Friday, February 28, 2014

Tennessee Congresswoman Blackburn Files Alternative Legislation in Congress to Amend Horse Protection Act, Inspect Walking Horses at Shows

Tennessee Walking horses enjoy great popularity at shows in the mid-Southern United States, where they have become famous for showcasing the "Big Lick" gait. The horse's natural talent and action are exaggerated by heavy pad stacks and pastern chains. The American Horse Protection Act was passed to outlaw the cruel practice of "soring" or deliberately causing pain to the hooves and pasterns to accentuate the gait. Critics feel that only a total ban on pads and chains will stop the cruelty.

The Hoof Blog has learned that Tennessee Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R) has filed House Bill 4098 in the US House of Representatives; the legislation aims to reform the jurisdiction over and inspection of the way that Tennessee Walking horses are shod for show. This new legislation is an alternative to much stricter legislation already before Congress, known as the PAST Act, which was filed by Kentucky Representative Ed Whitfield in April 2013.

While the text of the legislation is not yet available for reading, Hoofcare and Lameness has been able to confirm through the Library of Congress that a bill by that number and filed by Blackburn has indeed been filed and referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Congresswoman Blackburn is the Vice Chairman of that committee.

The new legislation is designed to be an alternative to the widely supported H.R. 1518/S. 1406 Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which has been endorsed by both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), as a way to strengthen the American Horse Protection Act and finally bring an end to soring by prohibiting pad stacks and other action devices.

Tennessee Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn represents the district of Tennessee where the Walking Horse Natural Celebration is held each summer. Her legislation counters the previously introduced and widely supported PAST Act by reducing the impact of anti-soring abolition on the Walking horse industry. (House GOP photo)

According to press releases issued by the Walking Horse Report, Blackburn's legislation will provide a "scientific method" for inspecting Walking horse hooves and pasterns at shows, which would be overseen by a regionally-administered governing board.

The US Department of Agriculture is currently charged with enforcement of the Horse Protection Act by having jurisdiction over inspections at horse shows.

From the Walking Horse Report's interpretation, it appears that this legislation would empower state government agriculture agencies to govern the issue of Walking horse show soring.

According to the press release, provisions of Blackburn's bill are:
  • Objective inspections
  • Using science based protocols, that are capable of producing scientifically reliable, reproducible results
  • Create a single independent inspection HIO
  • Governed by an independent board appointed by the heads of State Agriculture agencies from Tennessee and Kentucky, which in concert with the industry representatives will select 3 additional independent members 
  • The independent HIO will only license qualified, conflict-free inspectors.
Walking horse "Big Lick" shoeing setup, with pastern chains. (AVMA photo)
In an article on the website of the Tennessean newspaper, journalist Heidi Hall states that the Blackburn legislation would allow the continued use of pad stacks and pastern chains, although that was not mentioned in the Walking Horse Report news release. The PAST Act would end the use of pad stacks and pastern chains.
The PAST Act was introduced in the House of Representatives on April 11, 2013 and in the Senate on July 31, 2013. In spite of the bi-partisan support of 264 co-sponsors and widespread public support, the bill has remained in committee for almost a year. On November 13, a hearing on the PAST Act was held before the committee, which included Congresswoman Blackburn.

Blackburn's H.R. 4098 has nine co-sponsors on its first day. Eight are Republicans, one is a Democrat. Six co-sponsors are from Tennessee, two are from Kentucky and one is from West Virginia.

Very little legislation has made it through Congress in the last few years. The PAST Act should not be faulted for being stalled in this climate but with the bi-partisan support is has enjoyed, it is clear that the regional resistance from the area where the horses are most popular has also been a detriment to its forward progress. Perhaps Blackburn's legislation is a tactical effort to de-fuse the PAST Act and allow it to pass through Congress without the legs needed to bring true reform.

If so, horses could end up being the next pawns of the political process in Washington. 

As anti-soring blogger BillyGoBoy so succinctly put it, "Under Blackburn’s bill the USDA would continue its 'regulating soring' role. Under the PAST Act, the USDA would be charged with 'eliminating soring'.

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