Bill to Give Soring the Last "Big Lick": Representative Whitfield’s New Legislation to Amend the Horse Protection Act

By: Laura Myer, Senior Staff Member

The close of the summer term has sparked renewed discussion of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) HR, 1518, sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and 303 other House members.[1] It was referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade, where it has remained stalled since April 12, 2013.[2] With nearly 70 percent of the House in support of this Bill, outcries from supporters challenge legislators to pass the legislation before the end of this session.[3]

This legislation bolsters the 1970s Horse Protection Act (HPA), federal law that has been plagued by “underfunding and political pressure from industry insiders” since its inception.[4] The agency responsible for carrying out the provisions of the HPA, the USDA, states the two main objectives: (1) prohibiting the involvement of sored horses in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions; and (2) prohibiting the transport of sored horses to or from any of these events.[5] Both criminal and civil liability penalties are associated with this law.[6] The HPA definition of “soring” includes applying “irritating or blistering agent” to any limb of a horse; burning, cutting or lacerating any limb of a horse; and injecting “any tack, nail, screw, or chemical agent” into any limb of a horse. [7] Further, it requires that the horse suffers pain or distress, or becomes lame, or likewise is injured, as a result of these actions.[8] In practice, this is exemplified by trainers’ painting harsh chemicals on the horse’s front ankles or putting foreign objects into its hooves, which cause the horse to exaggerate its naturally high gait.[9] The new gait is called the “Big Lick.”[10] The HPA bans soring by requiring USDA officials to inspect horses at all sales, auctions, horse shows, and exhibitions.[11] Because of lack of funding, however, the USDA is not able to send its own inspectors, and has defaulted to a system wherein horse industry organizations train their own inspectors for this job.[12] This creates conflicts of interest.

Representative Whitfield’s bill would prohibit the licensing of someone with a conflict of interest, giving preference to licensing veterinarians.[13] Further, it broadens the HPA’s definition of “unlawful conduct” by expanding “soring” to include “action devices” (e.g., boots, collars or chains); and weighted shoes, pads, wedges, or similar devices that alter the way the horse walks.[14] Additionally, it increases the penalties for violations.[15]

Not surprisingly, not everyone supports this legislation. One opponent, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, has proposed her own bill in the House, HR 4098.[16] An alternative amendment to the HPA, it does not prohibit trainers from using metal chains, stacks or pads.[17] Further, it does not require USDA officials to inspect horses, instead creating a Board composed of nine members, two of which would come directly from the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.[18] Although the amendment contains a clause requiring that the Board members have no conflict of interest, this would be quite difficult to achieve when two members come straight from the industry.[19] Supporters of this legislation argue that “shoes and chains do not harm the horses and doing away with them eliminate a whole segment of the industry.”[20] Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration CEO, Mike Inman, says that Blackburn’s bill “eliminates soring,” while Whitfield’s bill “eliminates the horse.”[21] PAST Act proponents, however, argue that Blackburn has not created any new legislation, but would essentially “preserve a status quo in which soring often takes place.”[22]

With the legislation stalled, Whitfield explored the option of a discharge petition, which forces floor action when supporters feel a committee has wrongly blocked a bill.[23] He issued a statement on July 31, however, stating that, pursuant to House rules, it is too late to use a discharge petition.[24] Further, Speaker of the House, John Boehner, currently “refuses to bring the [bill] to the floor for a vote.”[25] Supporters have until October 1, 2014, to take action to pass the bill this session, but must bear in mind the recess for the month of August.[26]

[1] Paul C. Barton, Sponsor of anti-soring bill may petition for House vote, The Tennessean (Jul. 28, 2014, 6:09 PM),

[2] Pat Raia, Anti-Soring Bill Advance to Full Senate, The Horse (Apr. 10, 2014), http://www.thehorse.come/articles/33708/anti-soring-bill-advances-to-full-senate; H.R. 1518—PAST Act,, (last visited Aug. 10, 2014).

[3] Past Act on Horse Abuse Stalls Out in U.S. House Despite 70% Support, (Jul. 31, 2014),

[4] NAS, Whitfield’s walking horse legislation would end soring; Blackburn’s would enable it, The Tennessean, (Mar. 8, 2014, 11:20 PM),; What is Soring?, Humane Society of the United States (Mar. 17, 2014),

[5] Horse Protection Act, United States Department of Agriculture (Jun. 27, 2014),

[6] 15 U.S.C. § 1825(a)(1) (2001).

[7] 15 U.S.C. § 1821(3)(A)-(D) (2001).

[8] Id.

[9] Duane W. Gang, 2 Bills Aim to Rein in Tennessee Walking Horse Abuse, USA Today (Mar. 11, 2014, 7:13 PM)

[10] Id.

[11] Humane Society of the United States, supra note 4.

[12] Id.

[13], supra note 2.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Barton, supra note 1; Raia, supra note 2. Blackburn’s bill currently pending in committee. See H.R. 4098—Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2013,, (last visited Aug. 10, 2014).

[17] Raia, supra note 2.

[18] H.R. 4098—Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2013,, (last visited Aug. 10, 2014).

[19] Id.

[20] Gang, supra note 9.

[21] NAS, supra note 4; Gang, supra note 9.

[22] Barton, supra note 1.

[23] Id.

[24] Past Act on Horse Abuse Stalls Out in U.S. House Despite 70% Support, supra note 3.

[25] Id.

[26] Barton, supra note 1.