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U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander made his position on the walking horse industry's future clear Tuesday after being called upon to do so for months — introducing a bill embraced by the industry but counter to what animal advocacy groups want.

Alexander, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., are sponsoring a bill that preserves the tall shoes and ankle chains that mark the Tennessee Walking Horse's performance division. Industry supporters call it safe equipment that allows the breed's star horses to reach their full potential — accentuating their naturally higher, longer gait.

But their opponents — who support a bill by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., aimed at eliminating the equipment — say the special shoes and chains are used in the process of soring. That's purposefully burning a horse's legs or jabbing its feet to speed the training process, an abusive practice that has plagued the walking horse industry since the 1950s.

Alexander's bill is similar to one filed last month by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn which would meld a number of horse show inspection groups into one and emphasize scientific tests for soring. But it's slightly different, also calling for an initial 30-day suspension from showing a horse found to be sore, followed by successive 90-day suspensions.

Alexander's campaign finance chairman, Stephen Smith, is president of theTennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association.

The American Farm Bureau supports Blackburn's bill. The Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association support Whitfield's.

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