April 24, 2018
The Hill - OpEd: Don’t Let Horse Welfare Become A Partisan Issue
By Dr. Thomas F. Meyer, AVMA and Dr. R. Reynolds Cowles, AAEP
January 27, 2017 – While the symbols of our two major political parties may be an elephant and a donkey, both sides of the aisle should agree stopping horse abuse is a nonpartisan issue. That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) have long supported policies preventing soring, which is the practice of deliberately causing pain to exaggerate the leg motion of a horse’s gait to gain an unfair advantage in show rings.
We were heartened to see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) finalization of a rule that would crack down on this inhumane and pervasive practice. Unfortunately, the recent regulatory freeze has put this rule on hold, which may have devastating consequences for horses. Together, the AVMA and the AAEP urge President Trump’s administration to move forward with this rule.
If you’ve seen Tennessee Walking Horses in action, you’re probably familiar with their distinct gait in which they lift their legs high with each step. This movement is prized in show rings. What the casual observer may not know is that for too many Tennessee Walking Horses, this gait is exaggerated through soring to produce the “big lick” that brings home even larger prizes.
Soring comes in many forms. For instance, some trainers may apply a caustic substance – like kerosene or croton oil – to a horse's lower leg and allow it to sink into the horse’s skin. Other tactics include grinding the sole of the hoof to expose sensitive tissues or inserting hard objects between the shoe or pad and the sole to cause pain. Regardless of the method, the result is the same: horses suffer greatly for no other reason than to increase their odds of a show ribbon.
The Horse Protection Act (HPA), as amended in 1976, prohibits soring of horses that are being transported, shown/exhibited or sold. Unfortunately, this practice has been able to continue illegally through a combination of industry self-regulation, detection avoidance by trainers and owners, and budget constraints limiting the USDA’s enforcement capabilities. It’s abundantly clear that enhanced enforcement is necessary to stop soring.
On Jan. 13, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a final rule that would do just that. This rule would have APHIS license, train and oversee independent third-party inspectors to ensure that horses are no longer overseen by inspectors who may have serious conflicts of interest. Additionally, this rule would ban pads and action devices; the latter are items such as chains and ankle rings used in conjunction with chemical irritants to create pain when horses move. An exception would be made if a horse has been prescribed therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges. The AVMA and the AAEP are proud to have collaborated with the USDA to help make this rule as fair and effective as possible.
The changes this rule would implement are simple and necessary steps to promote the welfare of horses. Our country’s going to have a lot of tough political debates in the next year – whether we should protect horses from abuse shouldn’t be one of them. We look forward to working with the USDA to make sure horses have the protection they deserve.
Dr. Thomas F. Meyer is the President of the AVMA, which was founded in 1863 and represents more than 89,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine.
Dr. R. Reynolds Cowles is President of the AAEP, which was founded in Lexington, Ky. in 1954 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the health and welfare of the horse.
The views expressed by authors are their own.
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