FRANKFORT — New measures taken by the state to encourage good behavior in the world of Tennessee Walking Horse shows should be given a chance to work before considering tougher punishments for "soring," state lawmakers were told Tuesday.
Edward S. "Ned" Bonnie, a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said there is a potent "carrot" in breeders' incentives, which will be denied to those who intentionally harm walking horses to achieve an exaggerated performance gait.
"You do it right, you get the money," Bonnie told members of the horse farming subcommittee of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture.
In September, the racing commission restructured the incentives for walking horses, stripping the Kentucky Walking Horse Association of the ability to inspect shows as part of the state program. Instead, to qualify for the thousands in state tax money set aside for prizes, all walking horse shows beginning in 2010 are required to be inspected by one of three groups devoted to stopping training practices outlawed by the 1970 federal Horse Protection Act.
Although Bonnie said federal law has not been sufficient to halt the practices, he stopped short of calling for new state legislation to toughen penalties.
"Let's try what we're doing. If that doesn't work, it will be explosive at the legislative level," Bonnie said. "I don't think it's warranted at this time."
Based on the Kentucky Walking Horse Association's previous administration of the program, the racing commission withheld $375,000 from 2008, so the state will have two years' worth of incentives to award next year.
"We've not got a little carrot, we've got a bushel basket," he said. "There will be a lot of people who come to Kentucky to participate in this."
Sen. Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, co-chairman of the committee, said they will be watching to see whether it works. "I hope that the cheaters are paying attention because this General Assembly is paying attention," he said.
Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the United States said the incentives might not be enough. He told lawmakers criminal penalties are necessary to stop practices that have continued for decades despite the federal ban. "We need strong legislation to protect Kentucky's horses," Dane said.
Dr. Alan Dorton, a Versailles veterinarian who testified with a representative of the Kentucky Walking Horse Association's inspection arm, criticized the USDA-administered process, saying the "vast majority" of horses comply with federal standards. "Many trainers I know are not doing any soring," Dorton said. "It is possible there are still bad apples out there."