The lead organization for equine veterinarians called for the abolition of industry-run inspections, saying “the acknowledged conflicts of interest which involve many of them cannot be reasonably resolved, and these individuals should be excluded from the regulatory process.” It further recommended that “[p]enalties should be much more severe and consequential to owners, trainers and other support personnel than in the past.”
-American Association of Equine Practitioners
AVMA and AAEP jointly urge Congress “to quickly pass H.R. 1518 and put an end to the inhumane and unethical practice of soring, once and for all.” They call for a ban on devices associated with soring: “[B]ecause the industry has been unable to make substantial progress in eliminating this abusive practice, the AVMA and the AAEP believe a ban on action devices and performance packages is necessary to protect the health and welfare of the horse.” AVMA’s president notes that soring “has crippling physical and mental effects on horses.” In a joint statement, these lead veterinary groups state, “For decades we’ve watched irresponsible individuals become more creative about finding ways to sore horses and circumvent the inspection process, and have lost faith in an industry that seems unwilling and/or unable to police itself.”
Undercover Investigation and Enforcement Track Record The HSUS’ undercover investigation of champion Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell and his associates revealed that trainers can sore horses and enter them into shows undetected, as McConnell did while serving a 5-year federal disqualification. Caught on videotape painting caustic chemicals on horses’ legs, McConnell pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the HPA. The video also showed horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face, and violently cracked across their skulls and legs with heavy wooden sticks (see the footage: www.humanesociety.org/mcconnell_horsesoring). Prosecutors expressed frustration with the weak penalties available under the current HPA. In another recent case, trainer Barney Davis pleaded guilty to multiple violations of the HPA and related financial crimes. According to Davis, “every trainer sored horses…You have to. That’s the bottom line….Without the soring, without some kind of soring, the horse, they’re not going to do the Big Lick” (the extreme high-stepping gait that wins prizes in segments of the industry). While we applaud these prosecutions, the violators had been engaged in soring and had gotten past industry inspectors for decades, as have many others. Their prosecutions are noteworthy because they are so rare. A recent analysis of the violation history of the top 20 trainers in the industry's 2011 Riders Cup award program found that every trainer on that list was cited for soring violations in the past 2 years, with a total 164 violations among them. Only 7% actually resulted in served suspension penalties – and of those, all but a handful were for a mere 2-week period. Many of the show judges also have records of soring violations. And, despite HIO claims of a 98% compliance rate at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, USDA inspectors found that nearly every horse (153 out of 156) randomly chosen there tested positive for prohibited foreign substances applied to their pasterns. This industry has been allowed to self-police for too long, penalties have been too weak to provide a meaningful deterrent even in the rare event of being caught, and devices known to be associated with soring have been permitted.
Prevent All Soring Tactics Act Will Make Urgently-Needed Reforms to End this Torture of Horses • 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.
• Not expected to add costs to federal government. H.R. 1518 will enable USDA to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient and effective way.
“The AHC supports this legislation, as does the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Paint Horse Association, the American Morgan Horse Association, the Pinto Horse Association of America, the American Veterinary Medical Association and other groups. Various efforts have been made since enactment of the HPA forty years ago to stop the soring of horses and they have not worked. This bill is focused on the problem it is intended to solve and does not adversely affect other segments of the show industry that are not soring horses and have no history of soring horses.”
American Horse Council, press release on 4/11/2013
H.R. 1518 was introduced on 4/11/13 by Cong. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Joe Pitts (R-PA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), and Jim Moran (D-VA). The Problem: Cruel Soring of Show Horses Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to make illegal the abusive practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on Tennessee Walking Horses’ hooves and legs to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to “cook” those chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days, attaching chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting hard objects such as screws and resins into tender areas of the hooves, paring the soles of the feet down to sensitive tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. Sored horses often live in constant and extreme pain throughout their show ring careers.
Current Law Allows Industry to Police Itself Decades ago, USDA set up an industry-run enforcement system in which Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) are authorized to train their own inspectors, called Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs), to inspect horses for soring at shows. But DQPs are employees of these show organizations, and are often exhibitors of Tennessee Walking Horses themselves. So, not surprisingly, many DQPs avoid citing violations by those who hired them, ensuring lenient oversight and widespread soring that goes unpenalized.
USDA Inspector General Recommends Program Overhaul Though the HPA was signed into law more than 40 years ago to protect horses from painful soring, this abuse continues unabated. A 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General exposed how trainers in the industry go to great lengths to evade detection rather than comply with federal law and train horses using humane methods. The IG recommended stiffer penalties and eliminating the flawed system of industry self-policing, as well as increased funding to enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture to more adequately oversee the law.
Equine Veterinarians and Horse Groups Call for Reforms (continued) The American Veterinary Medical Association and the key organization of equine veterinarians (American Association of Equine Practitioners), along with the American Horse Council and several show horse industry groups, all endorse this legislation. AAEP issued a 2008 white paper condemning soring, calling it “one of the most significant welfare issues faced by the equine industry.” It called for the abolition of industry-run inspections, saying “the acknowledged conflicts of interest which involve many of them cannot be reasonably resolved, and these individuals should be excluded from the regulatory process.” AAEP also said the “adoption and strict enforcement of meaningful uniform standards and regulations, combined with more stringent penalties, are the cornerstones of establishing fair and humane competitions. Penalties should be much more severe and consequential to owners, trainers and other support personnel than in the past.”