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USDA Announces Rule to End Gruesome Practice of Horse Soring

From Amy Jones,
May 2024

Horse soring involves using chemicals and devices to inflict pain on horses to produce an exaggerated gait rewarded in some competitions - Tennessee Walking Horses.

Tennessee Walking Horse show

The US Department of Agriculture has published a final rule to end the controversial practice of horse soring at Tennessee walking horse shows, the agency has announced.

Horse soring involves using chemicals and devices to inflict pain on horses to force an exaggerated, high-stepping gait often called the ‘Big Lick’ during competitions and shows.

The new regulations, set to go into effect on February 1, 2025, will ban the use of devices and substances used in soring, such as chains that bang against a horse’s chemically burnt legs.

“For far too long, some within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry have sored and abused their horses, despite the industry’s inspection process and our own enforcement efforts,” said Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Under Secretary for USDA Marking and Regulatory Programs. “This abuse must stop.

“Eliminating this cruel practice will help protect horses competing in these shows and level the playing field for the industry,” she added.

tortured Horse
A horse can be left in his stall for days at a time, his legs covered in caustic chemicals and plastic wrap to "cook" the chemicals deep into his flesh.

Although the Horse Protection Act, which prohibits the practice of horse soring, was introduced in 1970, the abuse has continued rampantly due to ineffective self-policing systems by horse industry organizations.

For decades, horse advocates have campaigned against the cruel practice by demanding regulatory reform, however, these efforts have faced staunch opposition from the industry and lawmakers.

After a USDA rule to crack down on soring was nearly finalized in 2017 during Secretary Vilsack’s prior tenure at the department, it was subsequently withdrawn by the Trump administration.

Legislative efforts have also been hindered. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, first introduced in 2007, has been backed by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the American Horse Council, as well as strong bipartisan support. Despite passing the House of Representatives twice, it has failed to do the same in the Senate.

Separate undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States have led to the arrest and conviction of a prominent trainer for violations of the Horse Protection Act and other laws and revealed evidence that the legs of every Big Lick horse at another prize-winning stable were being sored using prohibited substances.

But those prosecutions were the rare exception to the rule of underenforcement due largely to weak regulations. USDA data indicates that horse soring has continued unabated in this faction of the industry. Most of the members of the Walking Horse Trainers Association board have faced citations for violating the Horse Protection Act.

The USDA’s new regulations are the most comprehensive upgrade to the Horse Protection Act (HPA) since it was passed in 1970, marking a tremendous victory for campaigners.

Under the updated rules, screenings, training, and authorized inspections will be the responsibility of the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), this will result in an inspection system that relies on veterinarians, veterinary technicians, or others employed by government agencies.

“Although the Horse Protection Act was signed into law 54 years ago to shield Tennessee walking horses and other gaited breeds from precisely this type of abuse, it continues unabated,” said Joanna Grossman, Ph.D., equine program director and senior policy advisor for the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI). “These regulations mark a new era for enforcement of the law and will better protect these gentle companions from pernicious and gruesome practices associated with soring.”

“Can you imagine inflicting such pain for a high-stepping ride around the ring for a blue ribbon? I can't, and neither could numerous equine and veterinary organizations and the lead sponsors of the PAST Act,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “At last, the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes a critical step to protect horses from these unimaginable cruelties and our society is all the better for it.”

Posted on May 21, 2024
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