Congress Provides Record Breaking $3 Million for Enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, Maintains De Facto Ban on Horse Slaughter

There’s good news in the equine wellness realm! Animal Wellness Action’s lobbying achieved these wins and others for horses thanks to the support of Horse Nation’s readers.

By Marty Irby

U.S. Capitol Dome. Photo by Marty Irby.

The workings of the 117th Congress have been discombobulated by real world circumstances, most notably by the violence of January 6, 2021, and the persistence and variations in the COVID-19 virus. But like “death and taxes,” there’s one thing that both humans and horses alike can count on: Congressional appropriations, the annual spending bills required to be enacted each year in some form to continue funding the federal government. Numerous programs are included that provide us with an opportunity to benefit equine welfare and the horses we all care so deeply about.

For the first time in some years, the Congress passed a new “omnibus” appropriations bill this month to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year 2022, not just renewing and slightly tweaking the prior year’s offering.

Each year, Animal Wellness Action (AWA) works from office to office—all 535 of them in Congress—to submit requests to appropriators for the provisions and funding we’re advocating for. In many instances, appropriators automatically adopted the provisions we support, and in some instances, we had to work diligently in a relentless pursuit to pass committee and floor amendments to secure more obscure or controversial funding from Congress.

With the enactment of the omnibus in the past week and the provisions now signed into law, we’ve provided a breakdown of the provisions we’ve lobbied hard to secure.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA):

Language to maintain the de facto ban on horse slaughter through defunding the inspection of horse slaughter plants has now become an automatic, with both the House and Senate bills containing the defund language that keeps horse meat off the table. We worked for many years embattled in controversy on this issue, but the tide has turned in the past year due to our work with equine industry groups like The Jockey Club, The Breeders’ Cup, Team Valor, the New York Racing Association, The Stronach Group, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, West Point Thoroughbreds, Crawford Farms, the U.S. Harness Racing Alumni Association, and others taking firm positions against the slaughter of our iconic American equines. We give thanks to Staci and Arthur Hancock of Stone Farm for their decades of leadership in pressing the horse racing industry to support efforts to end horse slaughter.

Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora and Marty Irby discuss horse slaughter and other welfare issues in horse racing during the 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar in San Diego, California. Photo by Animal Wellness Action.

The final FY22 spending package also provides $3 million for the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act’s shelter program, which directs the Secretary of Agriculture to continue coordinating with other federal agencies to efficiently implement the grant program for providing emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals, that provides some relief for victims with equines as well.

And as always, AWA has made funding for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA)to end soring a very high priority and worked with leaders in the Tennessee Walking Horse breed to secure just over $3 million in HPA funding for FY 2022. That’s a record-breaking amount of funding that had never been above $705,000 annually until AWA started pressing for more funding when we opened shop in 2018, and well above the $2 million provided for in 2021 and $1 million provided for in 2020, a steady increase each year. Also secured: $300,000 allocated for USDA to “begin utilizing swabbing for prohibited substances and other science-based inspection methods, radiology, and other objective measures as part of its horse soring inspection protocol,” a request made by Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Hal Rogers, R-Ky., John Rose, R-Tenn., and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., at the urging of AWA and leaders in the walking horse breed.

The artificial big lick Tennessee Walking Horse gait the Horse Protection Act enforcement funding will crackdown against. Photo by Bradley Dick.

U.S. Dept. of Justice:

The FY22 spending package also includes language pressing the DOJ for “vigorous enforcement of the Federal animal fighting statutes” and “other laws related to animal welfare crime,” which includes the Horse Protection Act. This will help the DOJ take on soring-related cases and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. In 52 years since the HPA was enacted not a single violator has ever gone to prison for soring Tennessee Walking Horses, and this language can be a game changer in that regard.

There’s also language directing the DOJ to explore the possibility of creating the Animal Cruelty Crimes Unit to help better enforce the Horse Protection Act and other animal cruelty laws that our 2019 and 2020 House floor funding amendments sought to achieve. We extend thanks to the Senate Subcommittee’s leaders, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., for leading the charge on this important issue.

U.S. Dept. of Interior and Bureau of Land Management (BLM):

Right in line with the AWA-conceived PZP amendment we ran in the House in 2020, both the House and Senate appropriations packages now contain include $11 million for “research on reversible immunocontraceptive fertility control and its administration.” This important funding will help prevent the birth of foals who would be subject to roundup with mass helicopter chases by the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program staff and contractors who we’ve seen treat the roundups like their own private rodeos over the past year. More wild horses and burros have been rounded up and incarcerated under President Biden’s Administration in the past year than any other President in U.S. history. But we’re grateful Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nevada, have been tireless champions for the implementation of PZP, and championed this provision, and applaud them.

Onaqui wild horses on the range in Rush Valley, Utah in July of 2021 just before the devastating roundup by the Bureau of Land Management. Photo by Scott Beckstead.

Unfortunately, once again we see that other animal organizations such as the Humane Society of the U.S., Humane Society Legislative Fund, and ASPCA have provided political support to ranching interests and the BLM to secure tens of millions more in federal dollars for roundups and removals of tens of thousands of wild horses and burros – consistent with their support for the misguided “Path Forward” agreement with the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. This program is vacuuming up horses from the West and subverting the original purposes of the Wild and Free-Roaming Horse and Burros Act of 1971. Our iconic wild horses and burros on federal lands continue to face this serious threat that will be further exposed in the upcoming documentary Wild Beauty: Mustang Spirit of the West, produced by Disney Director Ashley Avis that features team members from Animal Wellness Action.

We are so grateful to you – the readers of Horse Nation who continue to take action and contact your Members of Congress asking them to support these provisions and we will keep pressing forward to ensure they remain a priority of the Congressional agenda going forward. You are each making a tremendous difference for the horses, and we will continue to be your equine protection resource on Capitol Hill.

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and a former 8-time world champion equestrian who was honored by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram @MartyIrby.