Many veterinary, animal protection and equine groups want a law to strengthen the 1970 Horse Protection Act.

By Clint Confehr

Congressmen representing Nashville and Memphis agree — there’s no place for animal abuse at Tennessee Walking Horse shows — and Tennessee’s first African American licensed to practice veterinary medicine concurs.

The annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration ends Saturday in Shelbyville where show officials oppose abuse.

Meanwhile, hundreds of veterinary, animal protection and equine groups want a new law to strengthen a 39-year-old law against soring, the infliction of pain to make horses step higher for an exaggerated gait, according to U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a sponsor of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Among other things, the proposed law addresses conflict of interests during enforcement of the 1970 Horse Protection Act.

Renewed debate over regulations includes Celebration CEO Mike Inman. Asked about Cohen’s announcement Inman says Cohen wants enforcement, but that’s being done. Nearly all Walking Horse showmen follow the Horse Protection Act, and those who don’t should “suffer consequences,” Inman said.

The proposed law says, “A license [to inspect Walking Horses] may not be issued to a person with conflicts of interest, and USDA must give preference to veterinarians” for licenses, states. Now, Designated Qualified Persons — horse show-paid inspectors — are permitted. That curtails government spending, but it’s a conflict of interest.

Veterinarian Charles Kimbrough of Hayne’s Manor, Nashville, was consulted after Cohen and other congressmen asked U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue “to do everything possible to vigorously enforce the Horse Protection Act” at this year’s show. Kimbrough is a Tennessee State- and Tuskegee University graduate. He was first licensed to practice veterinary medicine nearly 70 years ago. Previously, African Americans were licensed, but were prohibited from practicing medicine. They could only teach veterinary medicine.

Horse owners and/or their employees who use chemicals, pressure or devices to cause pain to legs and feet of horses when they walk “will be straining the [horse’s] energy” Kimbrough said. “It comes under animal cruelty.”

Cohen said, “How we treat animals is a reflection of our national character.” Soring horses “just to exaggerate their gate and win horse shows is beyond reprehensible.” The House voted 333-96 July 25 for the PAST Act. The Senate sent it to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. Sen. Marsha Blackburn is on that committee.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper grew up in Shelbyville. “Nobody from Shelbyville wants to see these animals abused,” Cooper said. “I have tried to persuade the Walking Horse industry to clean up its act for many years and have given it a chance to stop the scandals. The public wants horses protected and Congress has lost its patience … Tennessee has the best Walking Horse shows in the country … For this to remain a point of pride … soring must have no part in this great tradition.”

Inman says the USDA “published compliance rate” for show horses is 96 percent. “The PAST Act is not … designed to eliminate soring. It’s … to eliminate approved equipment… The super majority that are following the rules, should be allowed to show their horses with the equipment they’re currently showing in and proven by science to not harm horses.”

Inspections indicating soring aren’t immediately verified. Due process takes time. Walking Horse shows’ inspection process is extensive. The 1970 law was to end soring. A few years ago audits and an undercover investigation found soring in some competitive horse shows, said Cohen, adding 46 senators support the PAST Act.

Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...