USDA rule aimed at increasing protection from soring

USDA rule aimed at increasing protection from soring

Veterinary groups propose ban on use of action devices, performance packages in Tennessee walking horses.
Jun 15, 2012
By staff

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making an effort to ensure that the abuse recently witnessed by the public—that of renowned horse trainer Jackie McConnell soring and beating Tennessee walking horses at his training facility—does not happen again.

The federal agency has issued a final rule that would require horse industry organizations to enforce minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The HPA has been in effect for more than 40 years and was passed in an effort to eliminate the practice of soring, which Congress deemed cruel and inhumane. Despite this, the act of using chemicals or mechanical devices to enhance a horse's high-stepping gait has persisted over time, in part due to inconsistent inspections and substandard enforcement of penalties at horse shows and sales.

Under the current law, the HPA allows horse industry organizations to appoint certain individuals to inspect horses for soring at events, but the penalties assessed by some of these organizations for HPA violations have fallen short over the years. In fact, the failure of some organizations to enforce sufficiently serious penalties for soring has led to a noticeable increase in competitor attendance at events where the USDA's minimum penalty protocol was not imposed, the agency says.

Additionally, an audit issued in 2010 by the USDA's Office of the Inspector General found that individuals assigned by horse industry organizations to enforce the HPA issued more violations when USDA veterinary medical officers were present. Based on the results of the audit, the USDA concluded that the industry's current system of self-regulation was ineffective at eliminating the practice of soring and ultimately inadequate in protecting horses from abuse. As such, it was recommended that the USDA develop and implement protocols for more consistent penalty enforcement among all industry organizations.

"Requiring minimum penalty protocols will ensure that these organizations and their designees remain consistent in their inspection efforts," says Rebecca Blue, USDA deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs. "USDA inspectors cannot be present at every horse show and sale, so we work with industry organizations and their designees to ensure the well-being of these animals. Our goal, together, is to make horse soring a thing of the past."

The final rule will make it mandatory for all horse industry organizations certified by the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to make their penalties equal to or in excess of minimum levels. As part of the ruling, suspensions will be issued to any individual who:

-shows a sore horse

-exhibits a sore horse

-admits a sore horse to a show or exhibition

-sells a sore horse

-ships, moves, delivers or receives a sore horse.

The suspension penalty applies to managers, trainers, riders, custodians, sellers and owners of horses. Anyone who is suspended will not be permitted to show or exhibit a horse or judge or manage a horse show, exhibition, sale or auction during the course of the suspension.

In related news, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) on June 14 called for a ban on the use of action devices and performance packages in the training and showing of Tennessee walking horses.

Action devices used with Tennessee walking horses include chains, ankle rings, collars, rollers and bracelets of wood or aluminum beads. When paired with chemical irritants on the pastern of the horse's foot, these devices have the potential to create a painful response, triggering a more exaggerated gait, say the AVMA and AAEP.

"While there is little scientific evidence to indicate that the use of action devices below a certain weight are detrimental to the health and welfare of the horse, banning action devices from use in the training and showing of Tennessee walking horses reduces the motivation to apply a chemical irritant to the pastern," reads a position statement released by both groups.

Performance packages, which are also called "stacks" or "pads," are made of plastic, leather, wood, rubber or a combination of these materials and are attached below the sole of the horse's natural hoof by a metal band running around the hoof wall. The packages add weight to the horse's foot, making it strike with more force and at an abnormal angle to the ground."They also facilitate the concealment of items that apply pressure to the sole of the horse's hoof," says the AVMA-AAEP position statement. "Pressure from these hidden items produces pain in the hoof so that the horse lifts its feet faster and higher."

"The soring of Tennessee walking horses is an extremely abusive practice and it must end," says AAEP President John Mitchell, DVM. "We urge a modification to the Horse Protection Act so that all action devices and performance packages are banned."