Harford County resident Joseph Davies Tydings, who served as a U.S. Senator from 1964 to 1970, is taking a lead position supporting a federal equine anticruelty bill, H.R. 1518, which is another attempt to abolish the practice known as “soring” found in some of the gaited horse show worlds. On May 22, 2013, Tydings received the full support of the Maryland Horse Council with a unanimous resolution endorsing H.R. 1518.

The Maryland Horse Council is the umbrella association for all horse organizations in Maryland, and is active in state legislative and regulatory issues affecting the horse industry and the equestrian community.  The bill was brought to the attention of the Maryland Horse Council by two of its board members, those representing the seats held by the Plantation Walking Horses of Maryland and the Chesapeake Plantation Walking Horse Club.  Both organizations promote the natural gait of the Walking Horse breeds. A resolution to endorse H.R. 1518 was entered by the representative for the Maryland Association of Equine Practitioners (vice president Pete Radue, DVM); the motion to support the resolution was made by the representative for the Maryland Steeplechase Association and quickly seconded by numerous other organizations.

H.R. 1518, known as the “Prevent All Soring Tactics Act of 2013,” was introduced by Congressmen Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and is intended to strengthen the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent soring. The HPA was enacted in 1970 (with then Senator Tydings as a sponsor) to prohibit the showing, exhibiting, transporting or sale at auction of a horse that has been sored.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which enforces the HPA, deems soring as involving the use of action devices, chemicals, pads, wedges or practices like trimming a horse’s hoof to expose sensitive tissue, so that it causes pain in the horse’s forelegs and produces an accentuated show gait for competition. According to the USDA, soring has been primarily used with Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses and continues in some regions despite the existence of a federal ban for over forty years.

If there is already a law to prevent soring, why do we need H.R. 1518?

Technically, the horse show industry has been regulated by the HPA for over 40 years. However, the trigger for USDA enforcement of the Act is the showing, exhibition, auction or transport of a sore horse. For this reason USDA has focused its efforts on those areas of the show community that involve breeds and activities that are most frequently involved in soring.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 37 of 52 horses tested positive for one or more anesthetics at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. Well-known trainers such as Barney Davis and Jackie McConnell (now with a lifetime disqualification) have been convicted of this crime. Nine percent of participants at the 2012 National Celebration were found in violation of the HPA, which shows virtually no improvement from the 9.5 percent rate at the 2011 event. Also, the violation detection rates are consistently five to ten times higher when U.S. Department of Agriculture regulators are present, compared to the shows in which the industry is self-policing.

Soring is still a major problem that needs to be addressed through increased enforcement at the federal level and a culture that needs to change within the Walking Horse industry.

The bill would amend the HPA to prohibit a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Racking Horse, or a Spotted Saddle Horse from being shown, exhibited, or auctioned with an “action device,” or “a weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof band or other device or material” if it is constructed to artificially alter the gait of the horse and is not strictly protective or therapeutic. These new prohibitions would not apply to other breeds and would not prohibit the use of therapeutic pads, or bell boots or quarter boots that are used as protective devices.

The legislation would also increase fines and penalties (including the possibility of up to three years in jail) for violations for soring, including the potential for a lifetime ban for repeat offenders.

If a breed, discipline, or activity is not soring its horses to exaggerate their gaits, then as a practical matter the Act has likely not adversely affected them and the bill to amend the Act, if passed, will not affect them any more than current law.

The bill would create a new licensing process for horse show inspectors, eliminating the current program that uses industry-affiliated designated qualified persons (DQPs). This program has received criticism because these DQPs are often not independent of the industry they are inspecting. USDA would be required to train, license and appoint the new independent inspectors for shows and other HPA-regulated activities that wish to hire an inspector. Licensed or accredited veterinarians would be given preference for these positions. The decision to hire an inspector, however, would still be up to the show, sale or auction. It would not be made mandatory. Shows or sales that employ DQPs now would begin using USDA-selected inspectors. Shows or sales that choose not to use DQPs now would not be required to use them should the bill pass.

Who else is supporting the bill?

H.R. 1518 has a long list of national supporters, including but not limited to the American Horse Council, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Paint Horse Association, the American Morgan Horse Association, the Pinto Horse Association of America, the American Veterinary Medical Association and other groups. Various efforts have been made since enactment of the HPA forty years ago to stop the soring of horses and they have not worked. This bill is focused on the problem it is intended to solve and does not adversely affect other segments of the show industry that are not soring horses and have no history of soring horses.

Click here to read the joint statement issued by AVMA and the American Association of Equine Practitioners:

What can Equiery readers do?

Contact Maryland federal legislators to let them know your opinion, or better yet, encourage them to cosponsor the bill.

Click here for Maryland Representatives to the U.S. Congress.

To find your specific representative, enter your zip code on this federal site.

Read excerpts from Kentucky congressman Ed Whitfield’s speech on April 12, 2013 introducing the bill in the U.S. House of Representatives: