USDA's New Anti-Soring Rules Seek to Diminish Industry Power Over Inspections

August 2, 2016
Jared Kaltwasser

The United States Department of Agriculture is moving to eliminate horse industry organizations from the horse inspection process.

The United States Department of Agriculture wants to protect veterinarians from industry interference when veterinarians act as horse inspectors.

The USDA last week published proposed changes to the Horse Protection Act that would give the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) the sole authority to train, license, and discipline inspectors at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. All APHIS-trained inspectors would be veterinarians or veterinary technicians, the agency said.

Currently, inspectors are trained and licensed by horse industry organizations. The new rule aims to remove the industry from the equation in order to better crack down on the practice of soring, in which chemicals or pressure are applied to a horse’s body in order to artificially exaggerate a racing horse’s gait

. Soring was banned in the Horse Protection Act of 1970, but animal welfare groups say loopholes and a lack of enforcement funding have allowed the practice to continue.

The proposed amendment would also ban certain equipment and training devices the USDA says are inhumane.

“The recommended changes will ultimately help us end soring altogether by giving USDA direct control over the inspection process, and banning the use of certain equipment and training devices is allowed under existing regulations,” said APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea, in a press release. “We believe an independent pool of APHIS-trained inspectors, combined with a ban on inhumane training methods, will be a more effective deterrent to the cruel and inhumane practice of horse soring.”

APHIS followed up its publication of the proposed amendment by announcing a series of enforcement actions against persons accused of violating the Horse Protection Act and Animal Welfare Act. A database of enforcement actions can be found here.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is applauding the proposed changes. In a prepared statement, AAEP President Kathleen Anderson, DVM, said soring is one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline.

“As doctors of veterinary medicine, we have previously recommended the use of only veterinarians to inspect horses at shows for evidence of soring, as well as a ban on action devices and performance packages,” Anderson said. “Both of these items are included in the USDA’s proposed rule changes.”

APHIS will hold a series of four public hearings on the proposed rule changes, beginning next week in Tennessee. A full list of locations and addresses is available here.

Photo credit: R. Anson Eaglin/USDA