Equine Rescue

Stronger Federal Rule Announced to Impose Penalties against Horse Soring

Published in Wayne Pacelle’s A Humane Nation

“Soring has been a well-kept dirty secret in this industry and it’s time for this nonsense to end.”

The abuse of Tennessee walking horses has been in the news since The HSUS released video footage of one of the industry’s top trainers striking a horse in the face with a wooden handle and pouring injurious chemicals onto the feet of a horse. It was four decades ago that Congress passed the Horse Protection Act to prevent and criminalize “soring” and other abuses of horses. Tennessee state representative Janis Sontany wrote in a column in The Tennessean on Sunday: “Soring has been a well-kept dirty secret in this industry and it’s time for this nonsense to end.”

In 2010, The HSUS and a broad coalition of horse industry and animal protection groups filed a legal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture documenting that soring practices are rampant in the industry as part of trainers’ and owners’ determination to produce the high-stepping gait, or “big lick,” glamorized in the show ring. The petition sought a number of regulatory changes to improve HPA enforcement―including the implementation of a mandatory penalty structure.

Today, in the wake of the furor that’s resulted from the public witnessing the abusive practices documented in HSUS’s investigation, the USDA announced that there will be mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the law. Through the years, industry inspectors (part of what are known as “Horse Industry Organizations”) cited some trainers for “soring” but penalties were not consistently meted out, and there was no therefore meaningful disincentive to stop the abuse.

Today’s announcement changes the equation and provides much-needed improvements in HPA enforcement―finally providing some level of deterrence for lawbreakers. I commend Agriculture Secretary Vilsack for issuing this rule today.

As pleased as we are with USDA’s action, there’s additional reform that’s needed in order to root out soring. Animal protection groups, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the USDA’s own Inspector General have argued that the current system of industry self-regulation is fundamentally flawed. USDA inspectors should be doing the enforcement work, since they don’t have the inherent conflicts that industry personnel have.

That’s a task that Congress must complete. Federal legislators must amend the HPA to eliminate the industry’s role in enforcement of the Act, close loopholes that violators often slip through, and give the USDA the tools to fully protect this wonderful breed of horse, as Congress intended when it passed this law 42 years ago.

Since McConnell’s indictment, we’ve been hard at work bringing this abuse to the attention of state and federal authorities, urging them to do more to enforce and stiffen existing laws. We petitioned USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack asking him to treat the use of numbing and masking agents (used to camouflage evidence that a horse has been sored) as felony interference in enforcement of the HPA. And we asked the Tennessee Attorney General to investigate whether the current state cruelty law is being followed in reporting and prosecuting soring at horse shows in the state.

A recent analysis of the violation history of the top 20 trainers in the industry’s Riders Cup high point program found that every one of them was cited for HPA violations in the past two years, with a total 164 violations among them. How many served a suspension penalty? A mere 7 percent―and of those, all but a handful were for a measly two-week period.

We will also be calling on the industry itself to take some common-sense steps, including ousting those who torment animals from the show ring, establishing a zero-tolerance policy for this criminal behavior, and adopting practices and policies that will secure a place in the future of American equestrian sport for this breed. We want to help the industry reform, rebuild, and regrow, with the good, law-abiding animal lovers at the helm, reaping the rewards of fair, humane―and legal―competition.

9 replies »

  1. I agree that there should be a uniform and strict enforcement of the anti soring and also it should not be done by those involved with the showing,breeding or training of these horses. There should be more enforcement of the cruelty laws.
    There should be a ZERO TOLERANCE of trainers and owners who are found to be soring their horses. They should be barred from any associations connected with the Tennessee Walking Horse FOR LIFE…. at the FIRST OFFENSE.


  2. agree very strongly O tolerance fore soring horses and should be a severe fine and animal abuse charges set against owners or trainers of the horse These TWH people who do this horrible practice to their horses should be fined and if insistent of doing this practice put in jail
    TW have a lovely gait naturally and should be shown if owner wants to show them in natural movement only
    Zero Tolerance Please


  3. Part of this action to stop the abuse could come from the judges themselves. Quit awarding the points to those that exaggerate the showing and start giving the ones who show a natural gait all the awards. They could even disqualify those that go beyond the natural movements of the horse.


  4. Any judge who awards a horse that is sored should be heavily fined and immediately lose his judge’s card for life. After each class, each horse that places 1st – 6th (or whatever) should be immediately inspected, and the penalties and/or fines and lifetime banning should be immediately enacted. I’m inclined to think that any soring would show up more obviously after the class. I wonder just how many judges and competitors they would have at the next show? On the other hand, that would probably just give them more reason to find worse ways to hide the soring. They already have some pretty evil ways, like wiring the horses’ genitals to a battery and shocking them if they flinch. Lord help us. These are some wicked people.


  5. And here I was going to comment on how unconvincing Representative Sontany sounds, jumping on the bandwagon at this late stage, after the solutions are already well in the works.
    Maybe she had no idea that this stuff was going on?
    I’m in Illinois, and I’ve been well aware of it for many years.
    Maybe the representative could look into being at the lead regarding the upcoming issues?

    I kind of doubt that though… Well, we’ll see.


  6. These are all very needed. However, you must also penalize and punish the following: Breed Associations for allowing this, Show Stewards who know full well what has happened to these poor horses and all others directly connected to these shows. Owners are just as guilty because they also are aware of the trainers techniques. I don’t buy it that owners are not aware…They all should serve some jail time as far as I am concerned. Throw the book at them all!


  7. Until whatever laws we have have penalty clauses in them which serve as both a punishment and a deterrent, it does not matter what we make illegal. We should support funding for federal inspectors for this type of equine cruelty.

    There seems to be a sector of horse owners who are oblivious to the nature of the horse. What is worse, I get the feeling that even if they suspected that the horse is highly sensitive to pain, but will give their hearts to please their humans, they would not care. There is a group of people who own animals who treat them as if they were only personal property like a pick-up truck like you decide to put those huge big wheels on.

    Thank you HSUS for being on the front lines for the horses, and facing these cruel, unreasonable people head-on for the benefit of the horses and other animals that make our lives so much fuller.


  8. Everyone involved – from owners, trainers, judges, show stewards – are all guilty when this goes on, as it has for the past 40 years & probably longer. Natural gaited walking horses are fantastic riding horses. Its downright sad to see what these crooks (because thats what they are) have done the the TWH. How can anyone look the other way while this goes on? Cant imagine what the lives of these horses are like – the people who do this are no better than the KBs.


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