Congressman Staggers, a former tournament rider himself, often supported animal protection legislation, including bills which dealt with inhumane practices in horse showing contests. Congressman Staggers had the opportunity to give his input to several legislative proposals seeking to protect horses in his role as Chairman of the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee which oversaw national sporting associations.
In 1975, Senator John Tunney of California introduced amendments to strengthen the Horse Protection Act of 1970, especially in regards to banning the practice of “soring” in which devices or chemicals are applied to a horse’s front hooves in order to increase their sensitivity or to cause pain which leads the horse to lift their front legs higher and faster. After the Senate passed its version of the bill in the fall of 1975, the House assigned the legislation to the Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee. Congressman Staggers supported the legislation throughout the committee hearing process and brought it to the floor for a vote on June 21, 1976. Three days later, the Senate agreed to the House-approved bill and it was signed into law by President Gerald Ford on July 13, 1976.
Despite the intentions of the legislation, critics of the bill and the practices used in horse showing organizations believed the measure fell short of mandating the necessary regulation and oversight to prevent soring. In his statement at the signing of the bill, President Ford stated “until the management of public horse shows and sales assumes – or is forced by law to assume – the responsibility of ensuring that these cruelties are not being practiced upon those horses taking part in their sponsored events, real reform will not be assured.” The issue continues to be a problem in horse showing contests today, with U.S. Department of Agriculture regulators finding high percentages of show horses having traces of chemicals or banned devices on their hooves.
Though the campaign against soring continues over 40 years later, the American Horse Protection Association (founded in 1966 to protect horses in various sporting organizations) recognized the 1976 amendments as progress to enhancing federal regulation of the showing industry. Congressman Staggers received his award from Lorne Greene on December 8, 1976.
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