What would Marty Irby, Wayne Pacelle & Lamar Alexander think if weighted shoes were on their feet?
UPDATE received on December 18, 2020, from Bernard Unti, senior policy advisor, Humane Society of the U.S.: “I’m pleased to share the news that the reckless attempt by an embittered faction within animal protection to swap in a defective substitute for the PAST Act in the end-of-year spending package approved by the U.S. Congress has failed…I’m sorry to say that this desperate proposal was pushed by several former colleagues, one of them silly enough to claim that this outcome might be “the biggest disappointment for animal protection in the 116th Congress.”
WASHINGTON D.C.––The last days of the 116th Congress, of opportunities to advance the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which cleared the House of Representatives in July 2019 but has been stalled in the U.S. Senate by Republican opposition ever since, and the political career of Lamar Alexander, 80, the soon-to-retire Republican U.S. Senator from Tennessee since 2002, are either simultaneously winding down or building toward an explosive confrontation among advocates for Tennessee walking horses.
The outcome depends on whether Alexander makes passing his own yet-to-be-introduced Senate “compromise” of the PAST Act his grand finale.
Irby unveiled “compromise”
Marty Irby, who formerly lobbied for the PAST Act as an employee for the Humane Society of the U.S., under former HSUS president Wayne Pacelle, but followed Pacelle to Animal Wellness Action after Pacelle left HSUS under a 2018 sexual harassment scandal, on November 12, 2020 unveiled the “compromise” bill believed likely to be sponsored by Alexander.
Irby claimed the bill had the support of two Animal Wellness subsidiaries––the Animal Wellness Foundation and the Center for a Humane Economy––and of the Horses for Life Foundation and American Horse Protection Society, plus “key stakeholders in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.”
Explained Irby, “The Horse Protection Act of 1970, authored by the late U.S. Senators Joe Tydings (D-Maryland), and Howard Baker (R-Tennessee), was enacted to stamp out soring,” the practice of deliberately injuring the front feet of a walking horse to cause the horse to step higher in the show ring, the so-called Big Lick favored by walking horse show judges, “but left loopholes that have allowed the practice to persist.
“Over the past eight years,” Irby recalled, “more than 20 pieces of legislation and amendments to the Horse Protection Act have been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate” to prevent and punish soring, but “Not a single measure has been enacted, leaving a 50-year-old statute to govern management of regulated horse shows.”
The PAST Act, “the ninth rendition of the bill since 2012,” Irby mentioned, has “no reasonable prospects” of passing, in his opinion, while “The Horse Protection Amendments Act, H.R. 1157/S. 1455, introduced on seven occasions in either the House or Senate, and supported by the Tennessee Walking Horse industry,” but opposed by practically every humane organization that speaks for horses, “has also not advanced. Even attempts to finalize regulations to end soring have long failed at every turn,” Irby said.
Irby then recited “Points of agreement these stakeholders seek to achieve in compromise legislation.”
“Compromise” would cut shoe height by two-thirds
These are, Irby said:
- Establishing new and additional penalties for horse soring.
- Eliminating of chains and action devices utilized to exacerbate pain derived from soring.
- Reducing the size of large, stacked shoes (currently 4.5-8 inches in height) to 1.5 inches at the toe and 2.5 inches in height.
- Banning the use of tungsten, lead, or other heavy elements or composites in the shoe, and a ban on the use of metal bands to affix a heavy shoe to the hoof.
- Eliminating tail braces and tail docking (currently allowed and continuing in other breeds).
- Banning the possession of caustic chemicals and devices used in soring.
- Upgrading penalties for violators of the Horse Protection Act.
- Creating a new organization that will impose immediate penalties and fines on violators of the Horse Protection Act while still allowing the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and U.S. Dept. of Justice to impose fines and penalties through Federal prosecution.
- Establishing an inspection program that favors objective, science-based testing methods, as used by other breeds that conduct in-house testing.
- Employing independent inspectors that are licensed and certified by the USDA.
- Limiting the application of the legislation to Tennessee Walking, Racking and Spotted Saddle Horse.
Trading tail-brace for continued high shoe use
Irby acknowledged that “The [PAST] bill is being adjusted to reflect the views of additional stakeholders,” specifically walking horse exhibitors and breeders.
Irby, in a joint statement issued with horse trainer Monte Roberts & Monte Irby, published by Horse Nation, emphasized that the proposed compromise bill would “eliminate the use of a gruesome device known as the tail brace––utilized on the first World Grand Champion, Strolling Jim in 1939, and almost every winner since.
“To achieve a certain look that makes the tail stand up over the horses’ back,” Irby explained, “the muscles and tendons in the tail are severed, and the horses are forced to live in a contraption that maintains a full break in the tail bone. The horses are then shown in the ring with a metal u-shaped stand under the tail, tied down extremely tight with a shoestring, cutting off the circulation in the tail.
“This device predates the use of stacked shoes and chains,” meant to force horses to step higher, “by two decades or more, and is the foundation for the use of all of the violent paraphernalia in the show ring,” Irby alleged.
“Compromise would weaken existing Horse Protection Act”
Humane Society of the U.S. senior advisor on equine protection Keith Dane responded in Horse Nation on December 1, 2020, reminding readers that “Soring is the issue that brought me to organized animal protection work. I’ve been an owner, exhibitor and judge of Tennessee walking horses for most of my life,” Dane said, “and not a day goes by when the abuse inflicted on this gentle breed doesn’t cause me heartbreak.
“For more than three decades,” Dane reminded, “I’ve worked with others to end it. I played a part in the first national organization created to provide venues for the exhibition of sound flat-shod horses, and became a horse show judge. I later joined another organization with similar aims and served as its president, director of judges, and USDA liaison.”
From that perspective, Dane charged, “Recent efforts to pass a ‘deal’ led by retiring Senator Lamar Alexander would maintain the status quo with regard to soring––and in some ways, weaken the existing Horse Protection Act.
“This bill has not yet been filed in the Senate,” Dane explained to ANIMALS 24-7, “but there is a possibility that it could be presented as an amendment to the PAST Act that passed the House of Representatives in July of 2019 by a vast majority (333-96). That amended version could perhaps be passed as an attachment to an omnibus bill (some such funding mechanism must be passed this week before the continuing resolution currently in place to fund the government expires on December 11, 2020.
“The real solutions that can bring about an end to horse soring,” Dane said, are “the PAST Act [HR693/S1007] as written, and the USDA rule to amend the Horse Protection Act regulations that was finalized during the Obama Administration, but was then frozen by the incoming Trump Administration. President-elect Joe Biden could instruct the USDA to reinstate the rule next year.
Continued Dane to Horse Nation readers, “The deep flaws of the horse sorers’ proposal,” offered by Alexander, “are not accidental. For starters, it would permit the continued use in the show ring of stacked shoes, used to obscure damage inflicted on the sole of the hoof and/or hard or sharp foreign objects inserted between the pad and hoof, and boots on the horse’s ankles, with no weight limit specified. Just add soring chemicals and you have the very cruelty we all want to stop.
“Substitute proposal explicitly permits cruelty”
“The substitute proposal would establish an inspection process that explicitly permits cruelty,” Dane charged.
“For example, inspectors would be authorized to pass and qualify horses to show, even if the animals are experiencing evident pain in their lower limbs or hooves. The proposed protocol relies heavily on visual examination of horses, the very dimension in which sorers have perfected their methods for concealing the signs of their cruelty.
“In addition,” Dane objected, “inspectors would not be required to touch horses during inspections, a standard veterinary method of identifying pain. The measure also does away with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s “scar rule” specifying that tissue damage to the lower limbs of the horse is evidence of soring and thus a violation of the 1970 Horse Protection Act.
“Would not reach abuse in the training barn”
“Another flagrant flouting of the original PAST Act,” Dane pointed out, “is the substitute measure’s reinforcement of the failed practice of industry self-policing, an approach that has let conflicts of interest subvert the integrity of the system for so long. Moreover, the enumerated penalties would do very little, since self-policing combined with the flawed inspection protocol and permission to continue using soring devices means cases are very unlikely to be filed.
“The [compromise] proposal would not reach abuse in the training barn either,” Dane said “because evidence collected there could not be used to convict someone of soring. The original PAST Act would enable such convictions.
“The substitute measure also rejects the original PAST Act’s requirement that the USDA post on its website information on Horse Protection Act violations in the interests of transparency,” a requirement that the USDA sidestepped in the first days of the Donald Trump administration by deleting all Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act law enforcement information from its website.
(See Did Trump kill rules to protect walking horses?, Did Trump kill rules to protect walking horses?, Lawyers line up to sue USDA-APHIS over law enforcement info deletions, USDA-APHIS reposts less than 1% of deleted law enforcement info, Thumbing nose at lawsuits, USDA-APHIS hides more info, Trump triumph: zapping USDA web site zapped “puppy mill” law too, and Big win over the “big lick” walking horse industry in 2018 federal budget.)
“Setting aside deficiencies, we don’t need it”
“Setting aside the new measure’s fatal deficiencies, we simply don’t need it,” Dane emphasized, anticipating that the original PAST Act might finally advance with Alexander out of the Senate.
The overwhelming support for the PAST Act in 2019 and “strong bipartisan support in the Senate with 52 cosponsors there,” Dane suggested, would bode well for PAST Act reintroduction in the 117th Congress.
“As importantly,” Dane emphasized, “the incoming administration could easily reinstate the USDA’s final rule, announced in January 2017, to strengthen the Horse Protection Act regulations and accomplish much of what the PAST Act calls for. The rule, set aside by the Trump administration, would end the use of devices integral to soring — the stacks and chains — and the walking horse industry’s conflict-ridden self-policing structure, which has allowed sorers to shield themselves from meaningful enforcement for so long.
“Finally,” Dane said, “early in 2021, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, & Medicine will release a taxpayer-funded report on methods of detecting soring, with recommendations on meaningful inspection protocols. Congress should certainly not rush to enact a new inspection regime put forward by sorers without serious consideration of the report’s conclusions.”
Clant Seay, aka Billy Goboy
Anticipating Dane’s objections, Animal Wellness Action founder Pacelle in his November 23, 2020 Animal Wellness Podcast introduced Clant M. Seay, “one of those people bringing single-minded focus to the task of helping horses and securing legal reform to protect them,” Pacelle said.
Better known as the blogger and Facebook commentator Billy Goboy, the retired attorney Seay has “devoted the last five years of his life to ending the scourge of soring,” Pacelle said.
Specifically, Seay “formed the Citizen’s Campaign Against Big Lick Cruelty and organized hundreds of people to protest soring at horse shows throughout the South. He has organized nearly a million signatures on the internet to rally to the cause through Change.org petitions to end soring. He has rescued [former Tennessee walking horse show] horses such as Gen’s Ice Glimmer to dramatize their plight. And he has pressured local lawmakers to bar horse shows in their communities that put soring abuses on display in Jackson, Mississippi, Panama City Beach, Florida, the North Carolina State Fair, and others.”
“Seay is allied with Animal Wellness Action”?!
“Seay is allied with Animal Wellness Action,” Pacelle went on, “to push for revisions to the PAST Act with the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to break the impasse over horse soring and get the measure through the U.S. Senate. This legislation will finally bring relief to the horses,” Pacelle promised, “to ban the action devices; to restrict the use of heavy stacked shoes; to forbid the use of braces that mangle the horses’ tails for cosmetic purposes; and, critically, to impose felony-level penalties on perpetrators.”
But felony penalities would be meaningful only if an effective law enforcement mechanism could actually detect offenses and bring the alleged perps to court.
Indeed, Seay has established huge credibility for himself as the most outspoken and effective critic of the walking horse industry ever to come down any of the Tennessee or Kentucky pikes, as main-traveled roads are often called in that part of the country.
But Alexander in his entire 42 years in public office has never distinguished himself as a friend of walking horses, despite some conspicuous examples of hypocrisy.
The Big Lick & Lamar Alexander
In May 2012, for instance, after undercover video released by the Humane Society of the U.S. exposed soring in one of the rare cases that was ever eventually prosecuted under the 1970 Horse Protection Act, Alexander through a staff member told Elizabeth Bewley of the Nashville Tennessean that he would “work in the Senate to strengthen the [Horse Protection] Act and add more money to enforce it.”
Roy Exum, for 36 years sports editor of The Chattanoogan and for 20 years a conservative political columnist for the Patriot-Post and the Chattanoogan.online, on January 3, 2014 explained what became of that Alexander promise.
“Sadly,” Exum wrote, “of the 248 members in Congress who now support the [PAST Act, now supported by 385 total members], the seven Republican members of Congress from the state responsible for the federal legislation––Tennessee — blatantly refuse to do so, along with Tennessee’s two Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. It is believed this is because Alexander’s state campaign chairman, Steven B. Smith, is an avid Big Lick proponent and is now the president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association.”
Pacelle, meanwhile, has a 30-year history of having repeatedly brokered “compromise” legislation in order to claim political “victories” for the various organizations he has represented, which in practice has weakened existing humane laws and has often proved to be unenforceable.
(See Proposed federal hen housing standards deal is dead, Why California proposition 2, now in effect, is not protecting farmed animals, Update: Vermont Gov Scott signs HSUS bill to cut puppy mill cage sizes, and Pigeon shoots––that HSUS said it stopped––continue in Maryland.)
“Wrong Side of History” award
Clant Seay produced his own three-and-a-half-minute video, posted to Facebook, explaining his reasons for endorsing the PAST Act “compromise” apparently brokered by Alexander and Pacelle, but largely ignoring any of the issues advanced by Keith Dane, including the likelihood that both the PAST Act and the Horse Protection Act enforcement rule amendments deferred by the Trump administration will have an excellent chance to advance after Trump, his USDA appointees, and Alexander leave office.
Back on September 15, 2017, however, Seay on behalf of his organization The Citizens Campaign Against “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty delivered to Alexander a “Wrong Side Of History” award for “supporting systemic institutionalized Animal Cruelty to Tennessee Walking Horses.”
Said Seay then, “Alexander is sadly doing the bidding of wealthy supporters who have no problems with the ‘Big Lick’ Animal Cruelty to Tennessee Walking Horses.”
Seay mentioned that Keith Rosbury, owner of the World Grand Champion horse at the 2017 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee, “gave Senator Alexander a $2,000 campaign contribution during Alexander’s 2014 re-election campaign. Rosbury’s trainer, Bill Callaway, within 24 hours started serving an eight-month federal suspension for allegedly soring a Tennessee Walking Horse at the 2016 Celebration.”
Pacelle “dropped the ball,” Seay said
Seay also chided then-HSUS president Pacelle and then-U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for having “apparently dropped the ball” in failing to publish the Horse Protection Act enforcement rule amendments introduced during the last months of the Barack Obama administration in a timely manner in the Federal Register, so that they could have taken effect before Donald Trump was inaugurated.
Added Seay, “Pacelle’s organization donated $754,449.00 to Christie Vilsack’s 2012 Iowa Congressional bid,” Christie Vilack being wife of Tom Vilsack.
If Tom Vilsack “had not granted a 30-day extension of the comment period” on the Horse Protection Act enforcement rule amendments on September 21, 2016,” Seay explained, the amended rule would have been published in the Federal Register in October 2016, “before the election of President Donald J. Trump on November 8, 2016.”
“Big Lick is animal cruelty in & of itself”
“It appears that Pacelle and Vilsack literally bet the ranch on the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton,” Seay charged. “And when Clinton lost in the political upset of the last 70 years, neither Pacelle nor Vilsack had a Plan B anywhere in sight.”
“The bottom line,” Seay said then, “is that neither Pacelle nor Vilsack did the things necessary to ensure the final success of the proposed federal rule to remove the pads and chains from Tennessee walking horses, and end the Big Lick animal cruelty.
Alexander, Seay added on October 11, 2017, “apparently does not know that the Big Lick gait performed by Tennessee Walking Horses is animal cruelty per se – intrinsically – in and of itself.”