More horse protection eyed

Friday, June 3, 2011

Changes are planned for the Horse Protection Act and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has been asked to take aim at the practice of soring, government and nonprofit groups an-nounced recently.

If the changes are made by federal officials as requested by animal protection groups, then sored horses and people who violate the Horse Protection Act might not be able to participate in shows such as the Celebration in Shelbyville, or small town shows sponsored by service clubs such as the Lions.

Instead of a two-week suspension, horses and people participating in the shows could be disqualified forever.

However, "certain requests in the petition [by the Humane Society of the United States] lack authority in the Horse Protection Act to implement," the USDA says, according to the Lewisburg-based Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhib-itors Association (TWHBEA).

Meanwhile, "The HPA (Horse Protection Act) has been woefully under-enforced since it was passed in 1970," the HSUS says, "and [it] has not resulted in a significant reduction in the cruel practice of 'soring,' the intentional infliction of pain to a horse's legs or hooves, often with chemical irritants, screws or other foreign objects, to force an artificial 'high stepping' gait for show competitions."

The USDA has an open comment period to hear from advocates and opponents of the proposed changes. That comment period ends in 10 days on June 13, a Monday.

To counter the Humane Society's allegation that there "has not resulted in a significant reduction" in soring, TWHBEA issued statistics to show, for example, that since 2006, there have been 368,550 inspections before horses were entered for a show, and during those 4-1/2 years inspectors found only 241 instances of "bilateral sensitivity," a technical term for indications of soring or violations of the scar rule.

The breeders and exhibitors' association calculates that rate at 0.0006 percent.

Former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings is representing the Humane Society in its request to the USDA to increase federal regulations to the Horse Protection Act of 1970.

"It was our salvation," TWHBEA Executive Director Ron Thomas said when asked about the 1970 law. "Without it, we'd probably have self destructed."

Calling it a "blessing in disguise," Thomas also noted legislation isn't a cure-all.

"There's never been a law that has eliminated problems," he said.

In fact, the association's executive director said, "Animal rights activists who are reasonable are our allies."

Thomas agreed with the following view of the association's stance. As a non-profit organization -- advocating the position of horse breeders and those who exhibit horses with value based on linage documented in the association's horse registry -- TWHBEA would naturally oppose artificial attempts to show a horse better than others. That's because soring would be a way to unfairly inflate the value of a horse that's otherwise not a true representative of the breed.

Nevertheless, the Humane Society has encouraged the USDA to strengthen penalties against violators, beyond what's in the proposed legislation.

"The agency has proposed only two-week suspension from showing (a horse in competition) for a violation of 'scar rule,' " HSUS says, explaining that "means a horse's legs have been scarred in such a way that provides clear evidence of painful and cruel soring."

The American Horse Council has noted that HSUS and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and two other groups have asked the USDA to change the Horse Protection Act to permanently: disqualify ac horse from competition if the that horse has been scarred; and disqualify repeat violators of the HPA.

The Marshall County Tribune has been advised that the TWHBEA Executive Committee wants the general public to be aware of the circumstances that the industry now faces.