A trio of senators have introduced legislation that they say will “end the contemptible, illegal practice of horse soring once and for all” while preserving the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition.

The legislation, which was introduced Thursday, April 30, by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.); Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), is a modified version of a previous bill that was introduced during the last Congressional session. That bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and Tennessee’s six other Republican congressmen.

“The Humane Society bill would destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition,” Alexander said during the introduction of his legislation. “In baseball, if a player illegally uses steroids you punish the player. You don’t shut down America’s pastime.  We need to punish and stop any trainer, owner or rider who engages in the illegal practice of horse soring — not shut down a treasured and important tradition in both Tennessee and Kentucky.”

A competing bill, advocated by the Humane Society of the United States, also has been introduced in the Senate. The Humane Society bill would ban many industry-standard training and show devices that do not harm horses on their own, according to Alexander, and has been described by the Performance Show Horse Association as legislation that would “do little more than create another layer of bureaucracy at the United States Department of Agriculture while denying horse enthusiasts the opportunity” to participate in competitions that are the basis of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

“When I first went to Japan in 1979 to recruit Nissan, the Tennessee Walking Horse was one of the things the Japanese knew best about our state,” Alexander says. “In fact, the emperor had his own Walking Horse because it has an enjoyable gait that makes riding a more pleasurable experience. And when the first major supplier of Nissan — Calsonic — came to Shelbyville, the company’s gift to Tennessee was Calsonic Arena, where the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is held.”

Horse soring is already illegal under federal law. Alexander’s legislation would take six additional steps to end horse soring, while preserving the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition. Specifically the bill would: 

Create consistent oversight: The legislation would consolidate numerous “horse industry organizations” that handle inspections into one body overseeing inspections, governed by a board. The board would be composed of appointees by the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as experts in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Require term limits for board members: The legislation would create 4-year term limits for board members of the horse industry organization that would oversee inspections.

Protect against conflicts of interest: The legislation would ensure the integrity of horse inspectors by instructing the horse industry organization to establish requirements to prevent conflicts of interest with trainers, breeders and owners involved in showing the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Require input from veterinarians: The legislation would require the new consolidated horse industry organization to identify and contract with equine veterinary experts to advise the horse industry organization on testing methods and procedures, as well as certification of test results.

Require objective testing: The legislation would require the use of objective, scientific testing, such as blood tests, to determine whether trainers, riders or owners are using soring techniques — as opposed to humane training practices that do not harm the horses, but accentuate their natural gait.

Add suspensions from horse shows: The legislation would create a suspension period for horses that are found to be sore. Owners whose horses are found to be sore will be required to have their horses on a 30-day suspension for the first offense, with additional offenses requiring 90 days.