Bill banning cruel horse practice stalls

GENEVA – An effort by horse advocates to pass a bill that does more to stop the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee Walking horses and two other breeds has apparently stalled, even with wide bipartisan support. 

Soring is described as intentionally inflicting pain on the front legs and hooves of Tennessee Walking horses, Racking horses and Spotted Saddle horses to exaggerate their high-stepping gait, said Gail Vacca, president of Illinois Equine Humane Center in Maple Park.

“It is a horrifically cruel practice – just horrible,” said Vacca, who supports stronger legislation to end the practice. “It just defies description ... they use caustic chemicals on the horse’s legs and chains, shoes with nails sticking into their feet. It’s totally sadistic. It’s sickening.”

Sue Balla of Casey’s Safe Haven in Elburn agreed more needs to be done to stop soring.

“They do this so the horses will pick their feet up higher in the show ring,” Balla said. “It is a horrific, cruel, barbaric thing to do to an animal. They are forcing them to be in so much pain so that they will pick their feet up higher. That is the show world.”

Diana Anshakov of Newark said she stopped showing her own Tennessee Walking horses because of the abuse in the industry. She has been working to get support for HR 1518, a bill pending in committee. The bill would amend the Horse Protection Act, which already bans soring, to have USDA enforcement so the industry is no longer policing itself. It also would increase penalties, among other provisions. 

The bill has 190 Democratic and 115 Republican co-sponsors across the country – from Hawaii to Florida, New York to Texas. In Illinois, 16 of 18 representatives are co-sponsors except U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, and John Shimkus, R-Collinsville.

The bill has wide support from humane, veterinarian and equine organizations that testified at hearings late last year, but it remains stalled in the Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade subcommittee. Anshakov said she believes if three more Republicans became co-sponsors, the bill would move on for a vote. 

Anshakov said having 118 Republicans on board as sponsors would fulfill the “Hastert rule,” an unwritten rule that a bill should not advance for a vote unless it was a “majority of a majority” ensuring it would pass.

Anshakov said she called the offices of both Hultgren and Shimkus to ask for their support as co-sponsors. She said an aide told her Shimkus would not because he is not on the committee. A spokesman for Shimkus could not confirm his stance on the bill.

Anshakov said she told Hultgren’s office she did not live in his district.

“I asked him to join my Rep. [Adam] Kinzinger [R-Channahon] and 16 of 18 Illinois representatives and both Illinois senators in co-sponsoring the bill,” Anshakov said.

In a June 30 letter, Hultgren thanked Anshakov for sharing her concerns.

“I will keep your views in mind should HR 1518 reach the House floor,” Hultgren’s letter to Anshakov states. “Whether at a show or in the home, how we treat our animals reflects the values of our society. We should be promoting a culture of life and protecting the vulnerable among us – people and animals alike.”

Hultgren’s Democratic opponent in the Nov. 4 election, Dennis Anderson, called the incumbent out for not co-sponsoring the bill.

“This is just a common-sense, a common-decency bill, and we should get everyone on board and pass the thing,” Anderson said. “I’m not a ‘horse’ person, but I’m committed to animal welfare issues. It’s a barbaric practice, and it’s illegal. It’s an under-regulated industry that is allowed to police itself.”

A spokesman for Hultgren said the Hastert rule does not necessarily determine movement of a bill, as many come up for votes with fewer sponsors than the anti-soring bill.

Instead, the spokesman said it is up to the House leadership – Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana – to bring the anti-soring act to a vote on the House floor.

“The congressman’s No. 1 priority is to get people back to work,” the spokesman said. “These other issues are important, but that is what he is focused on in Congress.”