Saddling up to end cruelty: Soring bill passes in House

August 6, 2019

Now awaiting Senate approval, the PAST Act will ensure higher penalties for those who inflict pain on horses to accentuate their gait during competitions.

Photo courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States.

Passage of the U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act in the U.S. House of Representatives, passed by a vote of 333-96, is intended to end the practice of horse soring.

Named in honor of the late Maryland senator who spearheaded the 1970 Horse Protection Act (HPA) through Congress, the bill (H.R. 693) was first introduced in 2013 by Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), both of whom are veterinarians. It now awaits approval from the Senate.

Soring is the intentional infliction of pain on a horse's front legs and hooves in an effort to amplify the horse's naturally high-stepping gait, known as the “big lick,” in the show ring. The practice may involve applying caustic substances (e.g., diesel fuel, kerosene), grinding down hooves to expose sensitive tissues, placing sharp or abrasive foreign objects into the hooves or placing heavy chains around the pastern. Tennessee walking horses, spotted saddle horses and racking horses are most affected by this practice, which causes significant discomfort and can lead to lameness. Most veterinarians, veterinary organizations and horse trainers consider the practice inhumane.

Déjà vu all over again?

Will the practice of soring be extinguished once and for all? Only time (and the Senate) will tell, but the PAST Act has been proposed-and rejected-more than once already. Here's some of our past coverage:

> Bill backed by walking horse group introduced to counter anti-soring legislation

> Comprehensive coverage of soring in the walking horse industry and efforts to end the practice

> Rep. Ted Yoho, DVM, introduces legislation to crack down on horse soring

> Final horse soring rule could lead to legal action

> Trump memorandum puts final horse soring rule in limbo

“Horse soring still runs rampant even though laws have been on the books for decades banning this cruel practice,” Rep. Schrader said in a statement released the day of the House vote. “The bill that was passed today will strengthen and improve current regulations by improving USDA enforcement, increasing civil and criminal penalties, and banning incentives to sore horses. This is a historic day and I am grateful for my colleagues who worked tirelessly to get this legislation across the finish line and for the beautiful horses that we love so much.”

The HPA already bans sored horses from competing in shows, exhibitions or sales, but the legislation has been largely unenforced for years. In addition to making it illegal to engage in-or instruct others to engage in-soring for the purpose of showing or selling the animal, the PAST Act would strengthen the HPA in several ways, according to the Animal Welfare Institute:

  • Engage the USDA to train, license and assign inspectors to horse shows instead of having horse industry organizations choose their own inspectors. Show managers would still have the option of whether to hire inspectors, but those who opt out would risk greater liability if soring is detected.

  • Ban the use of devices implicated in the practice of soring, such as stacked shoes and ankle chains.

  • Strengthen penalties for those who engage in soring. Maximum prison time for violators would increase from one to three years, and maximum fines per violation would increase from $3,000 to $5,000. A third violation could result in permanent disqualification from any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction.

“As a veterinarian and lover of animals, it is time we end the inhumane practice of horse soring,” Rep. Yoho wrote in a media release. “The walking horse industry had plenty of time to self-police and change their ways, but they decided to press on. They have failed to take advantage of this opportunity and now it is time for horse soring to end.”