In July, the US Department of Agriculture proposed a rule that, if finalized, would bring us closer to ending the egregiously inhumane practice of soring Tennessee Walking horses, racking horses, and other gaited breeds.
A segment of the walking horse industry has long been a cesspool in which unscrupulous individuals torment horses with caustic chemicals (used in conjunction with “action devices” such as chains or beaded rollers) and other painful procedures applied to their feet and legs simply to create the exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick.” The Big Lick is nothing more than the animal’s reaction to intense pain. The Horse Protection Act, passed in 1970, was supposed to put an end to soring. However, a 2010 USDA inspector general’s report confirmed that the current system of enforcing the law is broken and that significant reform—such as improving funding for inspections and dispensing with the system of industry self-policing—is required.
In response, hundreds of members of Congress have cosponsored legislation, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, to enact such reforms. But as the bill remains held up in committees, a number of its cosponsors wrote to the USDA asking the department to issue a rule that would put some of these reforms in place. To its credit, the USDA heeded this request. The new rule would end the failed system of industry self-policing and replace it with USDA-trained, licensed, and supervised veterinarians and veterinary technicians to serve as inspectors. It would also ban the use of the painful devices and foreign substances associated with soring at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. The PAST Act is still needed, however, since it would institute additional reforms.