Veterinarians In Congress Introduce Bill To End Horse Abuse

The bill takes aim at the practice of "soring" horses to give them a prancing gait.

WASHINGTON -- Two veterinarians serving in Congress, one a conservative Republican and the other a Democrat, came together late Tuesday to introduce a bill aimed at ending an especially horrific type of horse abuse.

Reps. Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), along with more than 100 of their fellow Democrats and Republicans, are co-sponsoring the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, or PAST. The bill would strengthen the existing ban on the practice of "soring" horses, or using painful chemicals, heavy chains and other devices to give breeds like the Tennessee Walking Horse an exaggerated, prancing gait.

"Horse soring -- the intentional inflicting of pain to horses feet to achieve a high stepping gait -- has been illegal for well over 30 years," Yoho said in a statement Wednesday. "Unfortunately, soring is still practiced to this day in clear violation of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970. As a veterinarian and lover of animals, I feel the time is now to stop the practice of horse soring for good."

A companion bill to the House PAST Act has already been introduced in the Senate, sponsored by New Hampshire Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. So far, it has garnered more than 40 co-sponsors.

The majority of competitive Tennessee Walking Horse events are concentrated in two states, Kentucky and Tennessee, and the show horse industry there has long denied that soring still takes place. But USDA inspectors at the 2014 Celebration, the marquis annual Tennessee Walking Horse show, found that of the 389 horses randomly selected for testing, more than half showed signs of soring.

Some of the chemicals that can be used to sore horses include blistering mustard oil, salicylic acid and lighter fluid. What looks to outsiders like a show horse prancing is, in reality, that horse flinching in pain because its hooves and legs have been burned, weighted down with weights, or even shocked with electrical volts.   

If it becomes law, the PAST Act would would prohibit the use of all artificial means to make horses lift their legs higher, and it would increase the penalties for those caught violating the existing Horse Protection Act, which was passed in 1970. Tennessee Walking Horse show industry representatives argue the bill would kill the niche market of showing gaited horses, and thereby eliminate the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.

Despite its broad base of support among Republicans and Democrats, the PAST Act is still expected to face opposition in Congress. In 2013, Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn emerged as the lead opponent of an earlier version of the PAST Act, saying the bill "brings excessive regulatory burdens on the walking horse industry."