By Jeffrey Howard and Sadie Fowler

On May 23, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR-5), filed a motion placing the PAST Act (H.R. 693) on the Consensus Calendar, which means it has moved another step forward with dangerous potential to harm the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. According to new House rules, any bill with at least 290 cosponsors can be placed on the consensus calendar. The PAST Act currently has 302 cosponsors.

A closer look at those sponsors helps explain why a bill that would be devastating to the entire Tennessee Walking Horse industry has such support within Congress. 

Of the 302, 223 are democrats and 79 are republicans. In the core Tennessee Walking Horse states of Tennessee and Kentucky, only two members of Congress support the PAST Act — those are Democrats John Yarmuth from Kentucky and Steve Cohen of Tennessee.

If you extend that to the states of Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama, the next three most heavily influenced states, you add a total of six sponsors, five of which come from Georgia and four of those are democrats. If you extend even further to Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina you pick up an additional 12 sponsors in favor of the PAST Act, of which nine are from North Carolina and six of those supporters are republicans. 

In total, that would equate to 6.6 percent of the sponsors coming from the eight most heavily populated Tennessee Walking Horse states. If you look at just those top five states, only 2.6 percent of the sponsors represent constituents in those five states. So where do all the sponsors come from and why are they sponsoring legislation that would have such devastating consequences?  

In a nutshell, the short answer to that question is we’re looking at politics powered by liberal organizations and a widespread, yet innocent, lack of education about the issue at hand.

Let’s look a little closer. California leads with 47 sponsors followed by New York with 26, and of those 73 sponsors, only nine are republicans. So the two most heavily populated and affected states have two sponsors and the two states with little to no activity have 73 sponsors. As you can clearly see, this is not a bipartisan bill nor is it industry-supported like the animal rights movement would like you to believe.

So how has the Humane Society and animal rights movement been so effective getting sponsors? First, it starts with money and lobbying, two factors in which the industry lacks resources in a big way. The animal rights movement has taken advantage of this unfortunate walking horse industry handicap. 

Another, and probably the most concerning factor of all, is the support of the American Horse Council (AHC), American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP). When the HSUS and other radical activists show innocently uneducated members of Congress a bill supported by these three associations … well, it is likely an easy signature to obtain. 

Sadly, most of these Congressmen, to no fault of their own, don’t even know what a Tennessee Walking Horse is, nor the immense positive impact it has on agribusiness in Tennessee and beyond, much less are they aware of the disturbing agenda plagued by propaganda by the HSUS and radical groups. The bottom line: Knowledge is power and people don’t know what they don’t know. 

The sad thing is the consequences of such uninformed decisions, such as the passing of the PAST Act, are devastating. In short, the PAST Act is layered with a perfect storm of issues that many people supporting it simply don’t understand, but nonetheless it is equipped with hurricane-like power that has the potential to blow the very innocent walking horse away. The uneducated supporters think they’re protecting the horse; anyone with knowledge understands what it’s truly doing is the exact opposite. 

Let’s take a closer look at the veterinary groups supporting the PAST Act, as well as the reason why they’re supporting the legislation. First, the AAEP takes its legislative direction from AVMA, which has moved toward becoming a much more liberal organization and not representative of the practicing veterinarians in the United States, especially large animal veterinarians. The AHC has also gone through some reorganization and is much more worried about other breeds, most notable the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbreds, to be combative in defense of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Many in the industry think the American Horse Council’s support of the PAST Act will only lead to further regulatory and legislative crackdowns on the other breeds.

Also, another factor adding to the perfect storm that’s capable of destroying the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and all the positive attributes it brings to agribusiness all over the South, the original sponsors of the PAST Act, Rep. Schrader and Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), are both veterinarians and are cochairs of the Congressional Veterinary Medicine Caucus. So naturally, their voices are respected and rightfully considered valid to the uneducated or uninformed politician. The problem … Neither of them have even been to a Tennessee Walking Horse competition.

Worse yet, a previous meeting I had with Rep. Yoho confirmed his lack of ability to speak with authority on the walking horse issue at large. While it would be natural to assume a veterinarian’s opinion on an issue related to horses would be sound, Yoho admitted in this meeting that “equipment used in Tennessee Walking Horse competitions does not cause soring.”

 Those words represent the factual opinion of the co-sponsor of the PAST Act, an act that aims to take away equipment used in Tennessee Walking Horse competitions. (While at the same time, many other breeds of horses will still be allowed to use that very same equipment.) I fully suspect that neither Rep. Schrader nor Rep. Yoho are even aware of such allowances in other breeds. Again, lack of knowledge is a big problem as it relates to the PAST Act.

So what does its movement to the consensus calendar mean? According to a quote when the new rule was put in place, “The House Speaker must designate, and the House must consider, at least one measure on the Consensus Calendar during any week in which the House convenes, except at the beginning and the end of a Congress.”

So just as the industry lobbyists predicted since the democrats won back control of the House of Representatives, the PAST Act will more than likely pass the House of Representatives and await what will happen in the Senate. There is no reason to believe at this point that the Senate will take up its floor time to move on the PAST Act. The Senate version of the PAST Act, currently only has 25 cosponsors and 20 of those are democrats. The Senate version has four republican sponsors and they come from Kansas, Maine, Pennsylvania and Montana.  

Clearly the Senators in those states were not aware of the bill sponsored by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Kentucky Senator and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that would institute common-sense legislation to address the concerns in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry through science-based solutions without destroying a breed that his loved by the educated supporters and leaders among the industry and so very important to the economy of Tennessee.

So where is the end? Legislation, either for or against our breed, is hard to pass but it remains an option. Opposition to the PAST Act in the industry, among trainers, owners and exhibitors ranging from all ages and all riding levels, is at its peak. More than ever, there is not one industry group with meaningful industry participation that is in support of the PAST Act. Not one, and within that large group, there are many experts and veterinarians who specialize in the walking horse and who are vehemently against the PAST Act. Those are the educated ones we should be looking to for advice or insight into this age old issue as opposed to a person who’s never even seen our great horse up close and personal or attended the prized events that drive our local economy and tradition.  

The fact of how restrictive and expensive the PAST Act would make it for horse shows to continue being held will, in essence, eliminate most if not all horse shows. The mere thought of this is the main reason for such wide spread opposition of the PAST Act among the those who represent all aspects of the walking horse industry. 

The industry has played defense for years and avoided many attempts from lawmakers and the animal rights movement to destroy the show horse. But as industry contraction continues and numbers continue to decline, the time for an offensive move by the industry is approaching. When is that time exactly? I am not fully aware of that answer, honestly. But I do know that the win this industry needs will not be achieved by simply playing defense.