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Understanding the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act

The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (or PAST Act) was reintroduced in Congress at the end of March. We’ve got the scoop on how this bill could crack down on soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Source: Flickr/USDA/CC

The act of soring, or the application of caustic chemicals to a Tennessee Walking Horse’s fetlocks or pasterns to artificially create the favored high-stepping action for the show ring, has become a black eye on the face of the Walking Horse industry. Soring and related pain-causing tactics by unscrupulous horsemen in the Tennessee Walking Horse world have drawn the harshest criticism not only from those within the breed and the horse world at large but animal lovers and lay citizens from all over the world, most of which are still stunned that this barbaric practice is allowed to endure.

Past legislation

The United States government first intervened with soring in 1970 with the passing of the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The HPA outlawed the transport, showing or auction of a horse that had been sored — however, the law does not criminalize soring itself. This law is enforced by the USDA, with USDA inspectors conducting inspections at Tennessee Walking Horse shows selected at random. In 1976, the HPA was amended to allow trained third-party individuals to conduct inspections due to budget constraints.

The “hail Mary” USDA regulation in January of this year would have clearly banned soring as well as the stacked shoes and action devices (generally, chains and boots that further encouraged high action). Under the Obama administration, this regulation was passed just a week before the transition of power, but a routine halting of all recent regulations as Trump’s administration took the presidency blocked the regulation from being officially passed.

Early in March, the Horse Protection Amendments Act was introduced, portrayed as a reform to the inconsistent inspections performed by horse industry organizations as allowed under the HPA. This bill would allow the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to self-appoint members to a single organization that would oversee inspectors while inspections would involve only “science-based” protocols, rather than hands-on veterinary-style observation. Many anti-soring advocates view this bill as a “smokescreen” that would allow soring to continue; the bill is co-sponsored by representatives from Tennessee and Kentucky where the majority of soring violations take place.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act

The PAST Act has a staggering 220 co-sponsors, spearheaded by Representative Ted Yoho, a Republican from Florida’s third district. The bill was introduced on March 30 of this year, and while a full text is not yet available, it is expected to be identical to the PAST Act of 2015 which died in committee.

The PAST Act expands on the original Horse Protection Act by banning the sale or showing of a horse with stacked shoes and action devices in addition to soring tactics. Language in the bill specifically targets the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse and Racking Horse breeds. The actual act of soring will become illegal, rather than just the sale, show or transport of a sored horse. Civil and criminal penalties for soring will be increased, and repeat violators can face permanent disqualification rather than just increased fines.

Under the PAST Act, the USDA will directly oversee all inspectors, who will operate as independent contractors. The bill is specific that current appropriations will cover inspections, meaning no additional tax burden or need for budgetary expansion. Since most of the appropriated HPA budget currently covers the USDA overseeing the third-party horse industry organizations handling inspections, the PAST Act simply eliminates that middleman. This change also ideally eliminates inconsistencies and lenience with third-part inspectors.

Therapeutic shoeing and protective booting is still permitted under the PAST Act. Shoes that are not designed to artificially alter the gait are also permitted — flat-shod horses are not outlawed.

Hiring of inspectors is optional

One section of the Horse Protection Act that has always raised questions — language that would still be in effect under the PAST Act — is that the hiring of inspectors by show management is optional. From a basic logical standpoint, wouldn’t it be easiest for show management to simply not hire inspectors at all and therefore allow soring to continue unchecked? We took this question to Keith Dane, a senior advisor on equine protection at the Humane Society of the United States.

“Although this option (of not hiring an inspector) has always existed for show managers, few actually do that,” Dane states. “The reason is that in hiring an inspector, show management relieves themselves of liability in the event a horse is found to be sore at the show by USDA veterinary medical officers. Even though the USDA is only able to send inspectors to a fraction of the shows in an oversight capacity, if they were to attend a show where no inspectors were hired and the agency found a sore horse, they could bring civil charges against show management for allowing the horse to be shown – and this has happened in the past. So it is in management’s best interest to hire an inspector and relieve themselves of that liability.”

Follow the progress of the 2017 introduction of the PAST Act by bookmarking the bill’s Congress page. For further reading, we recommend the following:

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