And California voters dump horse racing bail-out measure
WASHINGTON D.C.––The U.S. House of Representatives on November 14, 2022 for the second time passed the PAST Act, short for Prevent All Soring Tactics, and sent it to the U.S. Senate, where for the second time it is likely to pull up lame.
But maybe not. Before the November 8, 2022 U.S. national election the PAST Act appeared to be dead as the nails in stacked horseshoes.
Republicans long aligned with the “Big Lick” show horse industry were expected to retain or even strengthen their grip on the House and Senate committees through which the PAST Act had to pass to even go to a vote.
Bill jockey Steve Cohen wins an upset
Instead, in an upset reminiscent of the legendary race horse Silky Sullivan, Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen booted the PAST Act past the wire, with an assist from Citizens Campaign Against “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty founder Clant Seay.
Seay, intentionally or not, decoyed “Big Lick” lobbyists’ attention to the “United We Stand Horse Show” in Tunica, Mississippi over the Veterans’ Day weekend, while lobbyists for the PAST Act scrambled to win last-minute votes sufficient for the House of Representatives to waive customary procedure by sending the PAST Act straight to the floor.
The margin of House victory for the 2022 PAST Act, 304 to 111, was slightly less than the 333-96 margin won in 2019, but still substantial enough to attract Senate attention––if supporters were not apparently up against a stacked deck.
Repeatedly introduced in Congress, the PAST Act “passed the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming 333-96 vote in 2019, passed the Senate Commerce Committee by voice vote in 2014, and passed the House Energy & Commerce Committee by a vote of 22-0 in June 2022,” recites Keith Dane, senior director for equine Services for the Humane Society of the United States.
Thanked Priscilla Presley
Cohen, a House member since 2007, is one of the two Democrats among the nine-member Tennessee delegation to the House, and represents the Tennessee Ninth District, including Memphis. Recipient of the Humane Society of the United States’ “Humane Horseman of the Year” award in June 2022, Cohen attracted 263 cosponsors to the 2022 edition of the PAST Act.
Thanking the cosponsors for their support after the PAST Act passed, Cohen also thanked Priscilla Presley, 77, widow of entertainer Elvis Presley, who has pushed previous editions of the PAST Act since 2013, but has been relatively quiet while reportedly dealing with health issues in 2022.
“Defying the political equivalent of gravity”
“With just a few weeks remaining in the 117th Congress, getting a vote in the Senate will take some effort,” acknowledged Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Sara Amundson, president of the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund in a joint statement.
“But with this resounding vote in the House, “ Block and Amundson hoped, “we have witnessed—and helped to deliver—the clearest possible message that Americans are sick of horse soring and want to see it abolished.
“Soring is one of those animal cruelties,” Block and Amundson continued, “that just seems to hang around, defying the political equivalent of gravity. Most everyone despises it, but it survives through the efforts of an obstinate minority faction in the Tennessee walking horse sector and by the grace of a few well-placed political allies.”
Soring, Block and Amundson reminded, “involves unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflicting pain on horses’ legs and hooves to force an exaggerated, high-stepping gait called the ‘Big Lick.’ To achieve it,” trainers “use crude and ruthless techniques, including the application of caustic chemicals that burn horses’ flesh, along with chains and heavy, stacked horseshoes. There are even trainers who cut horses’ hooves down to the delicate tissue so they can push in hard or sharp objects to make the pain even more severe whenever horses put weight on their front legs.”
All of this was presumably prohibited by the Horse Protection Act of 1970, but the enforcement regulations allowed the horse show industry to police itself, which meant the Horse Protection Act was rarely enforced at all, and became in effect a “Big Lick industry protection act.”
A 2016 USDA rule that would have put USDA inspectors in charge of Horse Protection Act enforcement had not yet been printed in The Federal Register when the Donald Trump administration took office and froze all new rule-making.
The Humane Society of the U.S. on July 22, 2022 won a ruling from a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that the 2016 rule should have taken effect, and should therefore have had the force of law sixty days after the verdict.
The November 10-12, 2022 “United We Stand” horse show in Tunica could have been the first at which the 2016 inspection rule was enforced by USDA personnel.
Tom Vilsack appeals against having to do his job
Instead, the USDA, under Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, on October 6, 2022 filed an appeal of the U.S. Court of Appeals verdict.
Block and Amundson pledged “to focus full-tilt on getting the PAST Act through the Senate,” adding that “We expect the House vote to send a clear signal to USDA that these reforms have broad bipartisan support, so that the agency will take its responsibilities to enforce the Horse Protection Act more seriously.
“We also hope,” Block and Amundson added, “that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia,” which is to hear the USDA appeal, “will direct the agency to reinstate” the long-delayed 2016 rule “that will implement many of the reforms contained in the PAST Act.”
The PAST Act claims endorsements from other organizations including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
But Citizens Campaign Against “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty founder Clant Seay may have been the most influential PAST Act supporter, approaching the House of Representatives vote, by noisily pledging to disrupt the “United We Stand Horse Show,” which was both the 2022 “United Walking Horse Finale,” and a multi-day fundraiser for the “Big Lick” industry defense fund.
Three-day party amid the horse poop
According to The Walking Horse Report, the industry periodical that first announced the Tunica show back on May 20, 2022, “Thom Meek, who has led the development effort on behalf of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association, said the show had four objectives,” two of which are to “bring industry organizations together in a spirit of unity,” and to “raise money for the industry’s legal defense fund.”
With the PAST Act apparently going nowhere in Washington D.C., and the Citizens Campaign Against “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty providing a convenient high-profile foil for fundraising, the “Big Lick” lobbyists spent three days brunching and partying with potential high donors in center ring, morning and night, at the Paul Battle Arena in Tunica.
The odor of dead fish
The odor of fish also wafted into the arena after Seay on October 24, 2022 sued Chris and Deborah Fulcher, managers of Red Fox Stables, over alleged “multiple physical contact assaults” on Seay at a “Big Lick” show on October 9, 2021, during a riding performance by their daughter, Chastity Fulcher. Seay at the time was videotaping the condition of her horse.
The Fulchers, said Seay, “are also principals of Fulcher’s Point Pride Seafood,” of Oriental, North Carolina.
California voters boot horse racing bail-out measure
Regardless of whether the PAST Act clears the steep U.S. Senate hurdles still ahead, the biggest win of the week for horses came quietly on election night, November 8, 2022, when California voters resoundingly defeated Proposition 26, a horse racing bail-out bill disguised in the silks of allowing tribally operated gambling casinos to engage in sports betting.
Had Proposition 26 passed, it would have allowed the four remaining California horse tracks––Del Mar, Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos, and Santa Anita––to operate as sports betting venues.
This would have kept the four faltering tracks alive by subsidizing horse racing.
Despite the high stakes, the only animal advocacy campaign against Proposition 26 appears to have consisted of emails and telephone calls made personally by Political Animals Inc. founder Sherry DeBoer and a web posting by Horseracing Wrongs, of Albany, New York.