Breaking: U.S. Congress has new chance to stop horse soring

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on May 8, 2023 with 14 Comments

In 1970, the U.S. Congress passed the Horse Protection Act to end the cruel practice of horse soring, which is the use of caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting and other painful techniques to force horses to perform the artificial, high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” in order to win prizes in horse shows. Despite that law’s passage 53 years ago, the abuse has continued unabated as a scofflaw faction of the Tennessee walking horse industry insists on flouting the law.

Now we have a chance to end it once and for all.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 3090, has been reintroduced in the House of Representatives with a strong bipartisan set of 185 original co-sponsors led by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. This critical legislation, which passed in the House in the last two Congresses by a wide bipartisan margin, would help to end soring by strengthening the Horse Protection Act, banning the use of devices that are commonly used to inflict pain on horses, eliminating the failed current system of industry self-policing and increasing penalties for violators.

We are used to fighting the big fights for animals, and sometimes they are also long fights. This is a fight to finally get the basic animal welfare and sporting standards of the 1970 law enforced. In passing the Act, Congress intended to end soring, but the practice remains pervasive in some parts of the Tennessee walking, racking and spotted saddle horse breeds. After over half a century later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is still finding shocking numbers of horses subjected to soring.

During this time, other national governing bodies of equestrian sport have implemented rules to ensure the welfare of the horses. By contrast, in the Tennessee walking horse universe, the leadership has spent decades blocking reform:

  • Over 40 years ago, the Tennessee walking horse breed was ejected from the national horse show regulatory body due to the stigma attached to soring.
  • Twenty-three years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 79% of the Big Lick horses that its inspectors examined were found to have pathological abnormalities indicative of soring.
  • Seventeen years ago, USDA inspectors disqualified six of 10 horses in the World Grand Championship class at the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, causing cancellation of the class.
  • Eleven years ago, an HSUS undercover investigation led to the arrest and indictment of a prominent trainer on 52 counts of violating the law—including felony violations of the Horse Protection Act.
  • Ten years ago, USDA testing showed that 67% of the horses tested at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration were positive for substances used to hide soring.
  • Eight years ago, another HSUS undercover investigation found evidence that the legs of every Big Lick horse in training at the stable were being covered in substances prohibited by the USDA from being used at horse shows.
  • Six years ago, the USDA found that 89.5% of horses tested at the Celebration were positive for prohibited foreign substances used to sore the legs of horses (or mask evidence of soring).
  • Two years ago, 13 of the 15 members of the Walking Horse Trainers Association board had histories of citations for violating the Horse Protection Act; three were on lengthy federal disqualifications meant to prevent them from participating in horse shows, while the other 10 had previously served disqualifications imposed by the USDA and/or the walking horse industry for alleged violations of the law.

It’s hard to imagine such overt corruption playing out in other sports and the leadership remaining intact.

Other than significant increases in Horse Protection Act enforcement funding (and despite strong and broad bipartisan support), to date neither Congress nor the USDA have taken any final, meaningful steps to bring an end to soring.

In 2017, under Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA finalized a rule to implement tougher regulations that mirror key elements of the PAST Act. The incoming Trump administration illegally withdrew the rule before its implementation, prompting us to file a lawsuit. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in our favor and remanded the case to the lower D.C. District Court. We still await that Court’s decision on our request that the rule be reinstated.

Meanwhile, with Vilsack again serving as Agriculture Secretary, we are waiting for the USDA’s promised publication of a proposed new rule to fix its weak regulations under the Horse Protection Act. The agency has admitted on numerous occasions that changes are needed to address loopholes that allow the continued suffering of sored horses.

We must act now to protect horses from the cruelty of soring. It’s time for Congress to pass the PAST Act and for the USDA to implement the regulatory framework needed to end this horrific practice.

You have the power to speak out for horses: Reach out to your federal legislators now and urge them to co-sponsor if they haven’t yet and help pass this important bill with no weakening amendments, to protect horses from this chronic abuse.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Carolyn Stogsdill says:

    Horses feel just like humans!! If humans are not feeling good we go to a doctor!! These inhumane acts on horses have to stop!!!! I have no use for animal abusers!!! The ones that hurt and maim animals will suffer at the end!! I want all animals to live well and not have to suffer at a stupid person’s hands!!!!

  2. BethAnn Riina says:

    Iam so saddened by the abuse and torture these beautiful loving sensitive creatures are forced to endure for a humans pleasure and financial greed. This inhumane way needs to end immediately

  3. John Mascaro says:

    Stop killing horses

  4. Lynne Mccreanor says:

    Please please stop this inhumane behavior stemming from pure greed & hubris

  5. Ulrich Stolarczyk says:

    There is so much brutality against animals round the world. We have to fight for animals who are suffering. Protest is working. So do not give up.
    CNBC sends advertising spots about horse-racing. Equestrian … I sent complaints to CNBC. A channel like CNBC should not work this way. It is known horses suffer and CNBC should known the facts.

  6. Judith Urdaneta says:

    Judith Urdaneta

    God gave us charge over all the creatures of the earth, and to be cruel to any of them is failing Him. All of us must fight to stop the cruelty of the greedy. Please support the PAST Act 3090 and protect the abused Tennessee Walking horses.

  7. Marianella Shawver says:

    It’s time to stop the amusement and greed human are getting at the expense of pain and suffering from this innocent souls😢

  8. Tim Decker says:

    Get this done

  9. Yvette Marks says:

    Please stop this cruelty.

  10. Tana Loy says:

    let them compete fair and square. No different than banning drugs for athletes.

  11. Roslyn Pollinger says:

    How sad all those horses had to die for money/entertainment! What’s wrong with our country?? How horrible! Horse racing needs to end!


    Animals should be given the same humane treatment that humans are given. You feed them, you care for them, you make sure their health is good. You DO NOT abuse them for profit, do not do to an animal what you would not want done to you! They need proper care, immunizations, grooming, veterinary care when sick or injured. If you cannot make this type of commitment to any animal, DO NOT own one, PERIOD!

  13. Àlisa Moore says:

    Please stop the abuse of this horses.It like this people don’t care about the horses. So please stop the abuse of all horses

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