Supporters of training techniques associated with Tennessee walking horse “big lick” showmanship now have a champion in U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). Blackburn recently introduced House Resolution 4098, or the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2014, to counter HR 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.
The PAST Act is the results of efforts by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and others not just to minimize soring—a practice that creates the exaggerated “big lick” gait through pain—but to bolster the 1970 Horse Protection Act in a way that extinguishes soring from the Tennessee walking horse arena.
Blackburn’s bill, endorsed by the walking horse industry’s premier show, the Tennesee Walking Horse National Celebration, addresses soring not as an industry epidemic but the sin of a few.
The AVMA is not buying it. “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,” reads an AVMA letter to its members.
The Blackburn bill calls simply for an increased use of technology to identify soring during horse show inspections. It also dials back the restrictions of the PAST Act to allow for the continued use of stacked, weighted shoes and chains to train horses in the walking horse gait.
AVMA Executive Vice President Ron DeHaven, DVM, MBA, said last year during his testimony before a U.S. House subcommittee that banning the use of pads and chains—often used in congruence with soring—would eliminate much of the incentive to sore a horse.
Those in support of Blackburn’s bill contend the shoes and chains do not harm the horses and doing away with them would eliminate a whole segment of the show horse industry. Further, they claim that PAST Act restrictions would destroy the culture and commerce of states heavily involved in walking horse shows.
What proponents of the PAST Act hope it will destroy is a culture of soring. Forty years after the Horse Protection Act became law—banning the transport, exhibition or sale of a sore horse—soring violations still cast a shadow, say veterinary and animal welfare leaders, and some of the industry’s most well-known trainers have been indicted for the practice. The result? The PAST Act is absolutely necessary, DeHaven says.
The AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division sees the introduction of HR 4098 as a diversionary tactic by the “big lick” crowd. The PAST Act has received bipartisan support in Congress with 268 cosponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate. “AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division is working hard to get at least 100 Republican cosponsors on the PAST Act in the House because we have been told by leadership that then the bill may receive consideration,” says Whitney Miller, DVM, assistant director of the division. At press time, the Republican tally was up to 96.
“At the AVMA, it is still our top priority to work on getting the PAST Act passed and signed into law,” Miller says. “We are happy to see even more people, even within the walking horse industry, rally behind us in this cause.”
Click here to see the list of horse organizations, veterinary health professionals, animal protection organizations, horse industry professionals, newspaper editorial boards, lawmakers and celebrities that endorse the PAST Act. Click here to read Blackburn’s HR 4098 and go to avma.org for more information on the PAST Act.