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 CohenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point MORE (D-Tenn.), Kurt SchraderWalter (Kurt) Kurt SchraderKrystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats Blue Dogs issue new call for House leaders to abide by pay-go rule Caution for Democrats: Voters care more about drug pricing than impeaching Trump MORE (D-Ore.), and Ted YohoTheodore (Ted) Scott YohoHaley: Giuliani should've been named 'special envoy' to Ukraine GOP lawmakers express concerns about Giuliani's work in Ukraine CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back 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 SchakowskyThe Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment of Trump resumes Warren receives endorsement from Illinois congresswoman ahead of Chicago rally Overnight Health Care: Trump draws ire after retreat on drug price promise | Harris unveils mental health plan | Dem bill targets violence against women around the world 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 TonkoDemocrats unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 House committee advances sweeping legislation to battle 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule MORE (D-N.Y.), and Andy BarrAndy Hale BarrMnuchin to lawmakers: 'I'm highly encouraged you will' pass Trump's North America trade deal Kentucky Democrat moves closer to McConnell challenge Advocates step up efforts for horse racing reform bill after more deaths 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 PelosiHouse Judiciary Committee formally receives impeachment report Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson – House progressives may try to block vote on Pelosi drug bill | McConnell, Grassley at odds over Trump-backed drug pricing bill | Lawmakers close to deal on surprise medical bills MORE (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse approves two-state resolution in implicit rebuke of Trump Overnight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 House to vote next week on sweeping bill to lower drug prices 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.”