Animal Wellness Groups Call for Markup on Legislation to End Soring of Tennessee Walking Horses

1992 Tennessee Walking Horse 2-Year-Old World Grand Champion JFK | Photo Credit: David Pruett

1992 Tennessee Walking Horse 2-Year-Old World Grand Champion JFK | Photo Credit: David Pruett

AWA executive director Marty Irby testifying at a House hearing on H.R. 1754 in January 2020

AWA executive director Marty Irby testifying at a House hearing on H.R. 1754 in January 2020


We call on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Chairman Frank Pallone to hold a mark-up on the PAST Act in June.”
— Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, USA, June 1, 2022 / -- Last week, the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce dove into debate about the treatment of horses in the United States when its Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce convened a hearing on the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 5441, and other equine-related legislation. Animal Wellness Action (AWA), and the family of the late U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings, D-MD, the author of the Horse Protection Act of 1970 (HPA) PAST seeks to amend, weighed in calling for revisions necessary to pass the PAST Act through the U.S. Senate.

PAST has been introduced in each Congress since 2012 and would amend the HPA to help end soring – the intentional infliction of pain to Tennessee Walking Horses’ front limbs in order to achieve the artificial high step known as the “Big Lick” that’s prized in small rural parts of Tennessee and Kentucky. The measure passed the U.S. House in July of 2019, the only action the bill has ever seen on the House or Senate floor, renamed the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, H.R. 693.

AWA and the Citizens’ Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty (CCABLAC) developed the strategy to rename the bill and pass the PAST Act in 2019 working together with the Tydings’ family, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Democrat Leader Steny Hoyer, and the bill sponsors. AWA executive director Marty Irby, who testified in person before the Committee in 2013 in support of the PAST Act, submitted written testimony last week, including 332 pages of collateral material that provided a history of work on the PAST Act and the issue of soring over the past decade, as well as dozens of letters in support of making revisions to the PAST Act.

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., the lead sponsor of the PAST Act who represents Memphis, weighed in with the press acknowledging the longtime failure to end soring and failure to finalize regulations, first mentioned in the Federal Register in 1979, that would accomplish two-thirds of the legislation through action by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

"Congress passed the Horse Protection Act more than 50 years ago to end the abuse of soring, but a 2010 audit by USDA's Inspector General found persistent, rampant soring,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. in a press release. “In 2017, the USDA Office of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) moved to finalize a rule to strengthen the agency's Horse Protection Act regulations by incorporating some of the major tenets of the PAST Act. However, the rule was not implemented."

“My grandfather spoke often about compromise,” said Ben Tydings Smith, grandson of the late U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings, author of the HPA designed to stamp out soring. “He spoke often about compromise related to the HPA and how he reached across the aisle to the late U.S. Senator Howard Baker, R-Tenn., to pass the measure and secure the very first law to protect our iconic American equines — whose very backs this country was built upon. He knew the HPA wasn’t perfect. He knew the measure could have done more. But he also recognized that the perfect should never be the enemy of the good, and that supporting progress for horse protection was the right thing to do. The status quo was not acceptable to Joe Tydings.”

“The legislative process was designed to allow revisions to legislation moving in Congress through regular order and every bill I’ve worked to pass over the past decade has seen changes to secure enactment – just a name change alone passed the PAST Act through the House in 2019,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association. "It's time to think outside of the box to secure meaningful reforms that will end the gruesome practice of soring I’ve witnessed for the last 40 years. We call on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Chairman Frank Pallone to hold a mark-up on the PAST Act in June.”

Irby was honored in 2020 by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his work to end soring, and opinion works penned by Irby were published on the subject of soring last week in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Tennessee Lookout, the Tennessee Tribune, the Longview News-Journal, and


The PAST Act, H.R. 5441/S. 2295, introduced in the 117th Congress by U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Ida., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Schakowsky, and Kurt Schrader, DVM, the only veterinarian in Congress, passed the House by a vote of 333 to 96 in 2019. It was renamed in 2019 the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial PAST Act to honor the late senator, who passed away in late 2018. The bill died on arrival in the Senate due to lack of support from key leaders in the Upper Chamber.

PAST would eliminate the use large, stacked shoes, and ankle chains that are placed on horses’ feet to exacerbate pain in the showring and produce the Big Lick; revamp the USDA’s inspection program; and provide felony level penalties to give teeth to the HPA.

Following PAST’s passage in the House in 2019, with the bill dead on arrival in the Senate, AWA leaders worked with the industry for 19 months on revisions to the bill that would bring support from the top organizations in the Tennessee Walking Horse breed and from the Tennessee and Kentucky Senators who have long opposed the measure. The revised PAST Act would have accomplished 90 percent of the original PAST Act, but that effort was torpedoed by some animal groups who continue to cling to the old PAST Act that stands no chance of passing the U.S. Senate for many years to come.

AWA also worked with leaders in the breed to secure more than $3 million in record breaking funding for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act in 2022. The opportunity to make revisions to PAST still remains with Tennessee Walking Horse leaders who have conceded soring must end.

Click here to view Irby and legendary horse trainer Monty Roberts, “The Man Who Listens to Horses,” discuss soring and the PAST Act in depth.

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization with a mission of helping animals by promoting legal standards forbidding cruelty. We champion causes that alleviate the suffering of companion animals, farm animals, and wildlife. We advocate for policies to stop dogfighting and cockfighting and other forms of malicious cruelty and to confront factory farming and other systemic forms of animal exploitation. To prevent cruelty, we promote enacting good public policies and we work to enforce those policies. To enact good laws, we must elect good lawmakers, and that’s why we remind voters which candidates care about our issues and which ones don’t. We believe helping animals helps us all.

Marty Irby
Animal Wellness Action
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Marty Irby and Monty Roberts discuss the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.