The Tennessee Walking Horse industry is applauding a bill filed late Wednesday that supporters say will eliminate abuses while preserving the sport.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., is calling for scientific tests to detect soring instead of manual checks. Her bill, which has nine cosponsors, also keeps the tall shoes and ankle chains that mark the breed's performance divisions.
It's in response to a bill filed last year by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., supported by the Humane Society of the United States, that would eliminate that equipment, which they say can be part of the soring process. Soring is purposefully injuring the breed's legs or feet to induce its longer, higher gait.
Blackburn's bill "doesn't call for the elimination of 85 percent of the breed based on equipment," Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration CEO Mike Inman said Thursday. "One bill eliminates soring. The other eliminates the horse."
The annual Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., is the sport's largest event and showcases the performance division. Blackburn attended a $100-a-head reception held in her honor there last year. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association, the breed's registry, also supports the bill.
The industry has faced national attention over allegations of abuse in the past two years, which included the federal and state conviction of a former hall-of-fame trainer.
Keith Dane, the Humane Society's vice president of equine protection, said the gait induced by the tall shoes and chains is "unnatural and man-made."
Dane said Blackburn's legislation has other flaws. It calls for a single organization to inspect horses at shows, but appointments to the group would fall to the agriculture commissioners in Tennessee and Kentucky with input from the horse industry, he said.
If those three entities could have made significant changes in the industry, he said, they would have done so by now.
"Basically, it codifies putting the fox in charge of the henhouse," Dane said of Blackburn's bill.
Duane W. Gang contributed to this report.