By MONA NAIR
6 News Reporter
MORRISTOWN (WATE) – Tennessee walking horses are at the center of a major debate on Capitol Hill.
A Kentucky congressman has proposed a bill making some major changes to how the horses are handled.
According to the president of the East Tennessee Walking Horse Association, Ken Estes, the bill would mean a hit of millions of dollars to the local agricultural economy.
He says most of the tools they use to get the horses to walk the way they do would be eliminated. Without their signature walk, the walking horse industry would be eliminated.
"I'm going to put a 6 inch chain on him. This is called an action device and the bill would eliminate it totally. It would eliminate any type of boot or action device," Estes said, as he put a small chain around the horses lower leg.
He also showed us how a heavier horse shoe used on the horses now, would be replaced with a much lighter one.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers played a story done by ABC's Nightline in May 2012. It features a Humane Society expose that shows the animals being tortured to walk the way they do.
The proposed bill was a response to that publicity.
"The Humane Society has used us as a fundraiser to get people to send in money. They have made a whipping boy out of us, so to speak," Estes explained.
He worries that misconceptions about what they do could end a million dollar industry.
"Well most of the horses that people pay millions of dollars for, when they take their equipment off, they are worthless. They become just a horse and they drop in value to $300-400," he said.
"It's just money. When you hurt an animal, it has feelings too," said Stacy Jordan with the Hamblen County Humane Society. The Humane Society of the United States has come out saying the ones who oppose the legislation are the ones making money from the abuse.
Estes says that for an 1,100lb horse, chains and heavy shoes don't qualify as abuse.
He worries that misconceptions about what they do could now end a $1 million industry.
"I can't imagine the financial repercussions of this to the horse industry in the area," Estes said.
The bill would also increase the number of inspections by the USDA.
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