LOUISVILLE, KY – In Kentucky, when Ned Bonnie speaks, everyone listens.
Ned Bonnie has endorsed the PAST ACT sponsored by Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY_
In Kentucky, horses are part of our heritage. Champion thoroughbreds and show horses are born and raised in our state, and many more serve as faithful companions. As Kentuckians, we hold horses in very high esteem. In that spirit, Kentucky U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield has written and introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406, which is an important bill to protect horses from abuse. I urge the entire Kentucky congressional delegation to join Rep. Whitfield by co-sponsoring this important piece of legislation to end the abuse of the majestic Tennessee Walking Horse.
There has been a half-century of documented abuse in a segment of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. In order to force horses to perform the high-stepping gait called the “big lick,” trainers subject the animals to consistent, immense pain with a practice known as soring. Devotees of the big lick have shown an unrelenting willingness to break the law that forbids soring for no other reason than to win a blue ribbon. These are people who use inhumane training practices “” including chemical abuse “” to achieve unnatural and exaggerated gaits intended to thrill crowds. These people have turned one of America’s great pleasure horses into a national tragedy. These counterfeit horsemen do not love horses, but only love what can be wrung out of them.
As a horseman and an attorney, I prosecuted a soring case for the United States Equestrian Federation in the 1970s. I have seen what soring really is. Representatives of the Walking Horse industry withdrew from USEF membership rather than confront the problem.
I once hoped that the industry could be persuaded to reform itself. I am a Kentucky horse racing commissioner and serve on the Commission’s Rules Committee. In 2009, a decision was made to allow points for the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund to be given only at Walking Horse shows inspected by reputable programs. My hope was that stringent inspections would ensure fair competition; that people would have an incentive to stop soring and to start showing clean horses in order to be eligible for large cash prizes. It was only partially successful. Instead, “big lick” trainers simply bypassed the opportunity to win cash and avoided the shows with stringent inspections.
I have decided that meaningful change is not going to come from within the industry. Real change must come from without and the PAST Act is the pathway to that real change.
Political pressure from the Walking Horse industry has resulted in underfunding the Horse Protection Act of 1970 and has contributed to the failure of its objective.
The PAST Act, which amends the federal Horse Protection Act, is cosponsored by a majority of members (255 to date), representing most of the states in the Union and all political persuasions. The number of PAST co-sponsors shows a unanimity seldom seen in Congress these days and that sends a message. Congressman Whitfield is to be applauded for his leadership in making the case that abusive and illegal training practices of the big lick Walking Horse industry, as well as in portions of the Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse breeds, must be stopped.
Stacked shoes, chains, chemicals, masking agents used to thwart inspections, meaningless penalties, and corrupt industry self- policing must all disappear if the Walking Horse breed is to be saved from the people who have ridden it almost to destruction. The PAST Act is the right tool to reform what the American Association of Equine Practitioners calls a “culture of abuse” and the majority of Americans call an outrage.
2014 is the Year of the Horse in the Chinese lunar calendar. With help from Congress, it can be the year when Walking Horses walk free of pain, and the stigma of soring is finally removed from the breed. It’s past time to pass the PAST Act. I’m proud to say that on this issue a Kentucky legislator is leading the way; his peers in the Commonwealth and around the country should follow his lead.
Edward S. Bonnie is a Kentucky horse racing commissioner and retired member of the Frost Brown Todd law firm.