Victory in court for horses who need protection from cruel practice of ‘soring’ 

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on July 27, 2022 with 19 Comments

Some really good news from a federal courtroom on a fight we’ve long been waging for horses: Last Friday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture had unlawfully withdrawn a 2017 rule designed to fix the agency’s weak regulations that have allowed horse soring to persist within the Tennessee walking horse industry. Along with several individual plaintiffs, we filed a lawsuit that challenged the USDA’s withdrawal of the rule, which had been finalized and publicized by the agency, and we prevailed.

For many decades, humane organizations have been trying to root out soring—the intentional infliction of pain on a horse’s legs or hooves to force the animal to perform an artificial, exaggerated high stepping gait. But it’s been difficult to achieve, despite hard-hitting investigations and exposés, a damning audit by the agency’s own Inspector General, sweeping bipartisan support for strong legislation in the U.S. Congress for about a decade, and the pressure we and others have brought to bear on the USDA and its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act of 1970. That law and the agency’s regulations under it contain loopholes that have allowed dishonest parties within the walking horse community to continue soring horses while chasing ribbons at shows and competitions—loopholes that must be closed if we are to realize the intended purposes of the Act and finally shut down soring.

We believed our own efforts to strengthen those regulations had succeeded when, in the last weeks of the Obama administration, the USDA announced a final rule to upgrade its enforcement protocols under the Horse Protection Act. The 2017 rule featured important changes to protect horses in the Tennessee walking and racking horse breeds from soring, including a ban on the use of “stacks” (heavy platform shoes), chains and other cruel and painful devices and practices intended to produce the showring gait called the “Big Lick.”

The fight against horse soring requires vigilance in ensuring that people do their jobs to enforce the law. The 2017 rule also eliminated an industry inspection program that USDA’s Inspector General said wasn’t working and needed to be abolished. That scheme, on which the agency still relies, gives enforcement responsibility to some of the very parties with an incentive to perpetuate soring. The 2017 rule scrapped this failed industry self-policing system and replaced it with a network of independent, third-party inspectors who would be licensed, trained and overseen by the agency.

The Obama administration submitted the signed final rule to the Office of the Federal Register. That Office posted the rule for public inspection but failed to publish it in the Federal Register before Donald Trump took office as president. His incoming administration withdrew the rule without explanation. Then, nothing happened. No implementation of the 2017 rule, and no reform, for four years, stalling progress in this work to protect horses from soring.

In the lawsuit, we argued that the USDA’s withdrawal of the rule violated the procedures agencies must follow under federal administrative law. While the District Court sided with the agency and dismissed the suit, on appeal the D.C. Circuit found that the USDA did violate federal law by withdrawing the rule without the notice and comment required under federal law when agencies repeal final rules. The case was remanded to the lower court for further proceedings.

In the Congress, in the courts, in the media—in short, wherever we have to carry the fight—we have been pushing for robust enforcement of the federal law against horse soring for many years. As we await the regulatory changes resulting from our successful suit, we continue our efforts to pass legislation to stop soring via the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. This bipartisan bill (H.R. 5441/S. 2295), co-sponsored by more than half of the House and Senate, would codify the essential reforms in the 2017 rule and strengthen penalties, bringing a definitive end to the scourge of soring.

Astonishingly, there is an irresponsible faction in the movement pushing a Trojan horse alternative to PAST, recklessly and naively. They negotiated their replacement bill with walking horse industry interests that celebrate the “Big Lick” show gait. The latter parties don’t want real reform to end soring; they want to see it flourish. Their bill would weaken the Horse Protection Act, reinforce the industry’s failed self-policing system and require inspection protocols designed to prevent violations from ever being cited. It would allow continued use of devices integral to soring. Fundamentally, this deceptive substitute would make it impossible for the agency to implement the regulatory changes needed to bring the protections originally promised by the Horse Protection Act to the victims of soring.

Horse soring is one of those cruelties that hangs around, defying gravity in a moral sense if we take into account the strong public opinion that runs against it. But it is also an example of unfinished business in the political sphere. Congress set out to abolish soring half a century ago, but fell short, even as one administration after another has failed to complete the task. Horses in need of protection shouldn’t have to wait any longer. And as we proved through our lawsuit, neither should we.

Contact your federal legislators today and tell them to pass the PAST Act to end the decades of suffering.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Categories
Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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19 Comments

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  1. Jeane Camargo da Silva says:

    Meu Deus, tomara que esses pobres animais tenham paz para viverem suas vidas sem dor! Quanta crueldade sem sentido…

  2. Bettina Carroll says:

    DISGUSTING AND SHOULD BE ILLEGAL. WE NEED NATURAL AND NATURE

  3. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    Gracias a Dios, pero necesitamos mas leyes para todos los animalitos existe gente comprometida con lo el bienestar pero se necesitan leyes que avalen todo el esfuerzo que se hace por los animalitos de todo el mundo

  4. Wanda Reed says:

    I have not figured out why humans find so much pleasure in cruelty to animals. Horse soring has to be eliminated ASAP. No horse should have to endure this cruelty!!

  5. Linda L Hudye says:

    Soring is beyond cruel, inhumane and barbaric. This cruelty must be banned for now and forever. No horse should have to endure this cruelty for whatever reason.

  6. Diana Lewis says:

    Thank you! There is nothing sportsmanlike in this painfully inhumane showing!

  7. Sheryl Link says:

    These animals don’t deserve the torture they are put through just for man’s pleasure. I guess you could compare it to the Roman Aristocrats putting men in the ring with lions. Neither the men nor the horses stand a chance. Stop it now.

  8. Judy Roland says:

    Hard to believe humans willingly inflict that level of pain, cruelty on another living, breathing being. This news and the rescue of the Beagles makes this a great day.

  9. Dove says:

    I’ve watched this happen for 50 years now and they are still getting away with it.

  10. Nancy shufeldt says:

    This has to be soring it needs to stop!!!

  11. Cathy Makowski says:

    The practice of soring is another example of the insensitivity of humans regarding animals. Because some halfwit decided that a beautiful animal such as a Tennessee Walker should do an unnatural high step some other jackass decided to inflict pain on the animal so that it would perform some stupid gait. Other halfwits never considered the cost to the horse when they watched the animal perform. They even tried to justify it by saying that the horse was proud of its performance.

  12. Jacqie Stansfield says:

    This is so very cruel and obviously painful. Why do we inflict this pain on an animal that responds so well to kindness.

  13. Karen Jempson says:

    I was screaming about this in the 1970’s. Beyond disgusting it’s still being allowed. The TWH Assoc and breeders and judges could have ended this so long ago.

  14. Cheryl Marshall says:

    Would you perform the cruel procedure of soaring on yourself or your children, so you can win a gold ribbon? What is wrong with your thinking? Stack some heavy weights on your feet and see how far you could walk. Soaring is inhumane, and it needs to be stopped immediately!

  15. Andrea Helene Hansen says:

    If the perpetrators of “soring” horses 🐎 feel no shame for this barbarism, how about outing them in every newspaper, website, podcast and TV news and documentary broadcast..? Let’s investigate all of their for-profit activities, and determine just what they hold as moral…where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

  16. Rebecca Salvi says:

    . This cruel and outdated practice needs to be stopped ASAP! Putting horses thru continuous pain merely to get ribbons and recognition is not acceptable anymore

  17. Diana Gould Burritt says:

    It infuriates me to think anyone could do such a horrendous thing to a horse, or any animal. This has to stop now!!!

  18. Jane says:

    Man I can’t wait until human beings are wiped from the Earth – because of our own acts of greed and callousness – and all animals, wild and domesticated, inherit it for themselves. We really are sick and cruel creatures

  19. Vera Johnson says:

    I can only hope and pray that this somehow passes since the senators from Tennessee (Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty) will probably vote against it. Blackburn is too interested in her big donors, who also own Walking Horses, to vote to protect them. Hagerty seems to do whatever Blackburn wants him to and wouldn’t dare do the RIGHT THING instead. Vote against anything to improve the status quo if it is coming from the other side regardless of the good that might come from it. At this point in time, I’m ashamed to be a Republican!

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