A former Maryland senator and four animal protection groups are asking the U.S. Department of Agriculture for new rules to strengthen enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.
The act, passed by Congress in 1970, was designed to protect Tennessee walking horses from "soring," which involves using chemical and mechanical methods to inflict pain to achieve an exaggerated gait known as the "Big Lick."
Former Sen. Joseph Tydings, D-Md., the original sponsor of the legislation, joined the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Horse Protection Association, and the Friends of Sound Horses in the request for tougher rules.
The USDA did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the petition.
In recent years, the USDA has beefed up enforcement of the act and earlier this year issued a list of "Points of Emphasis" designed to eliminate gray areas in enforcement.But the animal welfare groups said that hasn't been enough.
"Forty years after passage of the Horse Protection Act, soring is still a widespread problem in the performance Tennessee walking horse show industry," said Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the U.S., in a statement.
Sherry Rout of the ASPCA, in a statement, called soring a "particularly cruel form of abuse, as the horses are forced to endure years of chronic pain throughout their show careers while the USDA does little to enforce existing laws."
The petition seeks, among other things, to permanently bar repeat offenders from competing and block scarred horses from future shows.
According to the petition, "most of (HPA) violators are indeed flagrantly ignoring the law: 4,267 out of 8,783 total documented HPA violations since 1986 were committed by repeat offenders."
The groups want the USDA to set minimum penalties for violations and to oust inspection groups that repeatedly fail to comply with USDA rules.
Citing the Kentucky Walking Horse Association's inspection arm as an example, the petition said, "with little enforcement or serious consequences for inspectors who look the other way, the competitive advantage of soring inevitably encourages more shows to affiliate with HIOs with lax enforcement practices."