USDA Announced Proposed Plan to End Soring

Honor System Not Working

Horse in field
Horses are frequently the victims of human cruelty. Getty Images

 What is Soring?

Imagine you’re restrained while a surfboard is dropped on your right foot. A nurse shark bites into your throbbing, swelling flesh while seven Portuguese Man-O-War languidly and deeply explore the slash with their tentacles, stinging repeatedly and generously secreting a caustic toxin. Table salt and lemon juice are poured liberally into the deep wound before it is tightly bound with material designed to keep the burning contaminant inside the dying tissue.

You’d limp, right? You’d rely more on your left foot to get around. Well, now imagine having that done to both feet. How do you walk at all? If you’re an animal with four feet, you do your best.

The Humane Society of the United States explains soring as the application of corrosive substances to a horse’s legs, followed by the use of non-permeable, tightly wrapped bandages to cook the chemicals deep into the horse’s flesh for days. This savagery is followed by the attachment of chains to repeatedly pound the sores preventing healing and fostering decay of tender flesh. While this process is destroying the horse’s ankles, exposed flesh in the feet is pared down and screws and other shrapnel are driven in. The final insult is the use of salicylic acid to disguise soring wound scars so the deceit goes undetected.  

The special bond between Americans and horses is patently historical and gentle people agree that horses should never be mistreated.

We live in a country where horses are not considered food animals; but that doesn’t always stop us from sending their butchered bodies to countries that do.

I think we may be hypocrites.

When I visited a Colorado ranch a few months back, I wrote about horseback riding seeking redemption for any perceived transgression by explaining how the ranch rescued horses destined for slaughter.

Though reading the body language of dogs and cats has become second nature to me, horse-speak remains a mystery. So I stand in awe of these mystical, magical, complicated creatures.

Creatures such as the Budweiser Clydesdales who move as a single organism, fuzzy feet prancing to an organic beat caused by iron shaped by mere mortals.

Creatures such as the Royal Lipizzaner Stallions and their close cousins, the pure snowy white Andalusian and the sleek, black feathery Friesian. These animals are beauty incarnate, all moving with grace and precision. The spectacle generates torrential emotions: pride for their generous spirits, respect for their caregivers and wonder at the greatness, and grace, of these gentle giants.

Sure, these displays could be considered verboten to animal rights activists. But as a glass-half-full girl, I see them as stunning demonstrations of deep love and respect between species; celebrations of a centuries-old friendship.

And creatures like the striking and stately Tennessee Walkers, highly recognizable and widely popular because of their unusual and remarkable gait.

But their singularity comes at a price. Tennessee Walkers, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses are all victims of soring.

Equestrians show these breeds; noisily proclaiming their love and loyalty while engaging in soring for human vanity and hubris.

In a vain attempt to avoid the pain, horses make exaggerated steps, while onlookers cheer and applaud.

Soring sounds like animal cruelty and abuse, bad enough to be considered a felony on several counts in most states. The laws on soring are “special” however. In 2010, the USDA answered its obligation to prevent animal cruelty by employing the honor system within Horse Industry Organizations who were given autonomy.  Naturally, the Designation Qualified Persons given the task of policing the industry were mostly employees of the show organizations and keeping their jobs required silence.

Clearly this was a bad idea. So, after decades of inaction on this issue, the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Horse Council have all condemned soring, calling for the abolition of the practice and creating and enforcing stiff penalties.

Thus was born Senate Bill 1121, introduced in April of 2015, by Senators Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), and Mark Warner (D-VA) and companion House Bill 3268, introduced in July, 2015, by Reps Ted Yoho (R-FL), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Steve Cohen (D-TN) David Jolly (R-FL, and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

Entitled the Prevent All Soring Tactics, or PAST Act, the act would ban all soring methods completely throughout the equestrian show world and has bi-partisan support of 263 members of congress.

This week brought with it some good news, however, and there appears to be reason for hope on the horizon. The USDA announced today a proposed rule to “prevent the cruel treatment of horses by strengthening certain aspects of the Horse Protection Act. The proposed rule also incorporates major tenets of the bipartisan Ayotte-Warner legislation, The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S.1121), to eliminate the abusive practice known as "soring" - in which show horse trainers intentionally apply substances or devices to a horse's limb to make each step painful, forcing a horse to perform an exaggerated high-stepping gait that is rewarded in show rings. While soring is prohibited under federal law, a 2010 USDA Inspector General (IG) report found that some horse trainers often go to great lengths to continue this inhumane practice.”

Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) an early sponsor of the bill, said “As a large animal veterinarian for 30 years, I am happy to hear the USDA will be implementing portions of my bill to help put a stop to the cruel and abusive practice of horse soring. Under my bill, the PAST Act, I advocated for giving APHIS oversight in the training, screening, and licensing of horse inspectors. These new inspectors, who will be pulled from the ranks of veterinarians and vet technicians, will be in the field to conduct site visits under the rules and standards of APHIS.” Also banned are action devices, pads, and foreign substances at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

Marty Irby, Senior Director of Rural Outreach & Equine Protection for the HSUS in a statement today said “We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing a proposed rule that contains a number of key reforms to help end the rampant practice of soring that has plagued the Tennessee walking horse breed for more than half a century. While the pro-soring coalition and their political allies have blocked the PAST Act from coming to a vote in Congress, horses continue to be tortured to win competitions and we hope equestrians, animal welfare advocates and Americans across the nation will speak up in support of more stringent regulations.”

What You Can Do

Sign a petition: ForceChange.Org is petitioning Budweiser to “Rescind Sponsorship of 75th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration.”

Attend a meeting

Meetings are scheduled for: 

  • Tuesday, Aug. 9 in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
  • Wednesday, Aug. 10 in Lexington, Ky.
  • Tuesday, Aug. 16 in Sacramento, Calif.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 6, in Riverdale, Md.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 15, a call-in virtual public meeting.

Submit a Comment:

Visit the APHIS website and submit your comments.

If your senator or representative is listed above, or is one of the 263 legislators supporting PAST, call or email them and thank them for their support.  If your legislator is not listed, call and ask for their support. Institutional intentional cruelty cannot and must not be tolerated.