Letter to the Editor

Investments help promote breed

Thursday, February 2, 2017

To the Editor:

Celebration board member Jeffrey Howard's recent attack against efforts to protect horses comes as no surprise given his track record, but we'd like to take a moment to dispel some patently false statements he made. While it's no secret that The Humane Society of the United States is committed to ending the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses, those entrenched in the big lick pro-soring faction would rather people not know about the investment The HSUS makes in promoting the natural talents of the breed.

Four years ago, The HSUS launched its "Now, That's a Walking Horse" program, which makes grants and funding awards to non-profit organizations and individuals involved in therapeutic riding programs or promoting alternative pursuits for this versatile breed. The HSUS has awarded more than $70,000 to those using, showing and promoting the natural ability of the walking horse.

The HSUS wants to see the breed flourish and its reputation restored, once the plague of soring is ended, and the reforms necessary to achieve this are clear.

A broad coalition of equestrian and professional horse groups, veterinary medical organizations, and concerned individuals support tougher enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was introduced largely to push USDA to fix weak regulations that undermine the 1970 Horse Protection Act. It had tremendous bipartisan support in Congress, with 323 House and Senate cosponsors in the last session. It was endorsed by the American Horse Council, United States Equestrian Federation, more than 60 other horse groups, American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, National Sheriffs' Association and many others. But the pro-soring coalition's handful of allies in Congress circumvented the will of the American people by preventing the bill from getting a vote. Instead, they simply protected the interests of their big lick campaign contributors, including many, many violators of the federal law who have made substantial donations over the decades.

When USDA proposed stronger regulations in 2016, a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators urged USDA to finalize them quickly, and more than 100,000 Americans submitted public comments in support. USDA announced these regulations as final on Jan. 13, but official publication in the Federal Register got delayed.

Now the Trump administration has the responsibility to see through implementation of the USDA rule, which was caught up in a broad regulatory freeze after the president took office.

This delay will not deter the thousands of sound horse advocates who have lent their voices to this effort.

Among them is Dr. John Hafner, DVM, who walked away from the industry in disgust and now holds a position in the equine science program at Middle Tennessee State University. He has stated that the big lick gait can only be produced through pain, and if there is no pain, horses neither learn nor perform the big lick.

Hafner knows that it is difficult for people who have grown up in this culture to acknowledge that reality. He has said "the people involved in the walking horse business...just don't see anything wrong with the way the big lick is achieved, or they don't think their trainer really sores their horse...They are blind to what they are doing and until they have a personal epiphany of what lies at the bottom of the big lick, they will be unable to see it."

Internationally acclaimed horseman Monty Roberts, recently named one of the "50 Greatest Horsemen of all Times" by Horse and Hound magazine, made this statement: "Soring is one of the most despicable training methods I have ever come across in my lifetime of protecting horses. It's incredible to me that an industry based on the intentional infliction of pain to an animal could still exist in America. Congress should finally bring an end to this blatant cruelty and pass the PAST Act without delay."

The HSUS will continue to work with all horsemen and women of good will to end the pernicious abuse of soring and to promote one of the grander breeds in the world -- the naturally gaited, humanely trained and shod Tennessee walking horse.

Marty Irby

-- Marty Irby is a senior advisor for The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund, and is a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association.

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