Horses on the Hill: Advocates push equine welfare in D.C.

 

Equine advocates are working two fronts on Capitol Hill this week to protect America's horses.Outside the Capitol supporters of humane treatment of Tennessee Walking Horses will rally for legislation, while inside lobbyists will be working the halls to prevent the inclusion of funding for horse slaughter in the budget bill.

At 1 p.m. today members of the American Walking Horse Alliance and supporters will gather at the Capitol Reflecting Pool - with horses in tow - to call for an end to abusive practices in the show ring. The focus of the "Walk on Washington" is passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

"Soring" is the practice of using chemicals and devices to make Tennessee Walking Horses step higher in the show ring.

While the use of chemicals is illegal, it is still legal to attach heavy pads to horses shoes and use chains on their feet in the quest for the perfect "Big Lick" - the gait shown in the image above.

Tennessee Walking Horses possess a natural animated gait, but the use of chemicals, pads and chains exaggerates the step giving the horses an edge in competition. Advocates say they will bring six "natural" Tennessee Walking Horses to the rally today and may also bring a horse with soring scars who was rescued en route to slaughter to show the long term effects of chemicals. (More on soring here.)

Among the speakers is former U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings (D-MD), author of the original Horse Protection Act of 1970.

“What is being done to these horses in 2014 is brutal and has no place in a civilized society," said Tydings. "The only answer to end the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses is to remove the pads and chains.” 

Other speakers include PAST Act sponsor Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), co-sponsors Steve Cohen (D-TN) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Opponents include U.S.Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Sen. Lamar Alexander, both Republicans from Tennessee and Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell and potential GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, both of Kentucky.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports they and others argue that halting the use of pads and chains will harm the equine economy by eliminating the walking horse industry's flashy performance show classes, which Alexander called "one of Tennessee's most treasured traditions."

The PAST ACT (HR 1518) has wide bipartisan suppor with 290 co-sponsors in the House and the support of 56 members of the Senate.

Meanwhile, equine advocates are fighting to prevent amendment that would restore funding for inspectors at horse slaughter plants.

In what is turning into a twice yearly battle, the pro and anti slaughter members of Congress are duking it out over the agriculture spending bill.

The appropriations bill  includes a provision, approved by a bipartisan vote in committee, preventing the use of funds to inspect horse slaughter plants in the U.S. for human consumption, and continuing the current prohibition in existing law that blocks domestic horse slaughter plants from opening, reports Mike Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

But, he writes, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, (R-OK)., announced he will offer multiple amendments to strike or weaken the anti-horse slaughter provision, seeking to clear the way for equine abattoirs on U.S. soil.

That debate is expected to ensue this week.