At the start of the gaited horse show season in April, the AVMA spoke out on the issue of soring. "It's time for this egregious
form of animal cruelty to end," says René Carlson, DVM, president of the AVMA. The AVMA reported recently on indictments against
several Tennessee horse trainers who were involved with soring for at least eight years and sentenced to a range of one to
20 years in prison, with fines ranging from $1,000 to $250,000. And these weren't the only cases of Horse Protection Act violations—the
USDA identified 1,111 violations in 2011—but the AVMA says the fact that the cases were brought to court signals a new trend.
The Tennessee indictments mark some of the first criminal indictments for Horse Protection Act violations in two decades,
the AVMA says.
The indictment and subsequent convictions were the result of a seven-month investigation conducted by the USDA Office of Inspector
General (USDA-OIG) Agent Julie McMillian, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee.
"The crime committed by the individual in this conspiracy is an example of a widespread problem in the equine industry that
gives unfair and illegal advantage to some competitors over others, in addition to causing cruelty to the animals," says U.S.
Attorney Bill Killian. "This issue has our attention, and we will continue to pursue violators of the Horse Protection Act
to assure fairness in competition and to protect the welfare of the horses that are a symbol of our state."
But Baker says limited USDA funding to police the practice of soring is part of the problem. The USDA's own Office of the
Inspector General noted in a fall 2010 audit that APHIS's program for inspecting horses for soring was not adequate, and funding
for the program has since been increased.
The AVMA agrees that inadequate budget is an area of concern. "USDA inspectors are doing everything possible to detect evidence
of soring before horses are allowed to compete," Carlson says. "Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, USDA inspectors
are only able to attend a small number of the shows being held. It is going to take a team effort to put an end to the inhumane
practice of soring horses, so America's veterinarians stand in support of government regulators and the walking horse industry
in their horse protection efforts."
In February, the AVMA and AAEP sent a joint letter to the USDA with recommendations and concerns about enforcing the Horse
Protection Act as it pertains to horse soring. In the letter the associations ask the USDA to decertify noncompliant horse
industry organizations and prosecute civil and criminal cases involving soring in a timely and aggressive manner.
"While we were very pleased to learn of last November's successful prosecutions under the (Horse Protection Act), more than
400 federal tickets were issued at the National Celebration in 2010 and few were prosecuted or resulted in penalties," the
AAEP and AVMA wrote. "Without effective and timely prosecution of federal cases, violators will continue to exhibit sore horses,
and deterrence derived from federal prosecution is undermined. Furthermore, when large numbers of federal tickets are issued
and not pursued, it adversely impacts (the USDA's) credibility."
Additionally, show management should be held responsible for Horse Protection Act violations, and foreign substance violations
should be reported and prosecuted. Other suggestions include using undercover observation, drug testing, pulling pads and
shoes on padded horses, and requesting additional funding for enforcement efforts.