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August 4, 2010

Animal Protection, Horse Industry Groups File Petition Seeking New USDA Rules For Horses

WASHINGTON — The Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, American Horse Protection Association, Friends of Sound Horses and former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings filed a legal petition with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service seeking new regulations to strengthen its enforcement of the federal Horse Protection Act. Tydings was the original sponsor.

The Horse Protection Act was passed in 1970 to safeguard horses from the cruel practice of soring — the intentional infliction of pain to the limbs and hooves of Tennessee Walking show horses to create an artificial, animated show-ring gait known as the "big lick."

The petition asks APHIS to permanently disqualify from competition chronic, repeat violators of the law as well as horses scarred by soring. It further calls for the implementation of certain mandatory enforcement protocols — including minimum penalties for HPA violations — and the decertification of non-compliant industry groups certified by USDA to conduct inspections of show horses.

"Forty years after passage of the Horse Protection Act, soring is still a widespread problem in the performance Tennessee Walking horse show industry," said Keith Dane, director of Equine Protection for The Humane Society of the United States. "Federal law requires USDA to protect horses from the intentional cruelty inflicted by the practice of soring. This broad coalition of horse advocates has come together to help USDA in bringing a prompt end to this egregious and blatant abuse."

Facts

  • The most common form of soring is performed by applying caustic chemicals to the pasterns (ankles) of show horses — sensitizing the area and forcing the horse to lift his front legs high off the ground in an attempt to avoid pain.  The horses are then ridden and shown with metal chains around their ankles, which further accentuate the high-stepping action with each painful stride. Soring often leaves telltale scars — including tissue change, calluses, bleeding, inflammation, and skin and hair loss  —all of which are evidence of this cruel and illegal practice.
  • For decades, horses found by federal and industry inspectors to have been sored (and scarred) in order to achieve the artificial "big lick" show-ring gait, have been allowed to continue to compete—forced to endure painful abuse for years throughout their show careers.
  • Many winning trainers in the Walking horse industry have repeatedly been found in violation of the HPA, yet these individuals continue to train — and sore — horses for customers while on suspension from showing. There is little concern for being caught soring, as the consequences are mild, and there are far greater monetary incentives to sore horses rather than abide by federal law and train horses naturally.
  • Several horse industry organizations that have been certified by USDA to conduct HPA inspections have consistently failed to detect and disqualify non-compliant horses at a rate comparable to that of the agency's own veterinary medical officers. Yet no such organization has ever been decertified for non-compliance, as authorized by the HPA and regulations.

The HSUS is represented in this matter pro bono by Latham & Watkins.

To learn more about soring abuse, visit humanesociety.org/horses.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.

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