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APHIS strengthens rules to combat horse soring

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is set to introduce enhanced regulations under the Horse Protection Act (HPA), targeting the eradication of horse soring in Tennessee Walking Horse shows and other events. Announced on April 29, these robust measures aim to close existing loopholes, with full implementation scheduled for February 1, 2025. The complete details of the final rule can be accessed on the APHIS website and will be published soon in the Federal Register.

Horse soring, a cruel practice involving the application of painful substances or devices to horses’ forelegs, forces them to adopt an unnatural, exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.” This gait is often rewarded in competitions, despite its illegality. The practice is predominantly seen in Tennessee Walking Horses but also affects other gaited breeds like Racking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses, Rocky Mountain Horses, and Missouri Fox-Trotters.

Jenny Lester-Moffitt, the USDA undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, expressed determination in a recent press release, stating that the persistence of soring despite previous regulations and inspections necessitates these stricter measures. “This abuse must stop,” she emphasized, outlining the goal to protect horses and ensure a fair competitive environment.

The revised rule will notably eliminate the industry’s self-regulation, removing Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) who were previously chosen by horse industry organizations to oversee inspections. Starting in 2025, only APHIS inspectors and independent, APHIS-authorized horse protection inspectors will have the authority to conduct inspections at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

Inspectors will assess horses for signs of soring by examining the forelegs for pain response and visible indicators of abuse, such as scars or missing hair. The revised “scar rule” will better define dermatological changes associated with soring, improving the accuracy of inspections.

Key changes in the regulations include:

  • Banning all devices, methods, and substances that contribute to soring.
  • Prohibiting the use of action devices, nontherapeutic pads, artificial toe extensions, and wedges on Tennessee Walking and Racking Horses.
  • Enhancing record-keeping and reporting requirements to strengthen enforcement of the HPA.

These changes build upon feedback from a 2021 National Academies of Science review and public comments, following a retraction of a previously proposed rule in 2017 due to administrative changes.

Endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), these updated regulations aim to put an end to soring, ensuring the welfare of horses and the integrity of the sport. The joint statement from AVMA and AAEP supports the ban on harmful training and showing devices, reinforcing the commitment to humane treatment and fair competition in the equestrian industry.

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