Court Ruling Underscores Need for Action to End Horse Soring

By on February 24, 2015 with 15 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit struck down a U.S. Department of Agriculture regulation requiring private, industry-appointed inspectors to impose mandatory minimum penalties on participants caught “soring” – the practice of deliberately injuring a horse’s legs and hooves to force the horse to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait highly prized in the show ring. The HSUS shined a spotlight on this sickening cruelty with our release in 2012 of undercover footage documenting Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell and his stable hands soring, beating, and shocking horses. McConnell was torturing horses even while he was on federal disqualification for prior illegal conduct.

The court’s ruling leaves no question that federal legislation is essential if we are to end the barbaric practice of soring, but it also makes plain the pressing need for the USDA to overhaul its antiquated and ineffectual regulatory program under the Horse Protection Act (HPA).

Congress passed the HPA in 1970 to bring an end to soring and charged the USDA with enforcing the Act, which was amended in 1976. But the Tennessee walking horse industry has defied the law for more than four decades, thumbing its nose time and again at the USDA’s weak enforcement program. The recent court ruling made clear that the HPA authorizes the USDA to (1) set qualifications for inspectors appointed by horse shows, and (2) enforce the HPA itself. But it also held that the USDA is not authorized to set standards for how private inspectors assess penalties, or presumably for any other aspect of how these private inspections are conducted. The ruling not only scuttles the USDA’s recent attempt to require these anemic private inspection programs to impose meaningful penalties, it also calls into question the legality of the entire Horse Industry Organization program, which the USDA has created to administer the private inspection scheme, and which has been at the very root of the atrocious track record of self-policing in this industry.

In short, the ruling makes clear what we have been saying for years – the entire private Horse Industry Organization inspection and enforcement scheme instituted by the USDA is a sham. HIOs are themselves typically run by members of the “big lick” segment of the walking horse industry, where most soring violations occur. And the industry has demonstrated it will only stop its conduct when the law comes down on them like a ton of bricks. Its scofflaw behavior has been unhindered even with the national spotlight trained on its abusive conduct.

While the USDA still has the authority to issue stronger regulations to prevent soring and enforce the HPA, the Fifth Circuit ruling underscores why Congress must enact legislation amending the existing federal law. Along with a strong nationwide coalition of horse industry, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations, we urge passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act upon its reintroduction. The PAST Act will amend the existing federal law to eliminate the Tennessee walking horse industry’s failed system of self regulation, strengthen penalties against soring violators, and ban action devices such as pads and chains that are integral to soring practices.

In the meantime, it is absolutely critical that the USDA move on its own to eliminate the ineffectual HIO program once and for all, and replace it with a vigorous new set of USDA-mandated standards for individuals to qualify as inspectors, as well as a system to make sure the USDA follows up on those inspections and takes effective enforcement action, with strong penalties that actually deter habitual abusers of walking horses.

Just like we need laws to stop dogfighting and cockfighting, we need laws to stop the criminals involved in the organized crime of horse soring. And we need proper enforcement of those laws by the primary federal agency charged with oversight in this case.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sandy Cooper says:

    It is worthwhile to try to get the Justice Dept. to enforce the HPA? They might be better at it than the USDA. The FBI announcement that animal abuse would be treated as a felony, the congressional statement in the HPA that soring is abuse, the option of prison time as a penalty, and the section of the HPA that says notice of violations be sent to the US Attorney would seem to form a basis for a different form of enforcement that would be more effective.

  2. Robynne Catheron says:

    Do we know yet if the PAST Act will be reintroduced? I hope and pray it will, but I haven’t heard a single peep.

  3. Anthony Torres says:

    It is amazing how a supposedly civilized nation, we perform such cruel and unnecessary harm to these poor animals. The defense is that the horses are treated very well because they are performing animals,in a so call sport that you have to be very rich to even be involved, where their owners probably don’t even personally care for them. When there is no connection or just barely,the act of “soaring” does not affect the owners,as long as the animal does what they ask of it. Somebody should “soar” them and see if they enjoy it.

    • Jane D. says:

      So how do these scars come about if not by soring? Chains do not leave “callouses” or “rough up the skin” unless that skin is already irritated by chemicals such as kerosene, diesel, GoJo, Dawn, etc.

      The Sore Big Lick is a manufactured crab walk that is of pure agony to the horse. The Sore Big Lick is a dead gait “walking” and the sore Licker world is becoming a very small world indeed. I’m curious as to how many Sore Licker “riders” will still want to mount an abused and tortured horse with felony horse abuse charges with the FBI start in 2016?

      Those of us who are for a sound Walking horse will continue to put pressure where it counts, your pocket books. How many vendors and sponsors will want to be associated with horse cruelty? In this day of social media, there are no places to hide and the torturing of these incredible horses will be put into the light of day.

    • Dr. Rebecca Gimenez says:

      Thank you for continuing to cover accurately the abuses and soring of the so-called Tennessee Walking Horse show industry in the big lick shows, especially the so called “Celebration.”
      I personally used to show my natural BAREFOOT walking horses – but when I realized that I had to go through DQPs (with barefoot horses!) and all that ridiculously necessary level of inspection because of the BIG LICK people making such a horrific life for their horses – I lost interest and now I only trail ride my beautiful horses. (And I joined the NWHA and other similar organizations that stood up to soring and abuse, and stopped paying fees to TWHBEA and other organizations that were tacitly allowing it to continue. Take away the money in the shows and breeding fees and that will kill the industry, we thought. )
      Turns out that even after all these years since the HPA – that there are a certain number of people out there that continue to sore, abuse, and show these big lick horses. Keep the pressure ON and let’s get the PAST act through and SHUT DOWN Big Lick Wallking Horses forever.
      Don’t try to play by their rules – they have shown us for 40+ years that they cannot self-police or prevent soring in their horses. It’s all on video with numerous people (who are probably scared to show the truth because they are bullied by these people) but I have seen it with my own eyes and am willing to testify to what I saw at shows and barns over many years and late night shows.
      Keep the pressure on this horrific sadistic industry and bring back our NATURALLY GAITED HORSES!
      Dr. Rebecca Gimenez
      Macon, GA

    • Dr. Rebecca Gimenez says:

      There is nothing subjective about it – unless you are trying to show horses that are being sored.
      Thank you for your comments but I cannot agree with them as I have watched this rediculous dance with stupidity in the walking horse industry for over 20 years. It is REPREHENSIBLE what these people do to horses, and what they will do for a ribbon and a breeding fee.

  4. Cynthia Lansing says:

    The big lick people don’t get it. They don’t get it that the public is horrified that they have a “scar rule” & want to know WHY the horses are scarred in the first place so as to need a “scar rule.” The big lick people want to argue about a “scar rule.” The public wants to know why there are scars.

  5. Laura Ousley says:

    The PAST act is not a scam. It would make the laws stronger to protect the horses from soring. Please do not believe the lies spread by people who claim that the Humane Society has an “agenda”. The AAEP, AHC and every single other reputable equine organization agree that the only way to achieve the big lick is to sore the horse. This is fact, and if you hear anyone claiming that it is nothing but a scam, please remember that the Humane Society is one organization among many.

  6. Virginia Spivak says:

    All forms of SORRING must stop & be against the law. It is inhumane to cause extreme pain & suffering to an innocent horse until it cannot stand anymore & lays down to die in excruciating pain. These horses die at the hands of brutal selfish greedy humans that cause the intolerable pain to their legs & hoofs as well as the harnesses in their mouth forcing their head up high . It is disgusting deplorable & evil. This inhumane practice for dishonest gain at the cost of extensive induced suffering is more then abuse it’s torture. Please put an end to the torture of our innocent beautiful sensitive horses who love us unconditionally….

  7. Martha Ford says:

    This is an absolute abomination, When God gave us dominion over the animals, it was to entrust us with their care. This very cruel and very selfish act done to horses is intolerable. So all of you who are making money and cause terrible suffering with this practice, shame of you. I wonder how you would feel if someone abused you for their own personal gain. I don’t think you would like it very much, although it would be well-deserved. SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. Keni says:

    Most people are against abuse to animals and people, but they just do not take action. There are only a few who really take action on issues of abuse. Making an animal suffer to gain anything is UNETHICAL. I stand for all the people who do not take action but are against this primitive practice. STOP THE ABUSE NOW!!!

  9. Dr. Rebecca Gimenez says:

    Horse abuse in walking horses is obvious to anyone that watches what is done to these animals. Behind the barns. In the cross ties. In the horse trailers.
    In fact – perhaps you would like to have someone do those things to you and then we can better discuss whether it truly is abusive to have to walk around on “high heels” all day – especially ones that are very heavy – and stand in a stall most of the day except when you are worked – and then have caustic chemicals soaked into your skin – and maybe drive a nail into or under your toenails for some extra high stepping action? Wow – I bet that would change your mind.
    IN PERSON OBSERVATION doesn’t lie – and I don’t need to lie because I have seen it with my own eyes on numerous occasions – and it made me sick to think that these wonderfully tolerant creatures had to deal with it because a few people wish to have a chance to win a ribbon or a breeding fee and you cannot win in a class except for doing these cruelties. I have had several people explain to me how they do it – and how they try to hide what they do. They all know in their hearts it is horrific – anything for money and a ribbon.
    We ARE the horse industry too – and we are trying to get everyone to clean up their act… from QH to racing to show horses. These animals are beautiful ON THEIR OWN – they don’t need the addition of action devices to make them fantastic. Except to people that don’t get it that we want these animals to be shown without action devices, chemicals, big lick shoes, and all the other horrific “training” practices that big lickers use instead of learning some horsemanship.
    Thank you for your comments – but I cannot agree with your assessment that there is dishonesty in the effort to get the PAST act PASSED.

  10. Vaishali Honawar says:

    Hello, I am the blog editor of A Humane Nation. Some comments have been removed from this post because they were inappropriate and in violation of the commenting policy. Please read the commenting policy before leaving a comment. Thanks.

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