The federal Horse Protection Act of 1970 (HPA) is supposed to protect Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited breeds from “soring,” the practice of applying chemicals or mechanical devices to horses that inflict pain in order to cause the exaggerated gait so prized by segments of the show horse industry. A 2010 report by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General, however, detailed many serious shortcomings in enforcement that have allowed widespread abuse of show horses. Separately, the American Veterinary Medical Association notes on its website that USDA inspectors attended fewer than 10 percent of the events between 2008 and 2011 but still managed to document over 2,300 violations.
Further, in the years since the law was passed, indictments for breaking the law have been virtually nonexistent. However, a number of prosecutions in 2011 gave hope that the USDA and the Department of Justice may finally be taking these crimes more seriously. Four individuals in Tennessee pleaded guilty to various charges relating to HPA violations, financial crimes, and witness tampering. Each faces jail time and fines, with sentencing scheduled for February 2012. Unfortunately, another individual in Alabama who also pleaded guilty to violating the HPA received only two years probation. In the Tennessee case, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee issued a statement that read, in part: “As human beings, we have been given dominion over the earth and its creatures, and we must exercise that privilege by being good stewards of this gift. Maiming and mutilating horses for sport and profit betrays that charge of stewardship.”