Bureaucratic bungling, rules freeze endanger horse soring rule

By on January 24, 2017 with 37 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s anti-horse-soring rule – put in motion after a damning 2010 Inspector General’s report identified deficiencies in the execution of the federal law against horse soring – is in peril despite the agency announcing final, favorable action on the issue just days ago.

The trigger for the problem was bureaucratic bungling at the Federal Register (the journal of the United States government). The Office of the Federal Register failed to publish the rule in a timely manner after the USDA announced the new policy on January 13th. As a result, the rule got swept up in a broader Trump administration policy to freeze any rulemaking actions still in progress. Consistent with that presidential decree, the USDA formally withdrew this rulemaking action. Horse abusers are getting a “get out of jail free card” because of an ironic and potentially fatal one-two punch by the outgoing and incoming administrations.

This is a startling and hugely disappointing outcome, and it comes despite support for the rule from the USDA, the Office of Management and Budget, and hundreds of Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Congress who called for action on the issue. The Trump administration has the authority to revive this rule, but it will take intentional action by the White House to do so. Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a veterinarian by training, is Trump’s nominee for the USDA, and he hasn’t signaled a position on the issue; that said, every major veterinary organization — including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the veterinary medical associations of Georgia and every other state, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners — favors a crackdown on the practice of soring.

The USDA rule was written, under the direction of former Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to strengthen regulations to end the cruel practice of soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the hooves and limbs of Tennessee walking horses and racking horses to induce the pain-based show gait known as the “Big Lick.” The rule would eliminate the failed system of industry self-policing that the USDA’s own Office of Inspector General deemed corrupt and ineffective in a 2010 audit, and prohibit the use of large stacked shoes, ankle chains, and other harmful devices that the American Horse Council, AVMA, and many others have said are integral to the soring process.

Violators have lied, cheated, and used every trick in the book to evade detection, hide their corrupt culture of abuse, and to attempt to dupe Congress, the public, and the media as evidenced in the USDA’s Horse Protection Program Annual Activity Reports that reveal 3,691 total violations of the Horse Protection Act since 2011. There was also a significant increase in violations, from a total of 509 violations in 2015 to 922 violations in 2016. In 2015, the USDA started including statistics on the number of horses their inspectors disqualified at the shows they attended for the year, and in 2015 they disqualified 421 horses total. In 2016 that number rose to 716 horses for a total of 1,137 disqualified horses within the last two years. This evidence and plenty more of it – including a series of HSUS undercover investigations that have shown several major “Big Lick” stables knee-deep in the practice of soring — is incontrovertible and overwhelming and shows a widespread, knowing defiance of the law. The rule, and a separate measure in Congress known as the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, were designed to crack down on this scofflaw industry.

The stigma of soring has made the walking horse industry the pariah of the horse world, and has had a long-standing, adverse effect on the economic viability of this industry, which suffers from diminished breeding and attendance at its major events. Every reputable horse industry and veterinary medical organization supports strengthening the law and regulations. There simply is no support for the status quo among major horse industry organizations. Major law enforcement organizations, including the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, also support the actions of the USDA and Congress. The “Big Lick” faction of the horse show industry stands alone in fighting against the rulemaking, even as it claims to oppose soring while at the same time perpetrating the abuse. The Trump administration should take action against this culture of corruption and deception and revive the rule.

Please contact the White House to ask the new administration to revive the horse soring rule, and your U.S. representative and senators to urge them to pass the PAST Act.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Cat Kennie says:

    Cat Kennie. I am so appalled at the powers that be for not filing this in a timely manner. Horse soring stacked shoes and chains have to go or these horses will continue spending almost all of their lives in constant agony. Will the Trump administration please let this bill be passed in order to stop this abuse.

  2. dyan Fidler says:

    For godssake stop this barbaric treatment of horses.

  3. Debbie Rosemeyer says:

    Pass the PAST act. Revive horse spring rule.

    • Kim Campbell says:

      The PAST Act is dead, thanks to Lamar Alexander, Marsha Blackburn and Mitch McConnell. This seperate ISDA rule is the final hope for the Tn Walkers.

      • michelle says:

        Pressure needs to be put oj sponsors of these shows and recipients of their donations. Many charities and cities have already distanced themselves from the big lick shows. More should follow their example.

  4. Jennifer says:

    Why would the USDA withdraw the rule when they stand behind it?

  5. Martin michalski says:

    Giving you an FYI a moment here Scottsdale Nebraska this still slaughtering horses packing them up and slaughtering and shipping them over to Canada yes I said Canada so giving you an FYI on the skinny mini on this and yes Wild Horses included let alone domestic

  6. Deb schewe says:

    No animal should EVER be hurt on purpose! It’s disgusting! I wonder ifor fans of this would still be fans if they knew just what cruelty is done!

    • Dorothy says:

      They are not slaughtering horses and sending them to Canada

      • Susan Ifland says:

        YES Dorothy they do!! Every day horses are sent to Mexico and Canada to be slaughtered!!! Watch the undercover video’s of the torture these horses go through. I have saved many from the kill pens, last stop before slaughter.

      • Vicki says:

        Oh. YES!!! DO YOUR RESEARCH. There are slaughter buyers at any given horse sale. These horses go to Canada and Mexico, are slaughtered, butchered. and the meat, considered a delicacy, shipped to France and other European countries. Just look of you-tube.

  7. Elaine Emmerich says:

    No TRUE horse lover would have anything to do with this totally inhumane treatment to horses. Only money grubbing selfish people could come up
    with treating a living loving beautiful animal in this manner.

    How do I get in touch with Pres. Trump? He has to be made aware of what is really happening to one of God’s beautiful helpful creations!

  8. Leslye Golding says:


  9. Robin says:


  10. Denise mc donagh says:

    Stop this animal torture and other issues with it.

  11. Judy A Mervar says:

    If the President does nothing else all year, please don’t forget the srring act.

  12. Sue Peters says:

    I am appalled and disgusted at this revolting, cruel practice. It is NOT natural, it is NOT a normal gait. Thank god we do not have this in Australia. PLEASE America, get your act together and STOP this NOW.

  13. Susan Ifland says:

    Mr. President this cruel practice has to be stopped! Tennessee Walkers have a beautiful natural gait. The reason this goes on is because of money grubbing inhumane people. They do not truly love horses.

  14. Jan says:

    This has been going on far to long. The horses have suffered far to long. We demand justice for the current and past horses that have and will suffer FAR TO LONG! Please get this passed and move on for humane sake!

  15. Lynne says:

    The panic in the eyes and frothing at the mouth oh this poor horse should move all but those with cold hearts who don’t mind torturing these beautiful creatures. Their natural gait is perfect, stop destroying it and these horses.

    You are worthy of the same pain being inflicted on all of you who do this torture, and for what. Worthless notoriety

  16. Suzanne says:

    I am writing my representative. Let’s all do it!

  17. Nancy Raiymond says:

    Anyone that thinks soring is acceptable should have to have THEIR feet sored – this is blatant animal cruelty and should be banned nationwide. It is only promoted by those that ride, own and use these animals for their own enjoyment – no much enjoyment for the horses.

  18. Joe Ward says:

    Stop this Barbaric practice – set a real Example for the World that this practice against horses and ALL Animal Cruelty be Stopped once and for all!

  19. Joanne Hanson says:

    Benefits them not the horses cruelty abuse inhumane acts

  20. AVIS HOLT says:

    Please tell us how we can get in touch with the people who can actually DO something about this. We need to be able to get right through to President Trump. I know his sons are into big game hunting and I find that appalling, also so I don’t know if they will take us speaking out for the horses too seriously. Let’s hope and pray they do!

  21. Susan Gaddy says:

    They passed a law banning the soring and abuse to the Walkers over 30 years ago. Something should be done to the inspectors who ignored the rules and probably got one for it. To think of those horses suffering all these years because someone doesn’t want to follow the laws

  22. louise says:

    How difficult can it be to stop purposeful cruelty and abuse? Trump is in the driving seat – start driving , wouldn’t it be amazing to have someone show some compassion and common sense. To have to wait for a response is utterly deplorable, these animals are in agony.

  23. Ina says:

    ANY UPDATES? When will we know if the law passed?

  24. Nina Boal says:

    Deliberately torturing Tennessee Walking Horses for this artificial high stepping “big lick” gait is completely appalling. I grew up as a child with a lovely Tennessee Walker who had a natural running walk gait. Fortunately for her, she had never been in a show and had never been subjected to soring.

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