The board of the Performance Show Horse Association has reaffirmed its opposition to a federal bill aimed at tightening regulations around the illegal practice of soring.
Soring is the use of chemical and mechanical irritants on the lower legs of horses to encourage a higher gait.
The board argued the so-called PAST Act, HR 1518, sponsored by Congressman Ed Whitfield and backed by the Humane Society of the United States, had several inherent problems.
It argued that self-regulation within the industry had dramatically reduced incidents of soring, with the United States Department of Agriculture’s own data showing compliance rates hovering in the 97 percent range.
The board said that in 2013 alone, violations were down about 34 percent from just one year prior, according to USDA figures.
In addition, violations found by the USDA at the World Grand Championship dropped 37 percent, even with more inspections conducted.
The board argued that stipulations within the proposed legislation were discriminatory because they applied only to three breeds — Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking horses and Spotted Saddle horses.
At issue is the use of padded shoes and action devices, which are common among other breeds as well, it said.
The board argued that a ban on the use of pads and/or weighted shoes would effectively eliminate 85 percent of Tennessee Walking Horses from competition.
“The legislation does nothing to remove subjectivity from testing, which the industry believes is the cause of numerous erroneous violations,” the board said.
Even the USDA inspectors have disagreed 26 percent of the time at one training clinic, it said. The board said it endorsed a more objective set of criteria in determining whether a violation has occurred.
“The industry has made great strides in eliminating soring and will continue to do more—without federal intervention,” board member Dr Doyle Meadows said.
“The history and culture of this breed will be protected — as will the horses themselves — with the industry promoting more and more independent oversight.”
However, the bill has the support of two major veterinary groups in the United States, as well as the Humane Society of the United States.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) are backing the bill, which seeks to eliminate horse soring by improving the US Department of Agriculture’s enforcement capabilities and strengthening penalties against violators, among other provisions.
“Soring of horses is an inhumane practice that veterinarians are, unfortunately, still seeing. It has crippling physical and mental effects on horses,” said AVMA president Dr Douglas Aspros.
“It’s sad when winning a show takes precedence over the health and welfare of the horse.
“As veterinarians, we simply can’t stand by and allow horses to be abused. We encourage Congress to quickly pass HR 1518 and put an end to the inhumane and unethical practice of soring, once and for all.”
AAEP president Dr Ann Dwyer said: “Soring is one of the most significant equine welfare issues in the United States.
“Federal legislation is the only action that will end this decades-long abuse of horses, and we urge all within the veterinary and horse-owning communities to join us in supporting this bill’s passage.”
Specifically, the bill proposes to:
- Make the actual act of soring, or directing another person to cause a horse to become sore, illegal, whereas the original act only banned showing, transporting, or auctioning a horse that was sore, not the actual practice;
- Prohibit the use of action devices (eg, boot, collar, chain, roller, or other device that encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg of a horse) on any limb of Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses, or Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions and bans weighted shoes, pads, wedges, hoof bands, or other devices that are not used for protective or therapeutic purposes;
- Increases civil and criminal penalties for violations, and creates a penalty structure that requires horses to be disqualified for increasing periods of time based on the number of violations;
- Allows for permanent disqualification from the show ring after three or more violations; and
- Requires the US Department of Agriculture (rather than the current structure of horse industry self-regulation) to license, train, assign and oversee inspectors to enforce the Horse Protection Act.