As the sun sets on 2020 and the 116th Congress, the verbal jousting intensifies over proposed legislation that aims to fulfill the original intent of the Horse Protection Act — the abolishment of soring.

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 bid to eliminate soring took a milestone step in 2019 when the House of Representatives approved the U.S. Sen. Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2019 (H.R. 693) in a 333-96 vote. Yet, the Senate’s companion bill (S. 1007) hasn’t found traction after it was introduced in April 2019 and assigned to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

The bill enjoys the backing of 51 cosponsors, enough to win a majority vote in the 100-member chamber. However, even if the bill makes it out of committee, which isn’t likely, it must get the green light from Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s gatekeeper. Again, a highly unlikely outcome, particularly considering the Senate majority leader has hitched his wagon to the Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2019 (S. 1455).

Although the PAST Act finally gained approval in the House on its ninth try since 2012, the lack of movement in the Senate has left animal rights activists and horse advocacy groups frustrated. A group of animal rights organizations and a Tennessee Walking Horse trainer have banded together with a compromise that they hope creates momentum for change.

The five organizations are Animal Wellness Action, the American Wellness Foundation, the Center for a Humane Economy, Horses for Life Foundation and American Horse Protection Society join TWH trainer Carl Bledsoe.

“Bitter political adversaries have come together to break the logjam in Congress and put the nation on a path to end horse soring,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy. “If enacted, this deal will end the political stalemate in Congress and take the pain out of Walking horse shows throughout the South.”

How does the group propose to accomplish this when previous legislation has failed? The organizations are suggesting several compromises.

  • The legislation would only apply to Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses and racking horses.
  • Limit stacked shoes to 1 ½ inches at the toe and 2 ½ inches in height. Current stacks can be 4 ½ to 8 inches in height.
  • Eliminate chains and action devices that are used to aggravate soring injuries.
  • Abolish the use of tungsten, lead, or other heavy elements or composites in the shoe.
  • Ban metal bands to secure a heavy shoe to the hoof.
  • Eliminate the possession of caustic chemicals and devices used for soring.
  • Institute an inspection program that relies on objective, science-based testing.
  • Hire independent inspectors who are licensed and certified by the United States Department of Agriculture.
  • Increase penalties from misdemeanor criminal charges to a felony.

“In working on animal cruelty cases, I’ve been told by prosecutors time and again that they just don’t pay much attention to crimes tagged with minimal penalties,” Pacelle says. “They are not going to invest hundreds of hours in a case that earns a 3-month jail sentence and a $1,000 fine for the perpetrator. … Prosecutors told me they’d pay attention when Congress adopted felony-level penalties.”

It’s going to be an uphill battle. A coalition of more than 30 equine organizations, led by the American Horse Council, oppose the compromise.

It might be a moot point. The Humane Society of the United States seems to be casting its lot with Joe Biden.

After a lengthy process, the USDA finalized changes to the HPA in January 2017 that largely mirrored an earlier version of the PAST Act (H.R. 3268). However, finalizing isn't always final. The Obama administration did not publish the rule in the Federal Register before leaving the White House. When President Donald Trump took office, his administration did what most previous presidents do — withdrew all unpublished rules and sent them back to the relevant agency for review. The HPA update didn’t materialize despite a lawsuit from the Humane Society and its Legislative Fund.

“President Biden could make it happen with a simple pen stroke,” writes Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “He was part of the administration that championed the rule, and as president, he can easily resurrect it for implementation.”

While a new Biden administration will initially have other priorities, if past actions are any indication, changes to the HPA are likely coming within the next 4 years.