WASHINGTON (AP) -- Saying he was taking an opportunity to "look out for our four-legged friends," U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen co-sponsored a bill Thursday that would make injuring a Tennessee Walking Horse to exaggerate its gait a felony.
The Memphis Democrat joined Kentucky Republican Ed Whitfield in introducing amendments to the 1970 Horse Protection Act that also tighten the definition of soring, the practice of putting irritating chemicals or chains on a horse's front ankles to make it step higher in a gait known as "the Big Lick."
The bill would also end "self-policing" inspections by the industry at horse shows by assigning U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors when a show's management indicates its intent to hire inspectors.
The congressmen passed out a list of the top 74 horse trainers and their 359 violations of the Horse Protection Act over the last two years, establishing that the penalties are typically lax.
"People should play by the rules and treat animals humanely," Cohen said. "We are here on earth and we get opportunities to look out for our four-legged friends."
Also at the news conference was former Maryland Sen. Joseph D. Tydings, who introduced the Horse Protection Act 42 years ago. He said powerful interests have made USDA enforcement of its provisions ineffective, noting the same $400,000 appropriated four decades ago is still the figure budgeted today.
"They've even got the University of Tennessee taking these crippled horses at halftime, with a Big Lick, and (running) them around the football field," Tydings said. "That's how powerful, in Tennessee, the Walking Horse culture is."
The practice of soring horses came to prominence in the Mid-South in May when ABC's "Nightline" aired a hidden-camera video of a horse being abused with chemicals and a cattle prod at Whittier Stables just outside Collierville in Fayette County.
Stables owner Jackie McConnell, seen beating a horse, was charged with violating the federal Horse Protection Act and subsequently pleaded guilty. The federal prosecutor has recommended the maximum five-year probationary period and a $250,000 fine when McConnell is sentenced Tuesday.
Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration CEO Michael R. Inman said the practice of soring is rare and the federal legislation is "driven by the Humane Society of the United States" and "K Street," the venue known for lobbyists' offices.