Federal government says ‘enough’ when it comes to horse soring abuses

By on July 26, 2016 with 74 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

No one should get away with animal cruelty. Not an individual and not an industry. But that’s what’s been happening with scofflaw owners and trainers within a segment of the Tennessee walking horse show industry.

This week, we applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing a proposed rule, fulfilling a number of the requests in a February 2015 rulemaking petition filed by attorneys for The HSUS with pro bono help from Latham & Watkins. The proposed rule contains game-changing reforms to end the half-century-long battle against the soring of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses and related breeds – a vile practice in which caustic chemicals, chains, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques are used to injure the horses’ front legs and hooves and force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.” This sort of calculated, appalling cruelty should never be tolerated.

Since 1970, a federal law intended by Congress to end soring – the Horse Protection Act (HPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1821 et seq. – has been on the books. The USDA was charged with enforcing the law, but due to underfunding and political interference from those defending the horse sorers, for most of the past 40 years the very segment of the show horse world that created the soring problem has been allowed to police itself and perpetuate the rampant abuse.

Mainstream horse industry groups and veterinary organizations such as the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and American Veterinary Medical Association have tried to work with and encourage the walking horse crowd to bring about change from within – but more than a few stubborn horse owners and trainers continue to think they are above the law. Humane groups have lobbied the USDA for stronger enforcement, supported its efforts, and even sued the agency in an attempt to secure long overdue protections for the stoic, majestic equine victims of a culture of abuse as seedy and dark as the nation’s worst cockfighting and dogfighting rings. The HSUS has conducted undercover investigations of leading horse training establishments, exposed the corruption and cruelty within the industry, and demonstrated that – as the USDA’s own Inspector General determined in a 2010 audit of the Horse Protection program – the current system is still hopelessly broken, and nothing short of significant reforms will fulfill the intent of Congress and break the cycle of cruelty that is so endemic to the big lick walking horse circuit.

Soring is a vile practice in which caustic chemicals, chains, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques are used to injure the horses’ front legs and hooves and force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.”

Soring is a vile practice in which caustic chemicals, chains, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques are used to injure the horses’ front legs and hooves and force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.” Photo by The HSUS

In recent years, Congress has attempted to close loopholes in enforcement of the HPA through federal legislation. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.3268/S.1121, has garnered vast, nearly unprecedented endorsements by virtually all sectors of the horse industry, veterinary community, animal protection movement, law enforcement, key individuals in the walking horse show world, and a broad bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate with 314 cosponsors combined currently. But a handful of obstructionist federal legislators aligned with the soring crowd have thus far managed to block this broadly supported bill from coming to a vote. No longer can a handful of lawmakers stymie the will of the vast majority of key stakeholders and Americans.

The USDA has the authority under current law to strengthen its own HPA regulations to more effectively crack down on soring. The lead House and Senate sponsors of the PAST Act and 175 cosponsors sent letters this spring calling on the administration to move forward quickly with this rulemaking and ensure that it covers the key reforms. The agency has agreed, recognizing that these changes are necessary in order to effectuate the purposes of the HPA, and has put forth for public comment a robust set of regulatory changes in this proposed new rule, including the following:

  • Abolishing the current system of industry self-regulation and in its place implementing a network of independent, third-party inspectors licensed, trained, and overseen by the USDA, at no new cost to the taxpayer
  • Prohibiting the use of stacked horse shoes, ankle chains, and other “action devices” at competitions, on horses in the Tennessee walking, racking, and related breeds (those that have been chronic victims of soring).

These provisions, consistent with key elements of the PAST Act, The HSUS’ 2015 petition and the congressional letters, should finally help bring an end to soring and salvage the walking horse industry, securing its place in the humane economy of the 21st century and beyond. It’s time for equestrians, animal lovers, and humane-minded people across America to step up and show their support for this proposed rule during the public comment period which ends September 26th. We should show a zero tolerance policy as a nation for this intentional cruelty to horses – especially when the goal of the sorers is nothing but a few ribbons at horse shows and notoriety within their small, insular subculture.

Urge the USDA to strengthen regulations against horse soring »

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. jan horton says:

    Strengthen regulations hell! MAKE IT TOTALLY ILLEGAL! Why do we feel as humans that we can maim and torture animals for our own pleasure & entertainment? Disgusting & sinful.

    • Ellen says:


      • Connie T. says:

        We need to vote these elected officials who are sociopaths and condone animal cruelty out of office! They should be in jail for enabling the Larry Wheelon’s and Thor Sports, etc. Just beyond outraged.

    • Page Hodson says:

      Beyond belief that soring has been legal for this long in America!! If we don’t care for the voiceless, how can we ever suppose that we are a moral country??

    • Stacy says:

      Please! These horses eat better and have better housing than most American children. I am a horse owner myself but am outraged at crazy animal lovers that have no regards to the human race. Fight for the voiceless children! Do you fight for the poor bovines dehorned or the kitty cat with his claws removed? Quit wasting taxpayers money!!!

      • heather kim says:

        your logic is that if you do not help everyone you cannot help anyone?

        It makes all the difference in the world to each creature being helped.
        We should also fight for the bovines dehorned and the kittens being declawed. yes, we should fight for all of them.

    • CJK says:

      When it comes down to it … it’s all about the money!

  2. Joy Leverton says:

    Please push forward the strengthening of rules to end the practice of soring and removal of self policing of the rules by the very group who intentionally practice soring.
    Please start prosecuting those who blatantly break the rules with more than a “slap on the wrist”..

  3. Carole Iverson says:

    Please let’s finally put an end to this horrific torturous practice!!! These monsters should be jailed!

  4. DebbieTrojahn says:

    Let’s ask anyone who promotes this cruel act to try it on themselves.

  5. Nancy Turner says:

    Soring is an unthinkable practice and I am grateful to your organization for your efforts. I am joining the campaign to influence the USDA to strengthen regulations.

  6. Heather says:

    The horrible practice of soring needs to stop. It is cruel and inhumane. It has no purpose for horse.

  7. annie jacobs says:

    These unthinkable practises are all to stroke someone or some organizations vanity and pocket book. No thought to the horrific pain, fear, and alienation at the hands of humans who are supposed to be companions and caregivers. i have dealt wih the TWH Asso. as a gaited horse owner. these practses are hiddenin all gaited arenas that competitively show for pofit.
    Bottom line; a gaited horse is born with a nayural beautiful gait not to be altered according to human fancy.
    i had the pleasure andheart break of retraining one of these abused creatures several years ago. A beautiful littole Rocky Mt. Horse, whobt the age 5 was cast out because he blew us in the ring on day because of the unbearable pain and suffering he had to withstand. He beccame a lovely horse to ride but the pschological damage never completely healed.

    Annie – deputy district leader HSUS

    • Ellen says:

      Awesome, articulate response to a cruel, inhumane, disgusting manipulation of an extraordinarily beautiful animal.

  8. Susan Fanelli says:

    I’m worried still about the verbiage. “..any Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, or related breed that performs with an accentuated gait…” That doesn’t discount saddlebreds, morgans, arabs… all of whom show with pads, wedges and bands. I don’t know how to make it better, but I’m betting that the eviltrainers grab that and run with it. Perhaps making the prohibition specific to gaited breeds would be clearer.

    • Kelly says:

      Saddlebred’s,Morgan’s,Arabians,NSH etc. are ALL highly regulated by the USEF with shoe restrictions,hoof length restrictions,pad & wedge pad restrictions,shoe weight restrictions as well as bit restrictions. Tennessee Walking Horses are NOT and have never regulated or sanctioned by the USEF.

      • Sue Fanelli says:

        The USEF is a CLUB. It does not usurp federal regulation, which, if passed, is what this rule becomes. It doesn’t matter WHAT USEF says. Someone will construe the rule to include other breeds. The verbiage needs to be tweaked to be clearer.

  9. Cheryl O'Neill says:

    Soring needs to be stoped. Injuring the horses legs is wrong. Some people just don’t take the pain of the animal into account.

  10. Raye Lynn Morris says:

    Thank goodness!!! Hopefully this nasty, horrible practice will come to an end. What does it say about us as a society to allow such a painful practice to exist. There is no room for this in our world. Hopefully those who are involved with this despicable behavior are appropriately dealt with. It would be a shame if they aren’t as they are arrogant people who think they are above the law. Hopefully they will never own an animal ever!! Also perhaps these suffering animals will be in a new loving home. Thank you for your hard work

  11. sue says:

    We need to outlaw horse racing

  12. Rita Horiguchi says:

    Thank goodness! And let’s move even further to make spring absolutely illegal!

  13. Karen says:

    The breed has suffered both abuse and neglect at the hands of the breed association leadership. TWHBEA has had 40+ years to steer the breed toward sound pursuits and to develop new markets. Instead, they have fought tooth & nail to preserve the Big Lick as the trademark and highest achievement possible for walking horses. They have appointed known HPA violators to leadership positions and ousted anyone who suggested that the breed might have a better future without the Big Lick. The “sound horse warriors” have already begun to explore taking the breed in a different direction, but just imagine where the breed could be today if, 40 yrs ago, the leaders had been dedicated to the true welfare of the horses in their care.

  14. Susan Trout says:

    Take a real good look at the horse in the picture. Does this look like a naturally-moving animal? Who in their right mind would put platform shoes on a horse and encourage him to move like a Nazi on steroids? It’s so ridiculous I can’t even stand it! Yes, there are many, many atrocious and exploitive practices done to horses and other animals in the name of sport and entertainment, but no true horse person could ever look at the “big lick” classes and find them exciting or entertaining. I’m sure these poor creatures suffer all manner of lameness as they age. What is wrong with the human mind that thinks this is acceptable? And to deliberately cause pain using horrific substances and contraptions makes it even more detestable.

    I’ve never seen a bit shank as long as the one in this horse’s mouth. What is she trying to do? Cue the horse or catch a fish. It’s almost as long as a fishing rod for god’s sake. Tennessee Walking Horses are beautiful, naturally-gaited horses with gentle, intelligent dispositions. Turning them into side show freaks speaks volumes for the mindset of this sector of the horse community. Best way to stop this is to SHUN SHOWS THAT HAVE BIG LICK CLASSES! When the interest and demand dry up, the abuse will disappear. It is appalling that we should witness such mindless cruelty in the 21st century.

  15. Abbie says:

    I encourage the USDA to strengthen the regulations on soring. Eliminate the padded shoes, chains, action devices, and chemical use. Eliminate the big lick! Please, please, for the sake of these horses, eliminate the big lick. Strengthen the regulations!

  16. nancy morgan reed says:

    Its been so long in coming. Money has too long been the voice of that industry; now the voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse MUST be heard. The cruelty to and the permanent disfigurement of these naturally beautiful horses must stop now.

  17. Donna Sheldon says:

    Just this past year a notorious trainer in East Tennessee got off from prosecution because of a “technicality”. The horse owners couldn’t find understand what the problem was ,the horses were sent back to this monster.

  18. Nicki Nickerson says:

    put an end to this cruel practice. its so sad that big lick horses are so celebrated….for what ??? perhaps we should celebrate them by freeing them back to natural movement and an end to the torture for the desires of humans who have no issue inflicting pain and discomfort to get their desired results, their prizes, their applause. such a selfish industry. END the suffering Now and make it illegal

  19. Sherry Laughhunn says:

    This needs to stop yesterday!! Pure abuse! These people need to wear the chains and shoes for a week and see if that doesn’t move them to show compassion! Gaited horses move beautifully without all the barbaric practices. You should all be ashamed of yourselves!

  20. Wendy Walker says:

    It needs to end! Stop these inhumane practices!

  21. Marylouise Weller says:

    Soring is abuse and must stop!!!!

  22. Judye822 says:

    Finally, we seem to be close to ending the barbaric practice of soring. It has NO place in America! Thank you USDA and HSUS and all others who help to banish it!

  23. Sydney Bullard says:

    This type of behavior is truly unimaginable in today’s society. Finding pleasure in watching an animal suffer is not acceptable, and to be condoned, is outrageous. Subhuman behavior. Get it stopped.

  24. Jean Simonsen says:

    Soring must be stopped. It is so unfair to these horses to suffer so badly. The Big Lick has to be stopped. Isn’t it time to help these poor animals.

  25. Laura Mashall says:

    Thank God – this is LONG overdue. We must end the abuse of these beautiful creatures. I volunteered at Omega Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation and had a minor role in caring for a delightful horse who had been horribly abused as a Tennessee Walking Horse show horse. It took months of loving care to heal Dutch’s physical wounds, and even longer to start healing his fear of being hurt again. It was a thrilling day when he was able to canter at liberty in his pasture, and even a more special day when he allowed me to walk up and touch his velvety soft nose!

  26. Ginine says:

    Instead of strengthing rules ban this barbaric abuse.

  27. Lisa Hebert says:

    This is an atrocitie, to cause major pain to a horse to make him walk in a way he wasn’t designed to do. It is all human greed done for human enjoyment they are no better that those that fight dogs for enjoyment

  28. Stacey says:

    So shameful to make these horses suffer just so they walk in an exaggerated way that, for some reason, pleases their horrible owners. Make it stop.

  29. Nancy says:

    If they only ban it at the shows, they will still do it at home and even make it worse for the horses because they still want the big lick. It must be also banned from use by owners, trainers, breeders, groomers, handlers, at any facility including wherever any horse is stabled and in the show ring.

    These people will come up with even more cruel things like sticking nails or other objects inside the foot from the bottom. That also needs to be included.

    There should be a rule that anyone showing in competition at at least one show in a given show season, including breeding barns, training facilities, owners, handlers, riders, etc. Must allow inspection of their facilities at any time, to inspect the horses at that facility. If they don t have anything to hide, they won’t care.

    Those that still want to win may put the blocks and chains and sore at home, right up to the day of the show. The horse will still pick up its feet in the day of the show. If they are not allowed to train with the objects, then eventually the horses will return to normal gaits, with just the natural gaits of the breed.

  30. Paula Wehde says:

    I strongly encourage the USDA to advocate for the Walking horses. The use of chains, stacked pads, and horrific chemical abuse must end. These horses have been silent screaming for years. It is just not right. This breed is part of our history and they must be saved from this abuse.

  31. Shawn Cline says:

    Please enforce horse protection.

  32. Vicki Goodwin says:

    Hoping this barbaric practice ends, for the sake of the horses.

  33. arlene says:

    End this Horror for Horses , their natural gait is sooo Beautiful, soring looks creepy and is a Horrible Pain for the Horses….

  34. Lisa Brown says:

    Barbaric practices for a so called civilized society, the big lick has no place in a humane society and the laws must have teeth to end this atrocity and cruelty to horses.

  35. Diane anon says:

    A horse is nothing without their feet. Think of all the weight their feet hold on a daily basis. It is very cruel to do anything to a horses feet that hurts them. Chains,chemicals are abuse. I hope all these people that do these horrible things get their karma. Prayers for an end to soring which is animal cruelity,it needs to end and those doing it need to be jailed and heavily fined.

  36. Angela says:

    It always takes so long to end abuse and neglect. This is 1800 barbaric and we live in 2016 no excuse for thus brutality. Just evil ignorance. Glad to see they are actually moving forward with enforcement!

  37. Carol Beauparlant says:

    Please stop the abuse inflicted on these poor horses for a ribbon! These horses should be shown as they naturally move!
    They are chemically burned , chained, wedged, and their flesh abraded ! This has to stop! It’s a sub culture In the horse industry!
    We need tougher regulations, and we need them to be enforced! Any horse with an artificial gait should be excused from the ring. The Tennessee walking horse assoc also has to step up to the plate!
    Please pass legislation and most of all enforce it!

  38. L Pardee says:


  39. Candy M says:

    Please put an end to this horrific treatment!

  40. elaine says:

    Pleas stop this horrible practice. Please find land for these American icons to roam free… Mustang life matters!

  41. Deane says:

    What a disgusting, inhumane practice.

  42. Cynthia Clare says:

    The “soring” practices are DISGUSTING. This should not require a lot of public discourse to outlaw. Use your own eyes, and your gut reaction, to determine THESE PRACTICES ARE CRUEL.
    Enough with the handwringing; time for action!

  43. Casey says:

    Please end this. Animal cruelty should not be a result for human entertainment.

  44. -C says:

    Soring should have been stopped a long time ago!! Shame on the venues and “professionals” involved allowing it.

  45. RObyn Collins says:

    Please make soring illegal, this is not natural to the horse, and it becomes a contest as to who can push their horses to the most abusive limits!!! Please NO more soring!!!

  46. Doreen West says:

    This is abuse in every sense of the word. In this day and age of awareness of animals and the humane way of treatment, this should not happen.

  47. Oda Barhuf says:

    This practice needs to be completely outlawed – NOW

  48. Marta Esposito says:

    Soring is so cruel and these horses are so kind they still perform anyway and in GREAT pain. It should be banned on and off the show circuit. I think whatever is doing to an animal should be done to the person doing it and see how they like it! So let’s put nails in people’s shoes, burn their ankles with acid and she how well they walk…I own a TWH and can’t imagine doing any of that to him -kindest horse I’ve ever owned and wants to please..

  49. catherine Fonseca says:

    It is about time that this senseless torture stop. They are beautiful in their natural gait.

  50. Crystal Stone says:

    Soring needs to end! It is cruel and inhumane. This is animal abuse and should not be tolerated!

  51. Kathryn Blain says:

    Please, please put an END to this horrible cruelty to horses once and for all!! There is nothing good or sane about what they have done to these horses!! How it has been allowed to continue this long is a mystery to me as it is torture, plain and simple!! There is NO way to defend, explain or reason that it is anything but torture!!! We will not stand for this to continue in any form – we will be watching and we will be vocal and do whatever it takes to get it stopped!!!

  52. Jonathan shaw says:

    Ban it completely! !!!

  53. Mary L. says:

    Awful. Makes me cry. Please stop doing this.

  54. Norma Dobrowolski says:

    The practice of soring a horse, through chemicals, abuse and alteration of their nature gait is inhumane and is outrageous to Americans and caring horse owners who are Taxpayers and politically active. Measures must be taken to stop this once and for all. We support the HSUS efforts to pass laws and enforcement of punishing horse owners and trainers who abuse horses in this way.

  55. Robin Walker says:

    This is a horrible practice and it is an embarrassment to the horse industry but its all about money and greed. That makes me so very sad for the poor animals. Please we must stop this practice!!

  56. Barbara says:

    How is this not already illegal?! Please stop this practice, it’s barbaric.

  57. Barbara Shaw says:

    Please end this cruel and inhumane practice.

  58. Cora Haze says:

    This is a vile and vicious practice that needs to be abolished

  59. Cynthia Haberin says:

    This is abuse! No need to treat our horses unkindly, they will do anything for us! I am horse rescue, keep horses healthy please

  60. Kendall Johnson says:

    TWH are known for the airing of their horses, and it’s about time someone put a stop to this cruelty. One breed that is closing related to TWH but polar opposite is the American Saddlebred. Saddlebred natural hold their head up, with a lot of front and back motion. The use of pads is intended to fit into a certain category to show in. Saddlebred don’t sore, we don’t abuse our horses like Jackie McConell. We don’t use chains in the ring because that is against our rules. So if any rules should be changed, change the TWH rules to be similar to American Saddlebred rules and regulation so the breed can be more natural and the horses will no longer be abused.

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