The Modern Equine Vet
May 2024
Vol 14 Issue 5 2024
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News Notes

USDA, APHIS Crack Down on Soring Loopholes
Final rule goes into effect Feb. 1, 2025

By Marie Rosenthal MS

The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) strengthened Horse Protection Act regulations, which they hope will put an end to horse soring at Tennessee Walking Horse shows. The new rule goes into effect Feb. 1, 2025.

“This is the beginning of a new era for horse health and welfare in the United States,” said Katie Garrett, DVM, DACVS, the president of AAEP. “The AAEP is grateful for the perseverance of the many individuals and organizations who tirelessly advocated for stronger protections.”

Although soring has been illegal for more than 50 years, the practice continued because some owners and trainers believe it makes horses more successful in walking horse competitions. The naturally high gait of a walking horse is exaggerated by cruel and inhumane training methods to give them an unfair advantage in competitions and fraudulent purchase prices at horse shows.

These methods cause the horse to suffer physical pain, distress, inflammation or lameness while walking and moving. They include applying caustic chemicals to the hair and skin of the legs, covering them in plastic and allowing the chemical to “cook” the skin; “rolling the sole”—grinding the sole of the hoof or shortening the hoof walk and making it harder to balance—and inserting hard objects the shoe or pad and the sole, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

These practices are commonly used on Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking horses and Spotted Saddle horses.

“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, the 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. The independent inspection process should strengthen the competition at these shows and benefit the many owners and trainers who do right by their animals.”

The stronger regulations include:

  • Eliminating industry self-regulation and the role of industry-backed Designated Qualified Persons as inspectors at horse shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions. Only APHIS inspectors and independent non-APHIS-employed horse protection inspectors screened, trained and authorized by APHIS will have inspection authority.
  • Prohibiting any device, method, practice or substance applied to a horse that can cause or is associated with soring.
  • Prohibiting on Tennessee Walking or racking horses all “action devices” and non-therapeutic pads, artificial toe extensions and wedges, as well as all substances on the extremities above the hoof, including lubricants.
  • •Removing the scar rule from the regulations and replacing it with a more accurate description of visible dermatological changes indicative of soring.
  • •Amending recordkeeping and reporting requirements for management at covered events to better enforce the HPA.

In 2017, APHIS withdrew the initial Horse Protection Act final rule from public inspection per a memorandum issued by the Executive Office of President Trump. The new rule builds upon information the agency learned since the 2017 rule was drafted. Notably, it incorporates lessons and science-based recommendations from the 2021 National Academies of Science review of the inspection program.

Both the AVMA and the AAEP praised the legislation.

“Ending the cruel and inhumane act of horse soring is long overdue and the strengthened regulations announced by the USDA will help end this needless suffering of horses by providing more enforcement mechanisms to maintain horse welfare,” said Rena Carlson, DVM, the AVMA President. “Culminating years of sustained advocacy by the AVMA and AAEP to end horse soring, we thank the USDA for recognizing this need for greater protection and look forward to working with them as this new rule is implemented.”

The Horse Protection Act is a Federal law that prohibits sored horses from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions. The Horse Protection Act also prohibits the transportation of sored horses to or from any of these events.

A copy of this rule is available, and the rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks.

“There are few wins for animals as bittersweet as this one. Our work to end this abject cruelty is a testament to never giving up on ending horse soring, an egregious practice that has gone unabated for far too long. 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, chief government relationships officer at the Humane Society. She said the new rule has bipartisan support. MeV

For more information:

Learn more about the inhuman soring practices: https://www.avma.org/sites/default/files/resources/soring_horses_bgnd.pdf

A copy of the rule is available here: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/sites/default/files/horse-protection-amendments-rule.pdf

Soring includes the practice of applying caustic chemicals to the hair and skin of the legs, covering them in plastic and allowing the chemical to “cook” the skin.
Images courtesey of The Humane Society

Watch the video here.