The United States House of Representatives approved a $383 billion spending bill that includes money to enforce the Horse Protection Act. 

The Democratic-controlled House passed H.R. 3055, which contains spending packages for commerce and justice; agriculture, interior and environment; military construction and veteran affairs; and transportation, housing and urban development. The bill passed in a 227-194 vote that was mostly along party lines. The Senate still has yet to unveil any spending plans. After both bills are passed, they must be reconciled and approved by the House and Senate before being sent to the White House for the president’s signature.

Included in the appropriations bill is an amendment that would help enforce animal cruelty laws — including the Horse Protection Act.

“While our animal rights laws have improved, there are currently insufficient resources to ensure that these laws are being adequately enforced,” says Rep. Haley Stevens, a Michigan Democrat who introduced the amendment. “The intent of this bipartisan amendment is to urge [the Department of Justice] to allocate $2 million for the Environment and Natural Resources Division to continue working with [the United States Department of Agriculture] and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to more actively pursue animal welfare crimes.”

The amendment aims to crack down on rooster and dog fighting, as well as soring the feet of Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle horses and racking horses. Soring is the intentional application of substances or devices to horses’ limbs to inflict pain in order to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait in show rings.

The reallocation of money comes more than 40 years after Congress effectively defunded horse show inspections, including those featuring Tennessee Walking Horses. As a result, the industry was relied upon to self-police inspections. Both houses of Congress have since attempted to change the self-policing policy four times in the form of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. None have advanced beyond committee; however, the latest House version — H.R. 693 — has 306 cosponsors, which triggers a new rule that ensures a debate and vote on the bill.

The PAST Act would substantially revamp the farriery of Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses and racking horses. They would prohibit the use of action devices, “weighted toe, pads, wedge, hoof band, or other device or material at a horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale or auction that is placed on, inserted in, or attached to any limb of Tennessee Walking Horses, racking horses, Spotted Saddle Horses … to artificially alter the gait of such a horse; and is not strictly protective or therapeutic in nature.”

The legislation defines action device as “any boot, collar, chain, roller, or other devices that encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg of a horse in such a manner that it can rotate around the leg or slide up and down the leg, so as to cause friction; or strike the hoof, coronet band, fetlock joint, or pastern of the horse.” The legislation does not consider soft rubber or soft leather bell boots or quarter boots that are used to protect the foot as an action device.

Opponents of the bill believe that is too heavy-handed and would result in the demise of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

“The Walking Horse industry obviously is disappointed by this action, which is an attempt not to end the unacceptable act of soring, but rather to eliminate the Walking show Horse industry that provides over 20,000 jobs and has an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion,” says Mike Inman, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. “The more logical approach is seen in the House bill introduced by Congressman Scott DesJarlais, which calls for scientific objective testing of all entries and strong penalties for those in violation, as opposed to punishing the super majority of horses and owners that are proven to be doing things in the right fashion.”

DesJarlais’ bill — H.R. 1157 – calls for science-based protocols, including swabbing or blood testing, that have been tested and capable of producing scientifically reliable and reproducible results, subjected to peer review and accepted in the veterinary or “other applicable scientific community.”