Horses have long been a part of the American story, since Christopher Columbus’ second voyage brought Spanish horses first to the Virgin Islands, and, in 1519, they were introduced on the mainland of what would become the United States.
There is no other animal that’s been put to work and had a bigger impact on the course of New World history than the horse. They carried our founders to victory during the Revolutionary War, plowed our fields, pulled our wagons, and carried our ancestors to settle the western frontier. And until the last century, they served as the primary form of transportation in both rural America and major cities around the country like New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Memphis.
It is because of this heritage that Americans view horses in their own moral category. The animal welfare movement itself was born out of concern over the mistreatment of carriage horses in major cities in the mid-1800s. They’ve been a constant in the animal protection conversation since then, and in the greater conversation on transportation as well. And they continue to be our companions and partners in both work and sport in 2021.
While we continue to work to end the slaughter of American equines, the abusive practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses, the use of the whip and other abuses in horse racing, and to prevent wild horse and burro populations on federal lands from being roundup and incarcerated, there’s another issue that’s making headway in the 117th Congress, even as Congress’s work has been badly thrown off track due to COVID-19 and the aftermath of January 6th.
This week, the Horse Transportation Safety Act (HTSA) was reintroduced by U.S. Reps. Steve Cohen, (D-TN), Brian Fitzpatrick, (R-PA), Dina Titus, (D-NV), and more than 100 additional Members of the House. These leaders have long worked to better the lives of equines in across the nation. The HTSA cleared the House in July of last year and would ban the transportation of horses across state lines in ‘double-decker’ trucks or trailers containing two or more levels stacked on top of one another. The bill failed to move in the Senate in the 116th Congress, but there’s a new opportunity to achieve the new law with the 117th Congress now in session.
‘Double decker’ trucks and trailers present tremendous transportation risks to both the horses on board and motorists sharing the state, federal and local roadways with them. Numerous crashes that have occurred along interstate highways have resulted in not only the deaths of the horses, but also innocent travelers. Even the U.S. Department of Agriculture has openly declared that these vehicles “do not provide adequate headroom for equines,” and that equines are far more likely to face injury in double-decker trailers than in one level trailers that can better transport them.
The Horse Transportation Safety Act is backed by nearly every major animal protection group in the country, including the Animal Welfare Institute, Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, the American Horse Protection Society, the Center for a Humane Economy, and the Horses for Life Foundation. Its leaders have a strong record in successfully advancing horse protection policies in the U.S. House with the passage of an $11 million wild horse spending amendment in 2020, and the passage of the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act in 2019. Reps. Cohen, Fitzpatrick, and Titus were also longtime cosponsors of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act that was signed into law in December and banned doping in Thoroughbred horseracing at tracks in the U.S.
Animal protection advocates should feel encouraged. Encouraged that in these trying times our country faces and amidst the violence, military presence, and political rhetoric that’s saturated Washington, D.C. in 2021, these Members of the House have been able to reach across the aisle and join together in pressing to effectuate change for the horses whose very backs this country was built upon.
The horses that have transported millions of Americans for centuries, themselves deserve to be transported in a humane manner while they continue to bring joy, emotional support, and economic benefits to horsemen and women across the nation, and Cohen, Fitzpatrick, Titus, and every Member of the House that co-sponsored the bill should be applauded for their persistence and dedication in helping the voiceless we care so deeply about.