Posted July 18, 2012
The Department of Agriculture has tightened its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act in an effort to stop the practice of soring.
As of July 9, the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service now requires the 12 horse industry organizations that license designated qualified persons who inspect horses to assess minimum penalties for soring. The practice of horse soring is used primarily in the training of Tennessee Walking Horses, racking horses, and related breeds to accentuate the horse’s gait. Soring usually involves irritating or blistering a horse’s forelegs with the use of chemicals or mechanical devices.
“Requiring minimum penalty protocols will ensure that these organizations and their designees remain consistent in their inspection efforts,” said the deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, Rebecca Blue.
Suspensions will be issued to anyone who shows, exhibits, sells, or transports a sored horse, among other things. The new rule also requires horse industry organizations to create an appeals process that must be approved by the USDA.
The final rule does not change the penalties. Rather, it requires APHIS-certified horse industry organizations to make their penalties equal to or more stringent than certain minimum levels. The penalties increase in severity for repeated offenders.
The regulatory change will also help ensure a level playing field for competitors at all horse shows. Previously, shows where horse industry organizations declined to issue sufficiently serious penalties attracted more competitors than shows where horse organizations have used APHIS’ minimum penalty protocols.
Designated qualified persons are trained and licensed by their organizations to inspect horses for evidence of soring or other noncompliance with the HPA at horse shows, exhibitions, and sales. The USDA certifies and monitors these inspection programs, although it has been limited by budget and manpower. For some 30 years, the USDA has encouraged self-regulation by allowing these persons to assess penalties for soring violations.
But a September 2010 Office of Inspector General audit found that APHIS’ program for allowing the industry to self-regulate has not been adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused. One recommendation in the audit report was for APHIS to develop and implement protocols to more consistently issue penalties for individuals who violate the act.
APHIS developed a minimum penalty protocol, and, in a proposed rule published in the Federal Register on May 27, 2011, proposed requirements to ensure that all horse industry organizations follow it. The rule received more than 28,000 comments before being finalized.