for food by Americans – horse meat is frequently tainted with harmful drugs that affect the health and safety of those who consume the meat in foreign countries. Horse slaughter plants have been closed in the U.S. for more than a decade by defacto ban – which requires annual renewal in the Congress through the appropriations process – saving the taxpayers millions of dollars each year. The SAFE Act is a permanent fix and a comprehensive policy that will protect American horses from being gathered up predatory kill buyers and taken to be brutally slaughtered.

There is also the Horseracing Integrity Act, led by U.S. Reps. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoBipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Bipartisan senators propose forcing EPA to set drinking water standard for 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Measure would force EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in water | Emails show Trump official consulted climate deniers | Democrats urge Puerto Rico to reject debt deal for power company MORE (D-N.Y.), and Andy BarrGarland (Andy) Hale BarrDemocrats set to use McConnell's legislative graveyard against him Democrats set to use McConnell's legislative graveyard against him 58 GOP lawmakers vote against disaster aid bill MORE (R-Ky.), which would end the doping of American race horses by creating a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, a private entity that oversees testing at the Olympics, and many other sporting events. With dozens of horses dying on racetracks each year, the need for this legislation that’s supported by a vast array of industry groups and racetracks is great, and the future of horse racing hangs in the balance of its enactment.

Each of these measures has consistently been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Committee, but haven’t be brought to the House floor for a vote under Republican leadership. With the change of guard in the House, and the Democrats now in control, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOcasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment Ocasio-Cortez claps back at Trump after he cites her in tweet rejecting impeachment GOP nervous that border wall fight could prompt year-end shutdown MORE (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe case for congressional pay raises Approve USMCA before it's too late Lawmakers push to permanently ban automatic pay raises for members of Congress MORE (D-Md.), and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) have an opportunity to move these critical pieces of legislation and underscore to the country what Republican Congressional leaders failed to understand – that Americans revere, and respect, these iconic symbols of our nation. My fellow Republicans failed to deliver on sound equine policies for the nation – a lack of action that would be alien to horses if they could understand us.  These iconic animals have always delivered for humanity, and Congress should help protect them.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.”