Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., says he will introduce a bill today to eliminate illegal, abusive training practices for Tennessee walking horses — and he hopes to bridge a divide between a widely supported set of existing House and Senate bills and the $3.2 billion industry.
Alexander's bill would be a companion to a House bill introduced in February by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Alexander hopes to expand on that bill, add a new layer of protection for horses and increase accountability for horse inspectors.
The industry has widely supported Blackburn's bill because, among other things, it doesn't call for abolishing the use of padded shoes and chains that train horses to walk with an exaggerated, higher gait — or "Big Lick."
But the bill has earned no love from supporters of a pair of competing bills, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Acts, which aim at eliminating the training devices altogether. They say the devices are just a part of soring — the practice of cutting or injecting acids into a horse's ankles or hooves to produce a higher step through pain.
There's no question for Alexander: Soring must stop. But he says the PAST Acts — H.B. 1518 and S. 1406 — place unnecessary restrictions on trainers, owners and show organizers and would eliminate some classes of competitions. And, soring is already illegal.
"Already in the federal regulation are very specific limits on devices that can be put on a horse's legs. None of these can weigh more than 6 oz., a little more that a wristwatch," Alexander said. "What we are trying to do is require the riders to follow the law and follow the regulations, and if they do, there shouldn't be any illegal practices."