DeHaven takes on walking horse industry over soring on behalf of AVMA, AAEP

DeHaven takes on walking horse industry over soring on behalf of AVMA, AAEP

American Veterinary Medical Association executive vice president testifies at congressional hearing for house bill.
Jan 01, 2014

American Medical Veterinary Association (AVMA) Executive Vice President Ron DeHaven, DVM, testified before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade with several other expert witnesses to discuss soring in the Tennessee walking horse industry Nov. 11. The hearing centered on House Resolution 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, or the PAST Act, which would amend the decades-old Horse Protection Act to clearly ban the act of soring and to more specifically define what constitutes soring. However, while opponents of the bill pay what some regard as lip service to anti-soring efforts, they remain adamant that soring is not prevalent in the show horse industry. They assert the PAST Act would destroy the "big lick" tradition, the Tennessee walking horse industry and the economy of communities long-steeped in its culture.

Dr. Ron DeHaven, executive vice president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, testifies at a U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee in November in Washinton, D.C., to discuss the PAST Act aimed at eliminate soring. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE AMERICAN VETERINARY MEDICINE ASSOCIATION)
DeHaven, speaking for the AVMA and the Association of American Equine Practitioners (AAEP) fully supports legislation to bolster the Horse Protection Act (HPA) that banned transporting, exhibiting or selling a sore horse more than 40 years ago. "The goal of the HPA was to eliminate soring," DeHaven says. "The fact that it's still happening is very significant."

The practice of soring—deliberately causing pain to artificially exaggerate the leg motion of a horse's gait—has long been associated with the "big lick" gait often prized in show arenas. The PAST Act would amend the HPA to clearly ban the act of soring and to more specifically define what constitutes soring. It strengthens penalties for violations and enhances enforcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The PAST Act would also ban use of pads and chains—often used in congruence with soring—on horses' hooves to achieve the high-stepping gait.

Opponents of the bill say it goes to far. DeHaven disagrees: "The elimination of pads and chains is the most significant thing." DeHaven says while some will say there is a benefit to using the chains without soring the horse, he believes the benefits to eliminating them altogether far outweighs possible training benefits. "By eliminating the chains, we eliminate much of the incentive to sore a horse," he says.

He believes it is the same with pads. "Contrary to Dr. Bennett [John Bennett, DVM, Equine Services, LLC, testified on behalf of the Performance Show Horse Association], by removing the pads, you remove the opportunity to insert a foreign body on the sole of the foot. You also aren't putting the pressure on ligament and tendons created by those pads."

Despite the HPA and the high compliance rates the walking horse industry claims, DeHaven and others say evidence points to a sustained prevalence of soring in the Tennessee walking horse industry. "After 40-some years, it's time for more dramatic action," DeHaven says.