WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and two Kentucky senators introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate Tuesday that Alexander said would “preserve the century-old tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse while ending the contemptible practice of the illegal soring of horses.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both R-Ky., joined Alexander, R-Tenn., a Maryvlle native, in the legislation, which modifies a proposal authored and introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and a group that includes Tennessee’s six other Republican congressmen.

Blackburn’s legislation also has the support of the American Farm Bureau, which includes both the Tennessee and Kentucky farm bureaus. The Tennessee Farm Bureau said in a letter to Alexander that the legislation would “allow the vast majority of horse owners, trainers and breeders and those who play by the rules to confidently participate in the horse shows.”

A competing bill, advocated by the Humane Society of the United States, has also been introduced in the Senate and House and would ban many industry-standard training and show devices, and has been described by the Performance Show Horse Association as legislation that would “do little more than create another layer of bureaucracy at the USDA while denying horse enthusiasts the opportunity” to participate in competitions that are the basis of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Alexander said: “In baseball, if a player illegally uses steroids, you punish the player — you don’t shut down America’s national pastime. With Tennessee Walking Horse shows, when trainers, owners or riders illegally sore a horse, we should find a more effective way to punish and stop them – not shut down one of Tennessee’s most treasured traditions. The problem with the Humane Society bill is that it destroys a Tennessee tradition known around the world. Our goal is to find a way to preserve the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition and stop the cruelty to horses.”

In 2013 the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition included more than 360 affiliated shows, and it features more than 220,000 registered horses nationwide, including more than 55,000 in Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Walking Horse Association.

3 primary steps

Blackburn’s legislation is supported by U.S. Reps. Diane Black, Scott DesJarlais, John J. Duncan Jr., Stephen Fincher, Chuck Fleischmann and Phil Roe, all of Tennessee.

Her legislation would take three primary steps to preserve the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition while ending the illegal practice of soring. It would:

• Create consistent oversight — The legislation would consolidate numerous “horse industry organizations” that currently handle inspections into one body overseeing inspections, governed by a board. The board would be composed of appointees by the states of Tennessee and Kentucky, as well as experts in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

• Require objective testing — The legislation would require the use of objective, scientific testing to determine whether trainers, riders or owners are currently using soring techniques — as opposed to humane training practices that do not harm the horses, but accentuate their natural gait.

• Protect against conflicts of interest — The legislation would ensure the integrity of horse inspectors by instructing the horse industry organization to establish requirements to prevent conflicts of interest with trainers, breeders and owners involved in showing the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Bill modifications

Alexander’s legislation makes three additional modifications to Blackburn’s proposal. In addition to taking the steps Blackburn recommends, Alexander’s legislation would:

• Require input from veterinarians — The legislation would require the new consolidated horse industry organization to identify and contract with equine veterinary experts to advise the horse industry organization on testing methods and procedures, as well as certification of test results.

• Add suspensions from horse shows — The legislation would create a suspension period for horses that are found to be sore. Owners whose horses are found to be sore will be required to have their horses on a 30-day suspension for the first offense, with additional offenses requiring 90 days.

• Require term limits for board members — The legislation would create four-year term limits for board members of the horse industry organization that would oversee inspections.

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