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Federal Legislation Introduced to Eliminate Soring


2013/05/01

From the American Horse Council and Sally Baker at AAEP

On April 11, 2013, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2013, H.R. 1518, was introduced by lead sponsors U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., along with Reps. Joseph Pitts, R-Pa., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Jim Moran, D-Va., as original cosponsors. The bill is intended to strengthen the Horse Protection Act (HPA), enacted in 1970 to prohibit the showing, exhibiting, transporting or sale at auction of a horse that has been sored. The bill seeks to eliminate the abusive act of soring horses by improving the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement capabilities and strengthening penalties against violators, among other provisions.

The bipartisan bill is endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and the ASPCA, along with a broad and diverse coalition of horse and veterinary organizations, including the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association and Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

“Soring of horses is an inhumane practice that veterinarians are, unfortunately, still seeing. It has crippling physical and mental effects on horses,” said Dr. Douglas Aspros, veterinarian and AVMA president. “It’s sad when winning a show takes precedence over the health and welfare of the horse. As veterinarians, we simply can’t stand by and allow horses to be abused. We encourage Congress to quickly pass H.R. 1518 and put an end to the inhumane and unethical practice of soring, once and for all.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which enforces the HPA, deems soring to involve the use of action devices, chemicals, pads, wedges or practices like trimming a horse’s hoof to expose sensitive tissue, so that it causes pain in the horse’s forelegs and produces an accentuated show gait for competition.  According to the USDA, soring has been primarily used with Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses and continues despite the existence of a federal ban for over forty years.

The bill would amend the HPA to prohibit a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Racking Horse, or a Spotted Saddle Horse from being shown, exhibited, or auctioned with an “action device,” or “a weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof band or other device or material” if it is constructed to artificially alter the gait of the horse and is not strictly protective or therapeutic. These new prohibitions would not apply to other breeds and would not prohibit the use of therapeutic pads, or bell boots, or quarter boots that are used as protective devices. The legislation would also increase fines and penalties for violations for soring, including the potential for a lifetime ban for repeat offenders. 

The bill would create a new licensing process for horse show inspectors, eliminating the current program that uses industry-affiliated designated qualified persons (DQPs).  This program has received criticism because these DQPs are often not independent of the industry they are inspecting.  USDA would be required to train, license and appoint the new independent inspectors for shows and other HPA-regulated activities that wish to hire an inspector.  Licensed or accredited veterinarians would be given preference for these positions.  The decision to hire an inspector, however, would still be up to the show, sale or auction.  It would not be made mandatory. 

Rep. Whitfield said: “Far too often, those involved in showing the Tennessee walking horses have turned a blind eye to abusive trainers, or when they do take action, the penalties are so minor, it does nothing to prevent these barbaric acts. This amendment does not cost the federal government any additional money and is essential in helping to put an end to the practice of soring by abusive trainers.”

Rep. Cohen said: “In Tennessee, soring horses is illegal and unacceptable. Those responsible for abusing these horses should be punished severely and banned from the sport. How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation. There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one’s humanity.”

Former Sen. Joseph Tydings, D-Md., the author and original sponsor of the Horse Protection Act of 1970, said: “I commend Congressman Whitfield on his leadership in organizing this bipartisan effort to strengthen and improve the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which is long overdue and greatly needed.”

A 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Act enforcement program found that trainers in the industry go to great lengths to evade detection of the cruelty to which they subject their horses, rather than comply with federal law and use humane training methods.  The O.I.G. audit also pointed out the serious conflicts of interest in the current system, which allows inspectors to be chosen by the horse industry organizations representing the trainers and putting on the competitions. 

Key reforms in H.R. 1518:
  • Makes the actual act of soring, or directing another person to cause a horse to become sore, illegal, whereas the original act only banned showing, transporting, or auctioning a horse that was sore, not the actual practice;
  • Mandates that USDA, rather than industry organizations, assign licensed inspectors to horse shows when requested by show management—a reform that will create consistent, rigorous inspections and enforcement of penalties for violations. 
  • Increases civil and criminal penalties for violations, and creates a penalty structure that requires horses to be disqualified for increasing periods of time based on the number of violations. The current Horse Protection Act’s misdemeanor criminal penalties would be raised to felony-level, providing up to three years’ jail time for each violation, and potential fines would be doubled.
  • A third violation could trigger permanent disqualification from participating in any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction.
  • Prohibits the use of “action devices” (e.g., boot, collar, chain, roller, or other device that encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg of a horse) on any limb in the Tennessee walking horse, Racking horse and Spotted Saddle horse breeds. Chains strapped to a horse’s lower front legs agitate and strike the flesh already injured by caustic chemicals, causing the horse to lift his front legs higher off the ground in reaction to the pain. 
  • Prohibits the use in the same three named breeds of “stacks” or “performance packages”—tall, heavy stacks of material nailed to a horse’s hoof to lift her feet higher and strike the ground hard at an abnormal angle. The stacks are also often used to hide hard sharp objects inserted into the tender part of a horse’s hoof to increase the pressure and pain, creating the desired gait. 
  • Prohibits the actual act of soring, or directing another person to cause a horse to become sore, illegal, whereas the original act only banned showing, transporting, or auctioning a horse that was sore, not the actual practice, and strengthens penalties to establish a more meaningful deterrent.
 “Soring is one of the most significant equine welfare issues in the United States,” said AAEP President Dr. Ann Dwyer. “Federal legislation is the only action that will end this decades-long abuse of horses, and we urge all within the veterinary and horse-owning communities to join us in supporting this bill’s passage.”

For more information on the AVMA and AAEP’s efforts to end soring, visit the AVMA's Soring Resource Page.

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