USDA proposes new rule to crack down on soring

AVMA, AAEP input apparent in regulations
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The Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service announced proposed changes July 26 to strengthen enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. The goal is to end soring—the deliberate infliction of pain to exaggerate the gait of horses, thereby gaining an unfair advantage in the show ring—by placing USDA APHIS in charge of enforcing the law. The changes would also eliminate action devices, pads, and foreign substances that may be used to sore horses but are not currently prohibited. The AVMA and American Association of Equine Practitioners have previously called for these two actions.

The HPA, a federal law passed in 1970, prohibits horses subjected to soring from participating in shows, sales, exhibitions, or auctions. The HPA also prohibits drivers from transporting sored horses to or from any of these events. APHIS works with the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, and Spotted Saddle Horse industries to protect against such abuse and to ensure that only sound and healthy horses participate in shows.

Dutch, a Tennessee Walking Horse rescued from the New Holland Auction while still wearing stacked shoes, with pasterns scarred by chronic soring abuse (Courtesy of HSUS)

“The phrase ‘enough already!’ comes to mind when I think about the appalling and needless torture these magnificent animals have endured for decades,” said Dr. Ron DeHaven, outgoing AVMA CEO. “I am proud of the proactive stance taken by APHIS to publish this proposed rule. Now we need to do our part and rally our members to speak out in support of the rule change that could finally put a stop to this cruel and inhumane practice. We have the ability to make a difference.”

Currently, horse show managers can voluntarily hire USDA-trained lay inspectors, known as designated qualified persons, chosen by certain horse industry organizations. The USDA also has its own veterinary medical officers who perform inspections at some venues, but they attend fewer than half of these events.

At the same time, the USDA’s 2015 inspection results showed that the lay inspectors with ties to horse industry organizations found only 35 violations in horses randomly selected from entrants in the 2015 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration—the biggest event for Tennessee Walking Horses. USDA inspectors also attended the event and could pull horses for second inspections. In doing so, they identified 226 more violations, showing one example of the discrepancies between the way lay and USDA inspectors operate. Further, all but one of the 261 total violations identified at the 2015 Celebration were in horses with pads.

The 75th Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Aug. 29, 2013, in Shelbyville (Courtesy of HSUS)

The proposed rule would make two substantial changes:

  • The USDA would train, license, and screen all horse inspectors. Currently, horse industry organizations handle these responsibilities, but in a 2010 audit, the Office of Inspector General stated this regulatory structure is ineffective because many industry-trained inspectors have conflicts of interest. Under the proposed rule, inspectors would be independent veterinarians or veterinary technicians who are licensed by the USDA and have no affiliation with any horse industry organizations. The USDA would oversee this new group of inspectors.
  • The USDA would prohibit the use of all action devices, pads, and foreign substances that may be used to sore horses. Action devices include boots, collars, chains, and rollers that are placed on a horse’s lower leg to accentuate the animal’s gait. Pads (or weights) are often stacked and inserted between the hoof and shoe and then tightened into place with metal bands around the hoof. With respect to foreign substances, the regulations currently prohibit the application of chemical irritants such as mustard oil, diesel fuel, and kerosene to a horse’s legs, while at certain times allowing the use of lubricants provided by show management. The proposed rule seeks to prohibit all foreign substances, including lubricants.

The proposed rule was published in the July 26 Federal Register. To view the proposal and a summary of the major provisions as well as submit comments, go here. Consideration will be given to comments received on or before Sept. 26.

Soring can cause a horse to adapt a “standing in a bucket” stance or develop laminitis, among other long-lasting effects. (Courtesy of USDA)

Additionally, APHIS is announcing five public meetings to seek additional comments and feedback. One will be a call-in, virtual public meeting at 5 p.m. EDT Sept. 15 for which people can registerat hearing. Registrants will receive an email containing dial-in numbers and a personalized access code.

The proposed regulatory changes largely follow language the AVMA and AAEP jointly submitted to the USDA. The AVMA had sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget within the Executive Office earlier this year urging quick review of a proposed rule to enhance the Horse Protection Act.

In addition, Dr. Cia Johnson, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, gave a congressional briefing on soring this past April. Dr. Johnson said the industry self-policing mechanism was rife with conflicts of interest and “virtually ensures the continuation of soring cruelty in these three main breeds.” She described the impact of soring on horses, which includes causing a horse to adapt a “standing in a bucket” stance and to develop laminitis, among other long-lasting effects.

The Humane Society of the United States conducted an undercover investigation in 2015 that documented trainers and grooms at ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, soring Tennessee Walking Horses that were slated to compete in that year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. A video from the investigation, available at, shows a horse being kicked while lying down. “Those vocalizations you should never hear from a horse,” Dr. Johnson remarked of the video. “That horse is in extreme discomfort.”

For more information about soring and the AVMA and American Association of Equine Practitioners’ efforts to eliminate the practice, click here.

Related JAVMA content:

AVMA gives testimony at hearing on soring (Dec. 15, 2013)

Change hard to come by (Feb. 15, 2013)

Action against soring intensifies (Nov. 1, 2012)

AVMA, AAEP call for ban on soring devices, methods (Aug. 1, 2012)

High time for change (March 15, 2012)