Campaigners have condemned a group of Tennessee lawmakers they say are trying to derail a popular bill aimed at ending the cruel practice of soring.
The PAST Act, an acronym for Prevent All Soring Tactics, passed from the Senate’s Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation in a voice vote on Wednesday, with no audible dissenters.
It proposes a raft of measures to end soring – the practice of using mechanical and chemical irritants to encourage the high-stepping gait desired by the Big Lick faction. It would, among other things, introduce tougher penalties and end industry self-policing, which critics say has failed to stem soring.
Commentator Roy Exum, writing in The Chattanoogan, noted that half of the nation’s senators – 50 in all – had endorsed the bill (S1406), along with 268 members of Congress (HB1518).
“But insiders are still whispering the effort is doomed,” he writes.
The bill appeared wildly popular, but Tennessee Republicans in the Senate and in Congress were desperately trying to derail the badly needed reforms, he said.
“Never mind that the PAST Act is being supported by every animal health organization in America and an infuriated public nationwide, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marcia Blackburn are bucking the effort every way possible.”
He labelled them a misguided duo, saying both had been roundly castigated by horse groups and organizations in the last month.
Keith Dane, the vice-president of equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States, said there were deeply contrasting views about what policies were needed to safeguard Tennessee Walking Horses, with dozens of horse industry breed groups, equine veterinarians, the entire animal welfare community and a majority of Congress on one side, and a small faction of horse abusers and a handful of legislators aligned with them on the other.
Dane, writing in The Tennessean, said: “As an owner, judge and lifelong aficionado of the Tennessee Walking Horse, I have come to know firsthand the damage caused by soring — not only the physical and psychological damage to the individual horses affected, but the economic damage to this breed that offers a naturally smooth gait to ride and a willing, docile temperament.
“Once a leading American horse breed, the walking horse is now viewed by many as a pariah in the horse industry. The stigma of soring has caused its value to plummet.
“It’s deeply disturbing then that some lawmakers, led by Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, would now introduce bills that would weaken protections for horses …”
Dane said the PAST Act was endorsed by the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and dozens of leading horse industry organizations.
“There are plenty of voices of reform within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry,” he said.
The Big Lick was a big lie, he said — and a Tennessee tradition that should finally be relegated to the dustbin of history with other cruel and shameful practices.
“When it is, the walking horse breed will flourish and grow, and the rural economies of the places where they are bred, raised and trained will prosper.
“All that we want, and all that Tennessee Walking Horses need, is a vote in the US Senate and then a vote in the House. It’s clear where the votes are.
“The only question is: Will a handful of lawmakers and horse soring practitioners continue to defy what is right and moral and what is in the best interests of the horse industry?