Friday, July 26, 2019

House passes bill to protect Tennessee Walking Horses from harmful practices; Senate will have much say-so

Photo by Esther Roberts
The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would strengthen protections in the 1970 Horse Protection Act against the practice of "soring" Tennessee Walking Horses. "Soring is a technique used by some trainers to improve walking horses' naturally high gait," reportAndrew Wigdor and Matt Reynolds of the Tennessean. "The technique is accomplished by exposing horses to chemicals, putting foreign objects into a horse's hooves or placing heavy chains" on their lower front legs.

The HPA already bans sored horses from competing in shows, exhibitions or sales, but advocates say the provision is being largely ignored, is rarely enforced, and is subject to loopholes.

The PAST (Prevent All Soring Tactics) Act, which passed 333 to 96, "would ban large stacked shoes and ankle chains used on horses, heighten penalties for violations and expand the Department of Agriculture's enforcement of the Horse Protection Act," Wigdor and Reynolds report. "The new penalties would increase from $3,000 to $5,000 and extend prison sentences from one year to three years. The legislation must still win Senate approval, where it faces an uphill battle. U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee have sponsored competing legislation.

The House bill has 308 cosponsors, led by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla. Animal-rights activists have long promoted the PAST Act, but it has taken six years to get a vote on the House floor, Wigdor and Reynolds note.

One representative, Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., said during floor debate that he opposed the bill because horse inspectors were "abusing the process" and arbitrarily disqualifying horse owners from shows. He said inspection methods are "subjective" and the bill fails to change this, and makes the stakes higher with increased fines and even possible prison time, Wigdor and Reynolds report.

DesJarlais "said a bill he's introduced, the Horse Protection Amendments Act, would be a better solution. He said his bill would require that all inspections be 'objective and science-based.' Desjarlais' bill would also amend 1970's Horse Protection Act to provide increased protection to horses participating in shows, exhibitions and sales," the reporters write. "Under his bill, inspection methods would have to be the subject of testing and would have to produce "scientifically reliable, reproducible results;" be peer-reviewed; and be accepted in the veterinary and other applicable scientific communities."

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