Two key veterinary groups in the United States have voiced their opposition to new legislation proposed as an alternative to a widely supported bill aimed at toughening anti-soring penalties and enforcement.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) say they do not believe the new legislation introduced on Capitol Hill last week will provide gaited horses with the level of protection required.
They remain committed to the passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 1518/S. 1406).
The groups said they staunchly opposed the new bill, H.R. 4098, the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2013, because it would not protect Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle horses and Racking horses from soring – the intentional infliction of pain in order to create the exaggerated gait known as the “big lick” in the show ring.
Unlike the PAST Act, H.R. 4098 did not make the actual act of soring illegal, the AAEP said. It only continued the existing prohibitions on the sale, auction, transport and exhibition of sored horses.
In addition, the new legislation would not prohibit the use of action devices and performance packages, often used to intensify the painful effects of soring.
Both the AAEP and the AVMA called for a ban on the use of these devices in 2012.
H.R. 4098 also sought to continue the industry’s ineffective self-regulation model instead of giving the US Department of Agriculture the authority it needed to license, train and oversee independent horse show inspectors.
AAEP president Dr Jeff Blea said: “The AAEP supports the passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 1406/H.R. 1518) because it will strengthen the Horse Protection Act and significantly increase the effort to end the abuse of the Tennessee Walking Horse.
“All veterinarians and horse owners are urged to contact their legislators to voice support for the PAST Act legislation and oppose H.R. 4098.”
He noted that the PAST Act also had support from the AVMA, every state veterinary medical association in the United States, and numerous other groups and individuals, including the American Horse Council. The bill also has overwhelming support in Congress, with more than 267 cosponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate.
The AVMA’s Dr Whitney Miller, assistant director of its Governmental Relations Division, said the proposed new legislation would do nothing to protect gaited horses and stop soring.
“This legislation is nothing more than an attempt to maintain the status quo in an industry riddled with abuse and will ensure that the broken system of seeing horses sored at an alarming rate does not have to answer for its crimes.”
She said its implementation would not result in any improvements for the welfare of horses or enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.
“Unlike the PAST Act, H.R. 4098 does not make the actual act of soring illegal; it only continues the existing prohibitions on the sale, auction, transport and exhibition of sored horses. Soring is wrong! It must be stopped at its source, not after the harm has already been done.
“The legislation also does not address the action devices and performance packages, known as ‘stacks’ and ‘chains’, that are used to hide and worsen the effects of soring on horses.
“That’s because the supporters of the legislation know that by taking action devices and performance packages away, we remove one more tool from their abusive toolbox.”
The PAST Act aims to reinforce the Horse Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1970 with the goal of ending soring. It then added amendments that enabled the industry to self-regulate in 1976.
“In other words,” said Miller, “the industry has had almost 40 years of opportunity to clean up its act—and it hasn’t done so.
“Instead, they’ve circled the wagons to defend the status quo. H.R. 4098 not only retains the industry’s failed self-regulatory structure, it makes it even less effective by placing authority in the hands of a small group of people who will be selected and driven by the politics and influence-peddling of those who want to see soring continue.
“So what changes must be made to help stop the abuse and protect the welfare of walking horses? The PAST Act, which the AVMA supports, takes many important and necessary steps to end soring.
“It makes the act of soring illegal; overhauls the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement system; bans incentives to sore; and improves the penalty structure against violators.”
Miller said soring has been illegal for more than 40 years, yet it continued to cripple horses and cause them unjust suffering.