It’s time for the terrible practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses for the show ring to come to an end. And doing so not only rests on the shoulders of folks in the equine industry, but also involves members of Congress.
As many of you already know, I’m certainly in favor of strengthening and funding the Horse Protection Act to do away with the cruel punishment afflicted on horses by trainers who continue to use caustic chemicals, chains and other painful devices to force horses to perform the artificial high-step called the “Big Lick.”
Known as soring, this abusive practice continues despite massive efforts to bring it to a halt. Yet a few members of the industry have the audacity to argue that soring is a thing of the past and no longer takes place — a fact that’s certainly not backed up by government inspectors and gives the entire industry a black eye.
Two Entirely Different Views
This year’s 76th annual Tennessee Walking Horse industry’s big show, the late August, 11-day National Celebration held in Shelbyville, Tenn., had a sharp decline in both horse and attendance numbers. The decline in horse numbers was attributed to more stringent inspections by USDA veterinarians and the continuing industry feud over interpretation of the so-called “scar rule”
In late September, the veterinary advisory committee for the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration issued its preliminary findings. This three-member vet committee indicated they saw no violations of improper shoeing or use of foreign objects that would cause horses to suffer pain at this year’s event.
The committee says 131 digital X-rays were taken and reviewed by at least three veterinarians with no evidence of soring. In addition, the committee found no evidence of pressure shoeing based on objective testing procedures and the removal of shoes from a number of horses.
But there’s an entirely different story if you look at the soring data complied by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors that were at this year’s Celebration. These inspectors disqualified more than 40% of the “Big Lick” horses that were inspected at the event.
Overall, USDA and industry inspectors issued 218 violations among 924 “Big Lick” horses at the 2014 event.
But these USDA disqualifications are nothing new at The Celebration. In 2012, USDA inspectors at the Celebration found 21% of the horses in violation. A year earlier, 11% of the inspected horses were found to be in violation.
For me, the evidence is crystal clear. I’m going with the USDA inspector data, as they have no reason to be untruthful. And it’s definitely time to eliminate this cruel spectacle and abuse of horses.
25 Top Trainers, Over 500 Violations
The current so-called industry self-regulated inspection program is nothing but a sham. In fact, the top 25 trainers competing in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry’s 2014 Riders Cup award program have more than 500 citations for violations of the Horse Protection Act. All but one of the top 10 trainers who pocketed the most prize money at this year’s Celebration has multiple Horse Protection Act violations.
The public is catching on to this cruel practice and the Celebration doesn’t attract the number of horses and attendees as in the past. In the last 2 years, the number of horses entered in this annual horse show has dropped by 50% due to increased inspections. And while the Celebration in previous years has normally attracted 30,000 visitors, less than half that number was in attendance at this year’s event.
Right now in Congress, the PAST “Prevent All Soring Tactics Act", calls for a much-greater presence of government inspectors and outlaws the padded hooves, pressure shoes and other devices that causes these horses to dance in a grotesque and unnatural manner. The problem is with the “Big Lick” leg movement, which is part of the Tennessee Walking Horse show ring tradition. Yet a number of trainers indicate the “Big Lick” can’t be produced without torturing these horses.
Despite the fact that 190 Democrats and 114 Republication members of the U.S. House of Representatives are cosponsors of the PAST bill, the bill is bottled up in committee in order to prevent a floor vote and no action is likely before the end of this year’s Congressional sessions.
In fact, eight of nine Republican members of Congress from Tennessee aren’t among the supporters and most are among 11 cosponsors of a badly watered-down alternative bill that would continue to benefit the trainers and owners involved in the “Big Lick” movement.
Things aren’t any better on the Senate side where a comparable bill is being held hostage by committee members. Among 100 senators, 58 are cosponsors of the PAST Act, but this does not include either of the Tennessee senators. In fact, one of these senators is a cosponsor of the despicable watered-down alternative bill.
More than 600 groups support the PAST Act, including most of the nation’s animal health and veterinary groups. But what is good for the horse apparently isn’t as important among some members of Congress as cashing checks from the supporters of the “Big Lick” movement.
Maybe it’s time to set a one-term limit for members of Congress.