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Federal Court Protects Tennessee Walking Horses

Rules adopted following Humane Society of the United States legal petition

A U.S. District Court in Texas upheld federal regulations to prevent the practice of “soring,” in which trainers abuse horses to force them to perform an unnatural high-stepping gait for competitions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, which were adopted following a 2010 legal petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, require that USDA-certified horse industry organizations impose uniform mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the Horse Protection Act, and authorize the agency to decertify organizations that do not comply. Horse industry organizations are the industry’s self-policing groups that inspect Tennessee walking horses at competitions for signs of soring alongside the USDA.

Horse industry organization SHOW and two walking horse show participants sued the USDA, contending that the regulations were unlawful and in violation of their constitutional rights. The HSUS filed a briefing in defense of the regulations. The court ruled that the mandatory minimum penalty regulations are constitutional and within the USDA’s statutory authority to protect horses.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation and investigations for The HSUS, said: “This lawsuit shows that segments of the industry have no interest in upholding their responsibilities under the Horse Protection Act and finally stamping out the brutal practice of soring. We call on USDA to decertify any horse industry organization that has refused to adopt the mandatory penalties, including SHOW, which is responsible for inspections at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.”

The HSUS was represented in the matter pro bono by attorneys from the law firm of Latham & Watkins and its own lawyers.


  • H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., will end the failed system of walking horse industry self-policing, ban the use of certain devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this cruel practice. The HSUS urges Congress to pass this bill, which now has 133 co-sponsors in the House.
  • Some in the Tennessee walking horse industry deny that soring is still a pervasive part of the training process used to produce the “Big Lick,” but the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing at the 2012 National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive for prohibited foreign substances. In contrast, Celebration officials issued a press release touting a 98.1 percent compliance rate with the Horse Protection Act.
  • The HSUS urged Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. to open an investigation into the veracity of public statements made by officials connected to the Walking Horse Trainers Association Enforcement Initiative, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization about their initiative to detect unlawful horse soring at the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. 

Media Contact:   Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org

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