USDA aims to end practice of horse soring

APHIS issues final rule that includes changes to help protect horses from soring and eliminate unfair competitive advantage sore horses have over others.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced Jan. 13 a final rule that includes changes designed to help protect horses from the inhumane practice known as soring and eliminate the unfair competitive advantage sore horses have over horses that are not sore.

The practice of soring is intended to produce a high stepping gait through the use of action devices, caustic chemicals and other practices that cause horses to suffer -- or reasonably be expected to suffer -- physical pain, distress, inflammation or lameness while walking or moving.

APHIS enforces the Horse Protection Act (HPA), a federal law that makes it unlawful for any person to show, exhibit, sell or transport sore horses or to use any equipment, device, paraphernalia or substance prohibited by USDA to prevent the soring of horse in such events. APHIS works actively with the horse industry to eliminate such inhumane practices and the resulting unfair competition they create at HPA-covered events.

The final rule addresses recommendations made by USDA’s Office of Inspector General following an audit of APHIS’s horse protection program, which found the existing industry-led inspection program to be inadequate for ensuring compliance with HPA. The rule also seeks to address the substantial non-compliance rate that continues to exist among Tennessee Walking Horses and racking horses and the relationship that continues to exist between the use of certain prohibited items and soring in horses, such as the use of permitted action devices alone or in conjunction with prohibited substances.

According to USDA, under the final regulation:

* APHIS will license, train and oversee independent, third-party inspectors, known as horse protection inspectors (HPIs), and establish the licensing eligibility requirements to reduce conflicts of interest.

* In order to allow sufficient time to train and license HPIs and ensure an adequate number before the start of the 2018 show season, current designated qualified person (DQP) licenses will remain valid until Jan. 1, 2018. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, management of horse shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions that elect to use inspection services must appoint and retain HPIs to inspect horses.

* Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the regulatory provisions applicable to horse industry organization and associations will be removed and no longer effective.

* Beginning 30 days after the publication of the final rule, all action devices, except for certain boots, are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction. All pads and wedges are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction on or after Jan. 1, 2018, unless such a horse has been prescribed and is receiving therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges. This delayed implementation allows ample time to both gradually reduce the size of pads to minimize any potential physiological stress to the horses and prepare horses to compete in other classes.

* Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, management of HPA-covered events must, among other things, submit certain information records to APHIS, provide HPIs with access, space and facilities to conduct inspections and have a farrier physically present to assist HPIs at horse shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions that allow Tennessee Walking Horses or racking horses to participate in therapeutic pads and wedges if more than 150 horses are entered and have a farrier on call if 150 or fewer horses are entered.

Congress passed HPA to end the practice of soring horses and to stop unfair competition. Strengthening HPA regulations and the enforcement of alleged violations is the best way to achieve this goal. In addition, USDA said the prohibitions on the use of action devices and pads (with certain exceptions) are consistent with recommendations made by the American Veterinary Medical Assn., the American Association of Equine Practitioners and leading industry standards for equestrian sports.

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