Soring is the practice of intentionally inflicting severe pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses to exaggerate their high-stepping gait. Sored horses often live in constant and extreme pain throughout their ring careers.
Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals to the legs of the horses and wrapping them so the chemicals “cook” into the skin for days, attaching chains to strike against the horses’ sore legs, inserting hard objects such as screws and resins into the hooves of the horses, and grinding the soles of the feet down to exposed tissue.
Congress aimed to end soring when it passed the Horse Protection Act of1970, but the law is not effectively addressing soring practices that cause such extreme pain.
Most problematic, current law allows the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to police itself. The USDA set up an industry-run enforcement system in which Horse Industry Organizations select and oversee their own inspectors. These inspectors are even often exhibitors of Tennessee Walking Horses themselves. Violations are overlooked and widespread soring goes unpunished.
A 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General revealed that trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry go to great lengths to evade detection rather than comply with federal law.
Despite the extensive lengths trainers go to cover-up their soring practices, there have been more than 9,000 documented violations of the Horse Protection Act since 1986, and more than half are repeat violations. A map of the violations is below. Most incurred virtually no penalty.
Those who participate in soring practices are most likely violating state cruelty law, including in my state. The Tennessee Walking Horse Industry, however, involves high-dollar, interstate activity and there needs to be strong federal law to combat the illegal and viciously cruel practice of soring, just as there is strong federal law to combat dogfighting.
The Solution – the PAST Act (H.R. 3268/S. 1121)
End the failed industry self-policing system. USDA will train, license, and assign inspectors to horse shows instead of having HIOs choose who conducts inspections. Shows will still have the option of hiring inspectors or declining to do so; show management who opt out will (as in current law) risk greater liability if soring is uncovered at their show.
Strengthen penalties. Criminal penalty of up to 3 years’ jail time for core offenses now subject to only misdemeanor; increase fines to up to $5,000 per violation; for third violation, allow permanent disqualification from any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction; require disqualification of sore horses for increasing periods based on number of violations.
Ban the use of devices associated with soring. Chains, weighted shoes, pads, and other devices used on 3 specified breeds (to intensify pain and conceal foreign objects) will be expressly prohibited.
Make the actual soring of a horse for the purpose of showing or selling it illegal, as well as directing another to do so.
PAST is endorsed by the American Horse Council, most major horse industry groups, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, every state VMA, National Sheriffs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
The PAST Act already has the bipartisan support of over 360 House and Senate cosponsors.