The painful practice of ‘horse soring’ has no place in society

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on June 24, 2021 with 12 Comments

Update 10/1/2021: The PAST Act has now been reintroduced in the House of Representatives (H.R. 5441) with 213 cosponsors. We hope that this is finally the beginning of the end of the extremely cruel practice of horse soring.

The myriad forms of animal cruelty make for a large and grim inventory, but horse soring consistently holds a place near the top of the list. It’s a deliberate and wanton torment of horses, one secretly carried out in training barns to produce a high-stepping gait for prizes in the Tennessee Walking Horse show ring. A more pointless cruelty you would be hard-pressed to identify, and it’s been going on for decades.

Now, with the reintroduction in the U.S. Senate of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 2295), we can finally end soring. We want an end to self-policing in the sport. We want the devices so integral to soring cast into the dustbin of history. We want to bring an end to weak and ineffectual penalties. Thanks to lead sponsors Senators Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., we have the legislation to get the job done, and it is long past time we saw it enacted. They’re off to a great start, with nearly half the Senate—48 senators total—already co-sponsoring this bipartisan bill.

The PAST Act would amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act, directly tackling the shortcomings in that law that have allowed horse soring to endure for so long. It would ban forever the torturous devices that are an integral part of the soring process. These include chains used in combination with caustic, burning chemicals to inflame the horses’ tender ankles, the heavy stacked shoes that cause tendon and joint damage and obscure the painful cutting and grinding of the animals’ delicate soles as well as the hard and sharp objects inserted to exacerbate the torment. These tools are all meant to create an exaggerated gait in show horses known as the “Big Lick.” PAST would also put the U.S. Department of Agriculture itself back in charge of the oversight of inspectors, scrapping the fox-watching-the-henhouse approach that has played into the hands of the sorers for several generations. Finally, it would impose penalties that constitute a meaningful deterrent, and make illegal the act of soring a horse for the purpose of showing, exhibiting or selling the animal at a public sale or auction.

In the last Congress, PAST passed the House of Representatives by a broad bipartisan margin of 333-96, when it was co-sponsored by 308 representatives and 52 senators. The nation’s leading horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection organizations support this bill, which has been endorsed by major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (where soring is most prevalent).

The evidence of the need for reform has never been greater. Our undercover investigations in 2012 and 2015 at top “Big Lick” training stables provided undeniable proof of rampant soring in that segment of the industry. More recently, we conducted an analysis of Horse Protection Act enforcement data provided by the USDA covering 2018-2020. The analysis concluded that soring persists unabated—and that industry inspectors are continuing to fail to detect these violations. This is especially evident at shows where USDA veterinary officials are not present to oversee inspections.

The HSUS Our undercover investigations at top “Big Lick” training stables provided undeniable proof of rampant soring in that segment of the industry.

Last year, a faction within the soring fraternity found gullible partners in the animal protection field and tried to push through an intentionally feeble compromise measure in the waning days of the 116th Congress. We opposed that devious gambit above all because it would have reinforced the very practice that has permitted soring to thrive—self-policing by show participants. Thankfully, this newly introduced version of PAST is the real deal.

In January 2021, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine released a report confirming that industry inspectors often conduct improper and inadequate examinations, and recommending that USDA rely solely on qualified veterinarians as inspectors, a preference built into the PAST Act.

We’re leading the charge against soring in Congress, and we’re determined to get PAST across the finish line. You can help make that happen by contacting your U.S. Senators today and urging them to cosponsor the bill if they haven’t yet and do all they can to help secure its passage.

However, there is no reason the horses should wait for the legislation to work its way through in order to secure immediate relief from this atrocious cruelty. The USDA itself could accomplish much of what PAST attempts to achieve right now under the authority granted by Congress to the Secretary of Agriculture. That’s why we are again calling on Secretary Tom Vilsack to reinstate and publish in the Federal Register a strong rule amending the agency’s soring regulations. That measure was finalized in 2017 during Vilsack’s tenure as Secretary of the agency during the Obama Administration but shelved by the Trump Administration’s USDA. Vilsack can ban soring devices and return full enforcement oversight to his agency, where we know it belongs. As the Secretary himself understood, a tougher enforcement system and a prohibition on the instruments of soring will make a world of difference. And that’s the kind of world we’re working for.

Join us in telling lawmakers that it’s time to finally end horse soring.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Ya no podemos permitir qué mas caballos sigan sufriendo y pasando por esto no mas abuso ni mas violencia hacia los seres vivos

  2. Judy says:

    I don’t understand why we think it okay to put others in pain for entertainment. And what kind of person are you that you can enjoy it ?

  3. Diann Rose says:

    Please stop this torturous practice now. It has no place in civilized society. These beautiful creatures need and deserve our protection. Thank you, in advance, for taking action to save them from further suffering.

  4. Rosa María Fontánez Marquez says:

    Despicable, cruel practice. Must investigate and punish by law! This is horrible!

  5. R. Fontánez Marquez says:

    Horse soring is a criminal abhorrent and despicable act . Extremely cruel.This horrible practice must be STOP. Animals have feelings and they experience suffering. Don’t we have enough suffering in the world right now??? Abuse inflicted in an animal
    .Animals deserve respect , care and love, NOT ABUSE!

  6. Linda Bartolotta says:

    Many years ago my husband & I went to Tennessee to purchase Tennessee Walker (as a friend had one & we rode and loved the ride) The ride was sm
    Pure as silk & saw the practice they used on these horses we totally changed our minds & went with another breed. Hopefully they can change the laws with the practice they have in regards to the cruelty done to these beautiful creatures.

    • Judy says:

      So you are blaming the breed instead of the trainers and owners? I have had TWH’s
      for 50 years and never sored them. They make wonderful trail horses and you can
      show them in light shoes.

  7. Richard Payne Sr says:

    Man should not cause animals to suffer.

  8. MELINDA NIX says:

    So much corruption in the horse industry ; please stop enabling the horse soaring criminal abuse ..its horrific on so many levels .viewing the suffering of the horses who are tortured for murderous horse owners is too much . I can’t unsee these gut wreching scenes of horse soaring torture.

  9. Juanita Boddie says:

    There are no words to describe what I feel for these helpless animals. This big lick bull is not a show of beauty. Animals need to be treated kindly and w respect! They must b helped! And Now! Us humans must stop abusing these creatures. They must b treated as we ALL want to b treated which is w kindness and respect! For a moment stop what ur doing and stop what ur thinking. Now then, close ur eyes and take a breath…..and begin to imagine seeing yourself as one of these animals, as one of them that’s being abused. How frightened are u to see urself as one of them?? Alone in the darkness and in pain waiting day after day for No One to come save u bcuz No One cares to. Just think about that.. for in some ways one might cld say it was just ur luck that u weren’t born a horse or some other animal. B thankful ur birth into this world was as a human and not some other species…for had any one of us been born something else it could very easily b us now enduring these torturous acts…We must stop this blatant cruelty to these other non human living beings and instead start realising just how lucky we really truly are!!! So u see…we could hav easily been the cow or maybe even that pig… hmmm? Im jus giving us all a little something to think about I guess; except it’s really not all that little… is it?

  10. Mikaiya El Naggar says:

    I say as well as making it illegal to inflict such torture to these amazing and gentle animals, the law should also state that those who promote and practice such abominable treatment be made to endure the same pain that they cause these lovable creatures to suffer.
    I’m certain that they would soon enough beg to be pain free and will think twice before performing this horrific treatment again.

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