Anti-soring legislation takes a step forward as the United States House of Representatives enters the final weeks of its lame-duck session.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 5441) passes the House in a 304-111 vote on Monday, the first day of congressional action since the 2022 midterm elections.
The federal legislation aims to amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to criminalize horse soring, prohibit several practices that artificially alter horses’ gaits or conceal evidence of soring, and eliminate self-policing. The HPA prohibits sored horses from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions.
Soring is the intentional application of substances or devices to horses’ limbs to inflict pain to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait, known as The Big Lick, in show rings.
“The PAST Act would shut down the cruel practice of horse soring,” Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat who sponsored the bill, says in part during remarks on the House floor. “It’s a horrendous practice that horse trainers have used in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, Spotted Saddle Horse and racking horse shows. The Big Lick is wrong … I’m proud to lead the fight to end it. We’re going to end it.”
Equine welfare advocates are applauding the vote and urging the Senate to follow suit.
“For decades, we’ve pressed to end soring by conducting undercover investigations, raising public awareness, lobbying to secure greater funding for enhanced enforcement by the [United States Department of Agriculture] and working with champions in Congress and coalition partners to enact this legislation,” says Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and CEO of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Now, we’re calling on the Senate to pass the PAST Act and send it to President Biden’s desk. There’s no excuse for further delays or obstruction; these animals have suffered for far too long.”
The Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration could not be reached for comment.
The new bill moves to the Senate, where its identical version (S. 2295) remains in the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. It must pass in the Senate and signed into law by President Joe Biden before it becomes enacted.
Although the House vote gratified Animal Wellness Action officials, they remain pessimistic about the bill’s chances in the Senate.
“We’re glad to see some action on the old PAST Act we’ve worked for a decade to pass, but with the House vote falling short of the 2019 record, the legislation stands an even lesser chance of passing the Senate in 2022 than it did in the 116th Congress,” says Marty Irby, AWA executive director and former president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association. “It’s clear the only path forward to see meaningful legislation to stamp out soring enacted, is to amend the PAST Act to make it more palatable for the Tennessee and Kentucky Congressional Delegations.”
The AWA compromise accomplishes much of what is spelled out in the PAST Act, such as eliminating ankle chains and increasing the penalties to the felony level. However, it also eliminates tail braces while allowing smaller, removable shoes that are commonly used by other breeds, such as American Saddlebreds.
The House approved the PAST Act in 2019 in a 333-96 vote. It died in the Senate.
If enacted, the legislation, which has 263 co-sponsors, would prohibit the use of action devices and pads on Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses and racking horses. The legislation defines an 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.
The PAST Act also would eliminate self-policing by requiring the USDA control the inspection process. It also increases the penalty from a misdemeanor to a felony with a maximum of 3 years of incarceration, fines of as much as $5,000 and permanent disqualification of three-time violators.