Let’s stop USDA from moving backward on cruelty to horses

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on July 21, 2023 with 12 Comments

Amidst continuing dissatisfaction over its approach to ending the problem of horse soring, a cruel practice that produces an artificial high-stepping gait in show horses, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has taken a backward step. The agency plans to withdraw a 2017 rule to come down hard on soring, one that was the result of extensive public input and support and one that received final approval at the time.

We’re unhappy with the USDA’s decision to withdraw the rule, and we’ve denounced it. We’re also encouraging public comments to drive home the point that the agency should not pull the rule without committing to a timeline for the implementation of a strong new rule in its place.

It’s impossible to exaggerate the depravity of a practice in which trainers deliberately harm horses by slathering their limbs in caustic chemicals and covering them with plastic wrap to “cook” into the animals’ flesh. In training and competitions, they force the horses to wear heavy, high-heel-like shoes concealing hard objects jammed into the tender soles, along with metal chains that knock repeatedly against their sored ankles. All this misery is inflicted to produce the “Big Lick,” the gait long rewarded by some judges in the show circuits of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds.

The stated purpose of the Horse Protection Act, passed in 1970, is to end soring. However, the self-policing enforcement scheme allowed by the HPA regulations enables industry operatives to train their own inspectors to examine horses for evidence of this cruelty at shows. This system is rife with conflicts of interest and has allowed soring to persist unabated. USDA data reveals that in events between 2018-2020 at which horses were examined by industry inspectors and USDA inspectors, the USDA inspectors found violations at a rate 403% higher than industry inspectors—illustrating that industry inspectors had turned a blind eye to soring.

In response to an audit by USDA’s Inspector General that called this scheme a failure and said it should be abolished, the agency pledged in 2010 to replace industry self-policing with a system that relied on USDA-licensed and trained inspectors. In 2017, the agency announced final regulations to do so. Those regulations received more than 100,000 supportive public comments, including bipartisan letters signed by 182 Representatives and 42 Senators. Unfortunately, these regulations were withdrawn by the Trump Administration.

We challenged this unlawful withdrawal along with several individuals involved in the Tennessee walking horse industry, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit agreed that the agency’s abrupt withdrawal of the 2017 HPA rule was illegal. It remanded the case to the District Court for the District of Columbia to determine the appropriate remedy for USDA’s unlawful action.

Now, the USDA has communicated its plan to proceed with a new HPA rule that has sat stagnantly at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget for review since September 2022. Yet the agency states that it cannot promulgate that rule within six months, and it provides no timeline for when that rule might be proposed, let alone finalized.

In short, withdrawing the 2017 final HPA rule leaves in place the unlawful regime that existed prior to its finalization, indefinitely. We’re not satisfied with this approach.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 3090, broadly supported in the Congress, would codify key elements of the 2017 HPA rule, including eliminating the failed industry self-policing system and use of devices integral to soring. The legislation has twice been passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House of Representatives and is consistently co-sponsored by a majority of the Senate. Since the USDA itself could accomplish much of what the PAST Act aims to achieve, Congress has also expressed support for upgraded regulations, through appropriations language calling for the swift proposal, finalization, and publication of the new final rule.

Soring should have ended in this country over half a century ago. We urge the White House to quickly finish its review of USDA’s new proposed rule and implore the agency to move forward promptly with its promulgation.

USDA is soliciting comments on its proposal to withdraw the 2017 rule during a brief 30-day comment period. Please take action here to let the agency know it should not withdraw that rule without a commitment to moving swiftly to implement a new rule to ban the use of soring devices and end the failed system of industry self-policing.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Judy Blankemeyer says:

    It’s hard to believe people who love horses would inflict pain on them for money. That’s all this is.
    PLEASE PLEASE STOP SORING an any and all horses.
    I was born and raised in Tennessee , please stop inflicting pain.

  2. Diana Lewis says:

    This purposeful abuse under the unconscionable idea of style is such a mar on humanity!

  3. Anita Aureli says:

    Thus practice is disgusting and depraved! Not only should this be stopped, the ppl involved should be arrested for their horrific torture they inflict on the horses.

  4. Sharon says:

    Torturing horses should be illegal

  5. Robin Corini says:

    It’s always so sadly ironic that people benefitting from, and supposedly admiring horses, can justify such truly cruel practices. Appreciate and love them for their natural behaviors, of which there are many. Shame on the USDA and whoever pressured them to allow this to continue.

  6. Susan Giddings says:

    Please continue your efforts to get “soring” banned – it is a deplorable practice.

  7. cindy zelmer says:

    Horse soring and Big Lick needs to stop NOW!!!! How can any vet think this is ok or any horse owner that does this to these innocent animals… And the people that watch this go on and on what in the heck is wrong with them knowing the severe pain these horses have to endure and cannot fend for themselves what so ever they just have to endure constant pain day in and day out. How can anyone do this this? and much less pay money to watch this as well. I pray this stops and that somebody has the guts to have a heart for these beautiful suffering creatures and get this stopped for the horses…

  8. Beth Nordmeyer says:

    Shelbyville, Tennessee has a group of well off people who continue to SORE and SHOW horses. All for a trophy. This is a tradition. Since the death of Clant M. Seay, also known as “Billy Go Boy,” who fought long and hard against these monsters BIG MONEY IS TURNING LEGISLATION BACKWARDS! The USDA SHOULD BE ASHAMED BENDING TO BIG MONEY!!

  9. laurie says:

    The promoting/perpetrating politicians, such as Marsha Blackburn, etc.. should be confronted. And if they refuse to change their votes, they should be publicly shamed.

  10. Dr A.R. Williams, D.V.M says:

    It is not difficult to solve this…Rule out the use of stacked shoes, allowing only the use of a single metal shoe and no leather (or other kind) pad. I have seen two horses shove their cannon bone out the inside of the ankle joint as the result of overweighted or out of balance stacked shoes. Both horses had to be euthanized. In addition take the stacked shoes away and you do not need highly trained inspectors as any idiot can see when there is padding between the shoe and the hoof. It is not so much the chemical and traumatic injury to the ankle as it is the heavy horrible use of torture currently allowed in this industry. The participants are simply cruel, inhumane people or else they are oblivious to the suffering of others

  11. DD says:

    This is just so disgusting. I never knew this procedure existed. I rode and showed Hunter and Jumper as a kid. I watched the Tennessee Walker horses. I never tried to understand why there gait was as it was. .
    I had no idea that pain was inflicted on those poor horses. If I did, I would have taken a stand for change.
    The USDA does not do their job. Hell they can’t even inspect grocery stores and convenience stores as they are supposed to. They don’t stop crime they perpetuate it . Big government being paid off to turn the other way.. Go Joe Biden and Harris. You Rock. Lol.. I wish they did their jobs .

  12. Kathlen Butz says:

    The TWH became the lightning rod for inhumane abuse, which is well deserved, but remember that the PAST act can cover other breeds as well.The arrogance of TWH trainers has been well demonstrated in their defiance of stopping soring practices.The “big lick” trainers and breeders are destroying the breed,market, and shows located outside of the southern states by not breeding for a natural gait.The politicians in TN are more concerned about the revenue generated and lobbying pressure than common decency in my opinion.I just saw a video of a young big lick horse dumped at auction that could not even stand up.Fortunately a rescue got him to a vet and it was decided that the tendon injuries were too extensive to save him.Will the person responsible be prosecuted?No, because there isn’t a system in place to track them down or even a big fine to discourage them.I have often thought anyone that can abuse animals most likely is doing the same to human beings.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.