HSUS, HSLF file lawsuit to compel USDA to reinstate soring rule

By on August 14, 2019 with 18 Comments

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

Just weeks after the historic passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we’re opening up another front in our fight against horse “soring.” Today the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to compel the agency to reinstate a final rule that was duly issued, prescribed and promulgated in 2017, but withdrawn with the advent of a new administration. The final rule amended regulations under the Horse Protection Act (HPA) that have allowed soring to fester for the entire 49 years since the Act’s passage.

The lawsuit argues that by withdrawing the final rule, the USDA not only violated the legal requirements of rulemaking, but also violated its mandate under the HPA. The lawsuit was filed by pro bono counsel at the law firm Latham & Watkins, LLP and the HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation team. Several individual plaintiffs also joined the HSUS and HSLF in the lawsuit.

It’s been a federal crime since 1970 to show horses who have been sored—subjected to the intentional infliction of pain on their legs and hooves to force them to step higher to gain a competitive edge in the show ring. But trainers in the Tennessee walking, spotted saddle and racking horse breeds have taken advantage of inadequate regulations that have allowed soring to continue unabated. The existing regulations allow chains to be hung around horses’ legs and tall, heavy platform shoes or “stacks” to be nailed to horses’ hooves. These devices—which exacerbate the pain of caustic chemicals burned into the horses’ skin and conceal hard or sharp objects jammed into their tender soles—are integral to the soring process.

The current regulations also authorize an industry self-policing scheme which has facilitated the perpetuation of soring. In 2010, USDA’s Inspector General released a comprehensive audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Program, concluding that the industry self-policing system—the one authorized by the regulations that would have been replaced by the final rule—was fraught with conflicts of interest, inadequate to prevent soring, and should be abolished. USDA agreed with the Inspector General’s recommendations and said then that it would implement new regulations to remedy the problem. The agency also stated in separate Federal Register notices (in 1979 and 2011) that if soring persisted, it would consider banning the stacks and chains used to facilitate the practice.

With the final rule, the agency at long last took the actions necessary to move toward fulfilling its obligations under the HPA. On Jan. 13, 2017, USDA put out a press release announcing the final rule and sent the rule to the Office of the Federal Register where it was put on public inspection and scheduled for publication. However, the rule was withdrawn a few days later by the new administration without following any of the procedures mandated by law to repeal a duly issued, prescribed and promulgated final rule; agency officials have since placed the final rule on “inactive” status and have resisted efforts to move forward on it.

With today’s legal action we are making clear that we intend to hold the federal government accountable for complying with its statutory obligations under the Horse Protection Act to end the cruelty of soring. Our action also puts horse sorers on notice that we will not stop in our efforts to halt the cruelty they inflict on horses.

Our commitment to end soring is a lasting one. We’ve investigated the practice for decades, bringing forth evidence that has deepened public awareness and outrage over soring and resulted in cruelty convictions for trainers. Most recently, we helped persuade the Nashville Metro Council to unanimously approve a resolution urging Tennessee’s U.S. Senators to cosponsor the PAST Act and work to get it enacted, a strong sign that there’s little tolerance left for soring in Tennessee.

This has been a hard fight over the years because, believe it or not, soring has powerful defenders. But we’ve never given up, and we’ve never been closer to securing its abolition than we are now. The lawsuit and our ongoing advocacy to pass the PAST Act seek to deliver justice to the horses who have so long suffered as a result of soring. We’ll keep working to bring down the curtain on this cruel and sinister practice and finish the job our predecessors in humane work started a half century ago.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. William McDaniel says:

    How sick the people that support soring are.

  2. Vicki Christensen says:

    Back in 1968, I wrote a college paper on this. I feel just as strong about it now as I did back then. I’ve lost a couple friends over this because they participate in this cruelty. The sad part is their response when I questioned them was that everyone does it that show these horses.
    It should be outlawed & the strongest form of punishment & fines that the law can allow unforced on the people who do this to these beautiful animals.
    This cruelty needs to end….NOW!

  3. Mary Russell says:

    It’s been on hold for way too long. I have some of these amazing horses. Stop the abuse!

  4. Delois Troutman says:

    The soring of horses is cruel. Stop this.

  5. Mary says:

    Soring is barbaric and needs to be stopped. Plain and simple it is animal abuse

  6. Pamela Newton says:

    My opinion is it’s time to stop the cruelty and to start enforcing the mandate.

  7. Ewa Urbanski says:

    Es ist unverzüglich zu beenden.In einer zivielisierten Geselschaft ist es nicht mehr akzeptabel wehrlose Tiere zu quälen dennen Schmerzen zufügen und sie leiden zu lassen.Schluß damit.Wir Menschen müssen uns schämen ,dass sowas überhaupt passiert!!!!!!!!

  8. LYNN KETNER says:

    Go get ’em, HSUS!! This is horrible treatment of these precious animals, and they don’t deserve this! Thank you for all that you do! Without you, and others, so many animals would continue to suffer horribly. So THANK YOU for being their voices!


  9. Constance Sweitzer says:

    This is so very cruel and the people who do this should be considered a danger to society.

  10. Gail Langman says:

    Another example of animal abuse for human greed.

  11. Bobby Balfour says:

    I’m horrified at the appalling suffering inflicted on these horses. Who on earth thought this up in the first place? What’s so wonderful about horses high-stepping? Why are there so many of us who believe we can inflict whatever we like on non-human animals just because we feel like it? I so hope your lawsuit is successful.

  12. Pam Ford says:

    This is horrible. I hate that so many horses have suffered for so long!!! You need to get judges that will be honest, and can’t be bought off!!!

  13. Amy Polenberg says:

    Outlaw Soring!!! This is so cruel!!!

  14. Kelley Palmiscno says:

    Just let the horses be. Let them be free of pain and torture. Let them live their life, because honestly it is not yours to mess with.

  15. Joy says:

    Who are these powerful defenders I might ask? Are there a lot of them? Do they outnumber advocates and horse lovers everywhere?
    This is horrible and makes no sense.
    You need to educate more people because this is the first I’ve heard of it and I’m 51 years old. How stupid of me for not knowing

  16. Judy Burg says:

    Spring is a cruel and unnecessary practice. Once the law is enforced a great number is gentle horses will be spared this torture.
    TWHs are sweet docile animals. If this was tried on a feistier breed, the horses would fight to avoid the cruelty. These poor animals just bear it and don’t spend a comfortable moment even when they are retired and the cruelty stops. Soring causes permanent damage.

  17. Linda Begovich says:

    I can’t believe that people are so cruel to do this to horses. To bad we don’t have a world that for any form of animal cruelty a person would severely punished. These kind of people lack compassion and that is very sad for them. The love of all animals is a wonderful feeling.

  18. Karin Erker says:

    Das ist so schrecklich … was für brutale, herzlose Menschen, die so ein wunderschönes Tier quälen … wir müssen gegen diese tierquäler kämpfen … stop

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