Groups urge USDA to crack down on equine soring

The Humane Society of the United States has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the Horse Protection Act to make the use of numbing or masking drugs to hide underlying soring a felony offense.
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May 01, 2012
By dvm360.com staff

NATIONAL REPORT — The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand the Horse Protection Act to make the use of numbing or masking drugs to hide underlying soring a felony offense.

Soring is the practice of intentionally inflicting pain through the use of chemical irritants, broken glass wedged between a horse's shoe pads and sole, or overly tightened metal hoof bands, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The resulting pain forces the horse to lift its legs faster and higher, exaggerating its natural gait.

The HSUS petition states that although soring has long been illegal under the Horse Protection Act, a recent report by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) shows that nearly 98 percent of samples taken at Tennessee Walking Horse competitions in 2011 were positive for prohibited foreign substances, and all 52 horses at the most recent Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration tested positive for illegal agents.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) in 2008 called for the elimination of the "culture of abuse" of soring horses and released recommendations for how the walking horse industry could eliminate soring, calling it "one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline."

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration promised to strengthen its commitment to protecting horses at that time, but AAEP spokesperson Sally Baker says soring is still happening at equine events.

"It really hasn't changed," Baker says. "Some of these industry groups say violations have dropped, which may statistically be the case, but they are still occurring."

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration did not return phone calls regarding its progress on AAEP's recommendations by press time.

The HSUS and other horse protection advocates filed a similar petition in 2010, asking the USDA to better enforce the Horse Protection Act as it pertained to soring, but the HSUS says the agency has yet to respond to the petition and says a lot more could be done to prosecute violators of the Horse Protection Act. AAEP agrees.

"It is hard for us at AAEP to know with certainty what changes have actually been made in compliance with (our recommendations)," says Harry Werner, VMD, a solo equine practitioner in Connecticut, former AAEP president, and current chair of the AAEP's welfare committee. "Like so many things, we can advocate changes, but the industry itself will have to implement the changes. They're the ones—the only ones, really—that can solve this problem."

It's difficult to gauge how much the horse industry has changed, but Werner says leading officials in the walking horse industry indicate that they're on board with AAEP's recommendations and making progress on changes. "They are also forthcoming that much progress needs to be made," he adds. "I truly believe that things are improving, (but) there's no reason to think this problem is close to being resolved. ... It's clear from the USDA data that there is still a lot of this practice going on, and way too much going on."

"Soring is an ongoing concern for us," Baker continues, adding that the AAEP isn't the only group fighting the practice. A number of groups are joining in the effort to see the practice stopped, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). "The AVMA has really become very aggressive, as well, about ending the practice of soring."