U.S. lawmakers from Kentucky and Tennessee have introduced a bill intended to outlaw horse "soring," an abusive practice of intentionally and repeatedly injuring the forelegs of horses in order to enhance their performance in competitive events.
Most of often used in the training of Tennessee Walking Horses to accentuate the breed's distinctively exaggerated gait rewarded in competitions, soring is accomplished by blistering the horse's forelegs with chemicals or forcing the horse to wear devices that irritate or actually cut its legs.
While soring is already illegal under the federal Horse Protection Act (HPA), the law places responsibility for detecting and preventing the practice on horse show organizers and sponsors. Sort of a "fox guarding the chickens" approach, according to U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield (R-Kentucky) and Steve Cohen (D-Tennessee).
Hailed by the ASPCA, the Whitfield-Cohen bill would also increase penalties for soring and expand the list of illegal soring practices.
"The Horse Protection Act was specifically enacted in 1970 to prohibit this abhorrent practice, and yet it continues to pervade the gaited horse industry four decades later," stated Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA Government Relations in a press release. "We thank Representatives Whitfield, Cohen, Schakowsky and Moran for introducing legislation to protect these gentle animals and bring an end to horse soring."
Earlier this year, the USDA reacted to reports of widespread soring violations by beefing up its own show horse protection regulations. But according to Reps. Whitfield and Cohen, whose home states of Kentucky and Tennessee are in the heart of horse show country, something even stronger is needed.
"Far too often, those involved in showing the Tennessee Walking Horse have turned a blind eye to abusive trainers, or when they do take action, the penalties are so minor, it does nothing to prevent these barbaric acts," said. Rep. Whitfield in introducing the bill. "This amendment does not cost the federal government any additional money and is essential in helping to put an end to the practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses by abusive trainers."
"How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation," said Rep. Cohen. "There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one's humanity."