Breaking: New regulations could finally protect horses from ‘soring’ cruelty

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on August 17, 2023 with 17 Comments

There’s new hope for ending the painful practice of horse soring: a long-awaited new administrative rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one that’s badly needed and long overdue.

Horse soring is an undeniably cruel practice in which trainers covertly and deliberately torment show horses by slathering their limbs in caustic chemicals and wrapping them with plastic wrap to “cook” into the horse’s flesh. In training and competitions, trainers force the horses to wear heavy, binding, high-heel-like shoes, and metal chains that knock repeatedly against their sored ankles. Some even cut the hooves down to the delicate tissue and jam in hard or sharp objects. All this abuse is inflicted to produce the “Big Lick,” an exaggerated, high-stepping gait rewarded by judges in the show circuits of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.

Protect horses from soring!

The Horse Protection Act, originally passed in 1970, was intended to end soring. However, for decades, the USDA’s regulations have enabled the industry to train its own inspectors to examine horses for soring at shows and sales. This self-policing system is rife with conflicts of interest, and industry insiders have allowed soring to persist and even to flourish. Data made available to the public by the USDA revealed that in events from 2018-2020 covered by industry inspectors and USDA inspectors, the USDA inspectors found violations at a 403% rate higher than industry inspectors—illustrating that industry inspectors turned a blind eye to soring.

Show horses performing the “Big Lick” are forced to wear heavy, binding, high-heel-like shoes, and metal chains that knock repeatedly against their sored ankles. The HSUS

In response to a 2010 audit report by the USDA’s own Inspector General that called this scheme a failure and said it should be abolished, the agency pledged to replace industry self-policing with a team of USDA-licensed and trained inspectors and announced final regulations to do so in 2017. The final regulations received more than 100,000 supportive public comments, including bipartisan letters signed by 182 representatives and 42 senators. Unfortunately, these regulations were withdrawn soon after by a new administration. We sued the USDA for this action, arguing that the agency failed to undertake the proper procedures for withdrawing a rule that had been finalized. The federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with us, meaning that the USDA must take action to fix its error.

Thankfully, the USDA is again proposing to amend its HPA regulations by eliminating the industry-run enforcement system, and instead assigning sole responsibility to its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to screen, train and authorize inspectors. The agency also proposes to disallow the use of devices and substances that are integral to soring, and to make other needed reforms. By taking this step, the Biden administration would reaffirm the federal government’s commitment to preventing the cruel practice of horse soring.

Ending horse soring is broadly supported by Congress. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act 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 and has been consistently co-sponsored by a majority of the Senate going back to 2014. 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.

We are thrilled that a new HPA rule is on the horizon and pleased to see provisions of the 2017 rule included in the proposed rule. Specifically, this includes the prohibition of the use of action devices on any Tennessee walking or racking horse, and an end to the industry self-policing system. We hope the final rule expands the prohibition on action devices to include weighted shoes for Tennessee walking and racking horses of all ages and expands the ban on the use of all prohibited devices to include Spotted Saddle Horses, who are also victims of soring.

Soring should have ended in this country over half a century ago. A tougher, unbiased enforcement system and prohibition on soring instruments is imperative to finally protect horses from soring. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in charge of the USDA when the 2017 rule was finalized, and he can get the job done now. We hope you will join us in urging the USDA to bring these long-overdue reforms swiftly over the finish line.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Karen M. Sheppard says:

    This practice is barbaric and inhumane. It also shows a very high degree of GREED.

    • Melanie Randolph says:

      This practice of big lick shoes chains and soring should have been stopped YEARS ago. Nothing natural or pretty about it. Lot of these horses end in the slaughter pipeline. These horses are crippled in the rear legs due to what is done to the front legs. The whole big lick needs to end now. Many protest at these shows but get run off if they don’t have a horse in the show. There’s nothing to be proud of at these shows they want to keep it almost secret denying protesters. Watch Horse + Humane these people have been trying for years to get this stopped and end up rescuing so X big lick horses so they can humanely be put down instead of shipped to slaughter. End the stupidity! Eliminate big lick in all phases.The horse is naturally gaited. Let that be good enough.

  2. Lee Schelin says:

    Those are some VERY SICK people who would do that to a horse or any animal. They need to be put away, so they can’t hurt any animal …PERIOD

  3. GPC says:

    About time! Unconscionable that this cruel practice even had a beginning. And these are supposedly “horse people”?

  4. Susan Trout says:

    I am very disappointed that the PAST Act was not supported and passed by Congress in its entirety! Simply banning cruel devices and harmful liquids, etc. to prevent soaring is not getting to the root of the problem. The big lick class is grotesque, ridiculous and pathetic. No true horseman or horsewoman would ever say anything positive about it. The horses will still be forced to wear outrageous 8-inch platform shoes and chains on their ankles! Watching a big lick horse try to canter is like watching a poor cat with cerebral hypoplasty try to walk normally! The riders (many of which are grossly overweight) sit far back on the poor horses kidneys, forcing them to practically squat while they are attempting to lift their front ends to do a canter. Any human being that actually finds this exciting needs their head examined!! I’m disappointed that HSUS hasn’t worked harder to ban big lick. The only people who enjoy it are the rich owners and trainers who, it seems, have certain politicians in their back pockets! While this might help to lessen the pain and suffering of the horses, It will only shorten their lives because such ridiculous practices will eventually cripple them.

  5. Underwood Paula says:

    This has been almost happening for as long as I can remember. Then somebody gets a big check (Mitch McConnell) and it doesn’t pass. I dont think Kevin McCarthy is any better. However I support your efforts. Hope it happens.

  6. laurie says:

    Certain politicians have blocked the passing of the PAST Act such as Mitch McConnell and Marsha Blackburn, and more. How shameful for any politician to enable these despicable criminals.

  7. Pamela Johnson says:

    Glad this was passed let’s enforce it and get rid of the morons who do this cruel act to an animal

  8. Michele Padgett says:

    Unbelievable abuse. The pain inflicted is incredible. Just stop

  9. M Leybra says:

    USDA’s regulations have enabled the ‘horse soring industry’ to use its own inspectors to examine horses suffering cruelty from this obscene practice. “This self-policing system is rife with a conflict of interest,” (gee, who would’ve thought) & so soring has been allowed to flourish. After a 2014 audit & 100,000 supportive public comments plus bipartisan letters signed by 182 representatives & 42 senators, the USDA pledged to replace the industry’s self-policing with a team of USDA inspectors by 2017. (Presumably inspectors recruited from the same USDA pool who allowed thousands of Beagles to suffer for two decades.) Then in 2017 (under a new leadership ‘administration,) USDA withdrew it’s ‘new regulations offer’ & HSUS is now ‘urging’ the public, to once again “urge” their representatives to start from square one, trying to end this gratuitous cruelty to animals for human entertainment & monetary profits. In meantime, the horse soring industry remains home-free & suffering horses can suck warts. This is best I can interpret this HSUS August 2023 blog.

  10. Donna Mangelsen says:

    Something should have been to STOP this unnecessary cruelty a long, long time ago.


  11. Cheryl Nelson says:

    I’m a lifetime horse woman and at 73 l still cannot understand why this act of causing untold pain to horses as a standard of practice within the high action breeds, Tennessee Walkers most notably, was, has, and still is allowed. It’s a sad commentary on humankind to keep inflicting unnecessary pain on horses for supposed prestige of action in motion artificially rather than by breeding for a natural gait. It’s disgusting, inhumane, unnecessary and should be legislated as unlawful and punished as a felony in court.

  12. Diane Trelenberg says:

    It amazes me that this “industry “ was allowed to police itself!!!!!! What foolishness was that at the expense of the poor horses who I have SEEN in agony!!!!

  13. Lynn Giotto says:

    Why is it allowed for greed to torture innocence ?

    • Leigh dixon says:

      I’m with this woman. Couldn’t have said it any better with any other words! Finally someone who thinks what I am thinking!

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