By: Marty Irby
Animal Wellness Action has been leading the charge to end the scourge of soring since we’ve opened our doors. Prior to that, our leadership team worked together in many capacities over the past decade to eradicate soring from the equine world. It’s an issue that continues to command my attention, and I’ll not relent until we secure reform.
Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to the front limbs of Tennessee Walking Horses by means of applying caustic chemicals, such as croton oil or kerosene to the front feet of horses, and by cutting the horses’ hooves down to the bloodline – what’s known as the quick – then driving nails into that soft tissue. The intent is to produce an artificial high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick.”
There’s no telling how much time, effort, energy, resources, and man hours have been put into our campaign to end soring, but the hard work that advocates like you have put in is paying off. After six long years of waiting for a vote – the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693 by a vote of 333 to 96. That vote sent a ripple across the U.S. that has taken our campaign to a new level – we’re on the verge of stamping soring out for good.
The PAST Act’s most important component is outlawing the use of large, heavy stacked shoes and ankle chains in the show ring – devices the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Equine Practitioners has deemed integral to the soring process. The stacks and chains are affixed to the horses’ feet in competition and help exacerbate the pain they’re feeling – making them step to the point of performing the “Big Lick.”
We knew we’d win the day, but weren’t quite sure how the PAST vote would shake out as far as the southeastern delegations were concerned – as the majority of soring and “Big Lick” performances occur in those states – but we were pleasantly surprised to see a raft of Republicans and Democrats step up to protect the horses. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA) led the House floor debate in support of the bill on the right side of the aisle, and Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC) – whose family owns Tennessee walkers – went to bat against the pro-soring coalition in a passionate speech on the House floor.
Reps. Michael Guest (R-MS), Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Terri Sewell (D-AL), Richard Hudson (R-NC), Mark Walker (R-NC), Tom Rice (R-SC), John Yarmuth (D-KY), Blain Luetkemeyer (R-MO), Ann Wagner (R-MO), Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and nearly the entire Virginia delegation plus many more – the PAST Act’s sponsors – in voting for the measure’s passage. A clean sweep of the Southeast.
Perhaps the most seismic ripple was felt from the support of one-third of the Tennessee Delegation – Reps. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), Steve Cohen (D-Memphis), and Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) who represent the three largest cities in the state.
Two weeks later, the Nashville Davidson Metro Council – by unanimous proclamation – voted to endorse the PAST Act, and call on the state’s two U.S. Senators – Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn – two longtime opponents of the bill, urging them to cosponsor the PAST Act, and help move the bill to passage in the Upper Chamber.
Support to end soring continues to build in the state, and this week the Chattanooga Times Free Press Cartoonist drew a bloody representation of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration’s logo – the largest walking horse event in the U.S. where soring runs rampant, and “Big Lick” events began last night.
The Celebration began with much more than a dark cloud over it this year – dozens of protestors showed up to join the Citizens Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty (CCABLAC) outside the gates of the show grounds in Shelbyville, Tennessee. And CCBLAC presented an award to my friend Carl Bledsoe – a former “Big Lick” walking horse trainer who has been outspoken against soring and helped further the cause to end soring more than we could measure. Bledsoe was spot on when he said, “I believe once the big lick cruelty is gone this horse will take its rightful place in the equine world,” – and I share his sentiments.
The sponsors of the PAST Act, along with the leadership of Rep. Cohen, and Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Chris Collins (R-NY) sent a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue this week urging stronger enforcement of the current Horse Protection Act that the PAST Act would amend. And so did Animal Wellness Action – it’s time for the USDA to do their job and enforce the act, not merely regulate soring. The USDA’s own APHIS Administrator, Kevin Shea released a report this week that revealed soring violations were up by 90 percent in 2018 under Secretary Perdue’s reign – a sad state of affairs that reiterates the need for PAST.
And if that’s not enough of a case against the “Big Lick” then it’s also worth noting that the majority of the Celebration’s own judging panel – Jamie Hankins of Paris, KY, Jamie Bradshaw of Union Grove, AL, and Nathan Clark of Arab, AL have amassed a pile of Horse Protection Act violations on their record over the years. A prime example of the pro-soring coalition snubbing their nose at the law.
We’ll keep you posted on the events of this issue, but in the meantime, we need your help. We must still pass the PAST Act through the U.S. Senate, and we hope you’ll take action by contacting your U.S. Senators to ask they cosponsor S. 1007 – the Senate companion measure that would also ban the stacks and chains for good. Hopefully, this Celebration will be the last time we see the use of these gruesome devices.
Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action, and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.