HOFFMAN — A lifelong love of horses and a desire to protect them from cruelty brought Mikal Spooner and her daughter, Aerial, from Richmond County to Capitol Hill.
The Spooners took part in the Walk on Washington, held June 18 at Union Square, the park near the reflecting pool in front of the United States Capitol. Equestrians and their horses rode through the park in support of a bill to strengthen bans on the practice of soring — using chemicals, pads and chains on a horse’s ankle to make it walk with a higher step.
“Walking horses have a beautiful natural gait that doesn’t need to be enhanced by chemical or mechanical means,” said Mikal Spooner. “They’re already beautiful.”
The PAST Act, which derives its name from the acronym Prevent All Soring Tactics, is a proposed amendment to the Horse Protection Act passed more than 40 years ago.
The bill, which is designated H.R. 1518, remains stalled in a U.S. House committee since it was introduced last April. It seeks to protect three walking-horse breeds — Tennessee walking, racking and spotted saddle horses — and is supported by the Humane Society of the United States.
The Spooner family has a long equestrian history and has kept gaited horses in Hoffman for six generations.
“My grandfather was in communications with the Army, and my grandmother’s family traded horses in Texas,” Spooner said. “Through that line, it came through my mom to me and then my daughter.”
The Spooners, along with Mikal’s sister, Morgan Applewhite, and mother Patricia Comninaki, brought two of their prized ponies with them to the nation’s capital — Allen All Around, an 18-time national grand champion Tennessee walking horse, and Allen’s Beowolf, a 12-time national grand champion who’s undefeated the last six years straight.
The act of soring has been illegal for more than 40 years under the Horse Protection Act, but the Spooners say the problem is that those inside the industry are allowed to police themselves.
“The people that determine whether or not soring is taking place are inspectors that are hired by the shows where the owners are abusing the horse with the soring practice,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, who is sponsoring the bill designed to end the practice of soring.
“The self-regulation in the industry is like the fox watching the henhouse, and it doesn’t work,” added Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States.
Amending the Horse Protection Act would designate additional unlawful acts, strengthen penalties for violations and increase U.S. Department of Agriculture enforcement. Supporters say the bill has bipartisan support but is stuck in committee because some lawmakers believe it would cost jobs and hurt the competitive walking-horse industry.
“I don’t think there’s any question — it’s a good bill; it’s a reasonable bill,” Whitfield said. “We’re frustrated right now because when you have that kind of support and that many organizations supporting you, normally you could get the bill to the floor. We will continue our efforts to make sure we can pass this legislation.”
The Spooners made sure to show their support in D.C. for their four-legged friends by riding horseback through Union Square.
“We’ve got to stop the practice of soring,” Spooner said. “It got to the point where you’d go to shows and see blood running down the horses’ legs. This is enacted to stop that. Tennessee walking horses are known for their gentle disposition and because they’re so sweet, they put up with it.”
Reach reporter Matt Harrelson at 910-817-2674.