By Sadie Fowler

After a tumultuous and bumpy ride over the past several years, the walking horse industry suffered a hit today, Thursday July 25, when legislation that aims to destroy it moved a notch forward as it passed the vote in the United States House of Representatives. While the radical animal rights-backed legislation won the battle today, the war remains an uphill battle as the bill would still have to pass the Senate before becoming law or having any impact on the Tennessee Walking Horse. 

Earlier this year, leading up to this vote, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act garnered the necessary 290 cosponsors to place it on the Consensus Calendar, which is a new rule passed by Congress just this year.  
Today’s victory for PAST supporters should not be ignored or taken lightly by the walking horse industry, although this tight-knit group has plenty to be hopeful for as the fight continues, mainly a Senate that is led by a Republican majority and a ticking time clock that indicates the legislative session could expire before the bill becomes law. 

The vote on the PAST Act was initially supposed to take place Wednesday, but after a spirited debate on the House floor it was deferred, with a roll call vote scheduled to take place the following day. On Thursday afternoon, the vote came in with 333 voting to pass the PAST Act and 96 opposed. The bill attracted 308 cosponsors, and was  led by U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-OR) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), along with Reps. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Ron Estes (R-KS), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Chris Collins (R-NY). The Senate companion is led by U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Mark Warner (D-VA) has garnered 40 cosponsors.

Still, today marks the closest the PAST Act has ever gotten in the legislative process, which has leaders among the walking horse community paying close attention as the fight on behalf of the walking horse, which serves as an economic staple for the states of Tennessee and Kentucky as well as a show horse companion to countless of Americans, continues.  

The fight with the Humane Society of the United States, the group behind the legislation that was first introduced in 2013 with the help of left wing radical animal rights outfits PETA and the ASPCA, is nothing new to walking horse owners, trainers and exhibitors who feel they have been unfairly targeted by the HSUS in their attempt to raise money. A small breed with a unique gait, the walking horse has easily slipped into the unfair role of mascot for the HSUS, who has misrepresented the facts and therefore challenged the small walking horse industry to constantly defend their breed to the masses, many whom are simply, and to no fault of their own, not educated on the complex subject that involves not only walking horses, but many breeds of show horses in general. 

In reality, the equestrian world at large is filled with breeds that use equipment including pads and weighted shoes to enhance performance, all of which has scientifically proven to be unharmful to the horse and all of which is permitted under the Horse Protection Act. While the PAST Act would impact many breeds, the HSUS has handpicked the walking horse as their symbol for supposed animal welfare, leading the general public to believe whatever misconception the strong-armed organization promotes.

So the unpleasant background between the walking horse lovers aiming to do whatever lengths necessary to defend their beloved horse and the powerful machine of the HSUS is clear and very prevalent. In fact, the tension has existed for many years, with the PAST Act serving as the HSUS’s most recent attempt to shut down the breed. 
First introduced to the House six years ago by Ed Whitfield (R-KY), and later to the Senate by Senators Kelly Ayotte and Mark Warner, what passed the House today is not the first version of the PAST Act.

In fact, 2019 version of the PAST Act is the third version that’s been introduced to Congress. In the past, the dynamics of Congress alone prevented it from getting very far, but the current make up — which includes a Democratic-controlled House and a wide array of leaders hailing from more liberal states with no knowledge of the breed — has made it more of a challenge for those fighting to defeat PAST and thus save the horse.

More specifically, the PAST Act has very little support from the states most affected by the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, with almost 95 percent of its cosponsors from states with little to no walking horse influence.  

Through the past six years, leaders fighting on behalf of the walking horse have remained persistent to squelch the bill before it’s gotten too far, even as recently as last year, when there was an attempt to attach the bill to another piece of legislation, the Farm Bill, having many worry for a minute that it might sneak its way into law. The Farm Bill had nothing to do with the walking horse industry and failed to pass when it reached the floor in May of 2018, later passing without the PAST Act attached.  

The HSUS and its affiliates are celebrating today, with media reports unfairly claiming the small walking horse breed plays little role in Tennessee’s economy, and the pressure will next be on the Senate. On the flip side, Walking horse leaders, exhibitors and trainers were prepared for the defeat Thursday and have already armed themselves with the mission of spreading their truth and educating as many leaders with ties to the Republican-controlled Senate as possible.

A look at the political calendar gives the walking horse side a bit more of a breather. While the House convenes for recess at the end of this week through September the Senate will turn their focus to the normal judicial tasks for this time of year, primarily swearing in justices that have been nominated to the district courts. 

Quite frankly, the chances of the PAST Act getting scheduled for a vote on the Senate floor — a vote that would have to be scheduled by U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, a long-time supporter of the walking horse as a result of its impact on Tennessee and Kentucky — is unlikely. There’s still a lot of ground to cover in order for the PAST Act to become law between now and the end of this term of Congress in 2020, when the bill will expire. Even then, it would still have to be signed into law by the President. 

While the reality favors those fighting against PAST, there’s no denying Wednesday was a major blow to the industry, which would be devasted in more ways than one if the PAST Act were to become law. 

Most associate the bill with eliminating the performance horse via way of the action device, which has scientifically proven to do no harm to the horse. But in the six years the PAST Act has been lingering among the world of many acronyms, many have become unfamiliar with the specifics within its framework. 

The PAST Act is a danger to the performance horse and yes, it will eliminate the pads, weighted shoes and action devices, but there is much more to it and none of it is good news to anyone interested in walking horse shows. 

The PAST Act will ban all action devices and pads as well as do away with the current Horse Industry Organization enforcement scheme and make it virtually impossible to conduct Tennessee Walking Horse shows. That’s because the bill would make it virtually impossible for show managers to put on horse shows. 

The walking horse is represented by a great variety of folks, some with a focus on the performance horse and some with the focus on pleasure horses, which are not affected by the ban on pads or action devices but are affected by a ban on weighted shoes. Still, no industry group or legitimate show organization has ever supported the PAST Act.  

Furthermore, the PAST Act calls for the abolition of the industry’s self-policing system, and this alone would place far too great of a burden, from a cost standpoint, on horse show management. Often, management is comprised of leaders within charitable groups that benefit from any given show and the task of having to organize and oversee the technicalities of inspection and other rules of which they have no knowledge would be intimidating if not disastrous. 

The industry has steadfastly fought the PAST Act since May of 2013. It is urgent that industry participants contact their Senators and make them aware of the facts and devastating impacts of this HSUS-sponsored legislation.