Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Horseshoes in Congress: Whitfield-Cohen Letter Clarifies "Weighted Shoe" Under Proposed PAST Act; House Hearing on Soring Legislation Wednesday

What and when: November 13, 2013 10 a.m. — United States Congress, House Committee on Energy and Commerce: Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade hearing on the PAST Act to End Soring

Will the PAST Act finally bring an end to Walking horse stacks, pressure shoeing and pastern soring? A Congressional hearing on Wednesday will hear both sides of the argument. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Barnett and HSUS Facebook page) 

The United States Congress will be talking horseshoes tomorrow at 10 a.m. Chances are, there won't be a farrier in the House (of Representatives) but this is a hearing whose time has come.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 1518 / S. 1406) is an amendment to the existing Horse Protection Act that is designed to add a row or two of shark's teeth to the existing legislation governing the practice of "soring" certain show horses to enhance their performance. The legislation is slated to go before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Wednesday morning.

If all goes well, the bill will require horse show organizers who engage inspectors to use only USDA-licensed inspectors; it prohibits the use of action devices that intensify the pain caused by soring; and it will increase the penalties for violations.

If you're interested, look around the web; you might be able to find a livestream of the meeting and eavesdrop on the proceedings.

Soring of Tennessee Walking, Spotted Saddle horses and Racking horses--and efforts to stop it--has been featured in this blog and in the printed version of Hoofcare and Lameness since 1985, when the USDA tried to solve the problem by simply banning pads.

That should have worked, but instead it caused an uproar because of the language used, and because some horseowners across America genuinely believe that hoof pads have therapeutic value to their horses. It was a tempest in a federal government teapot, but that is what often happens when poorly-defined hoof-related words are used, whether it is in a breed organization rule or a federal law. Now, almost 30 years later, comes a solid attempt once again to get pads off the hooves of Walking horses.

Luckily, most Americans--and even most Walking horse owners--agree that soring has to stop. The US Department of Agriculture and the Humane Society of the United States have concluded that the only way to stop the pressure shoeing part of soring is to get rid of the pad stacks that increase the length of the foot, the weight of the package and that can disguise substances or objects pressing against or irritating the bottom of the foot.

The PAST Act inserts new language into the Horse Protection Act that will prohibit:
"The use of a weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof band, or other device or material at a horse show, horse exhibition or horse sale or auction that 
(A) is placed on, inserted in, or attached to any limb of a Tennessee Walking, a Racking, or a Spotted Saddle horse;
(B) is constructed to artificially alter the gait of such a horse; and
(C) is not strictly protective or therapeutic in nature."
The PAST Act, however, does not actually define the words weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof pad, protective or therapeutic.

Representatives Ed Whitfield and Steve Cohen, sponsors of the bill in the House, sent out a letter last month when the Walking horse people grumbled about the potentially vague language surrounding "weighted shoe".

To most people, a "weighted shoe" would probably suggest a shoe that has weight added to it above and beyond what a normal shoe needs to protect the foot from wear; a weighted shoe would be a heavy shoe, right?

But in farriery, a weighted shoe is something else. It simply means a shoe with weight that is not equally distributed from toe to heels on both branches. A very lightweight shoe can still be weighted, technically speaking.

In the past 50 years, the way that the Tennessee Walking show horse is exhibited has changed dramatically. Mighty Sunbeam was a champion in the 1960s. When did Curtis Hamilton start selling double nail pads?

The concept of weighting or even unweighting a shoe is central to both performance and therapeutic farriery for most breeds and sports, since what a farrier does is apply a device on the bottom of the foot to compensate for conformational or gait deficiencies or make amends for an imbalance problem, excess wear or traction needs so the horse will have less fatigue, a safer takeoff and landing from jumps, or simply straighter foot flight in a halter class.

Understanding how a horse is constructed, what it needs to do in the show ring, and which materials are allowed within show rules are why people hire skilled professional farriers who can fine-tune performance.

The PAST Act, like all legislation, has a long way to go before it becomes law.

While it's true that the PAST Act applies only to Walking, Spotted Saddle and Racking horses, it is also true that the US Department of Agriculture will be committing this language to the law, and the idea of allowing wedges or pads because they are deemed "protective" or "therapeutic" creates a giant question mark that could, by extension, affect other breeds or disciplines or the relationships and balance of influence and culpability between owners, trainers, farriers and veterinarians.

There is an entire sector of the hoofcare profession that is opposed to the use of shoes of any type and would probably love to rally and tell Congress that there is no such thing as a "therapeutic" shoe and that shoes have little or no protective value.

There is no mention in the language of the law as to how (C) will be determined: is the pad or weighted shoe on the foot for protective or therapeutic reasons? Since there are very few evidence-based studies of horseshoeing at all, a device's protective or therapeutic value might exist in the opinion of the person who owns or trains the horse, or of the person who shoes it, or of a veterinarian recommending that the device be applied.

Whose opinion will the USDA inspector accept when a Walking horse wants to enter the ring wearing wedge pads for "therapeutic" reasons?

Half-Arabian and National Show horse trainers and owners have insisted for years that the wedge pads used on their show horses' feet are "therapeutic". They believe that the pads are correcting hoof-pastern alignment or compensating for their horses' unfortunate lack of heel growth. The rest of us might call this use of wedge pads cosmetic more than therapeutic.

If a horse truly needs wedge pads for therapeutic reasons, should welfare considerations kick in and ask if that horse should be entered in a show in the first place?

If USDA inspectors in the future accept wedge pads as necessary for "therapy" on a low-heeled horse, it is likely that all the horses will have low heels and "need" to wear wedge pads. But they shouldn't need a stack of them!

Will the PAST Act make it out of committee and come before the entire House of Representatives for a vote? Let's hope so, with a memo to make some clear definitions of terms. While it is difficult for any legislation to pass in Congress with the current political climate, it seems like this one might have a chance, and it now has the support of over 200 co-sponsoring legislators, as well as the backing of the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the ASPCA, the Fund for Animals and the group, For the Tennessee Walking Horse. The Humane Society of the United States was instrumental in spearheading the legislation.

The PAST Act is opposed by the Tennessee Walking Horse Grassroots organization, who did not respond to a request for comment on this article.

Ideally, the process outlined in the Whitfield-Cohen letter at the beginning of this article will be followed and the USDA will work hard to clarify and define every word in the legislation so that these great horses can finally show us what they really can do.

Thanks to BillyGoBoy and Friends of Sound Horses for the Whitfield-Cohen letter.

Read or download the existing Horse Protection Act.
Read or download the proposed PAST Act amending the Horse Protection Act.

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