5th Circuit strikes down USDA rule aimed at penalizing owners who purposely sore horses

5th Circuit Nixes USDA Horse-Protection Rule

(CN) – The 5th Circuit struck down a USDA rule aimed at penalizing horse owners who purposely injure their horses to achieve a gait prized at horse competitions.

Contender Farms, owned by Mark McGartland, sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture to block federal regulations aiming to crack down on cheaters who attempt to win horse shows by harming their horses.

Horse soring stacked shoe.
Horse soring stacked shoe. Image not filed with original source of this report. Click to visit image source.

Tennessee show horses have a distinctive high-stepping gait, achieved through extensive training. But it can also be achieved by illegal means by injuring the animal with harmful chemicals to get them to high step, a technique known as “soring.”

Soring is prohibited by the Horse Protection Act, which also authorizes the USDA to regulate the management of horse shows, and set licensing requirements for inspectors who examine horses for signs of soring.

In the attempt to achieve a consistent punishment for the practice, the USDA adopted a new regulation in 2012 requiring horse organizations adopt mandatory minimum suspension penalties for soring violators as a condition of participating in the department’s inspection program, a necessity for putting on a horse show.

However, the 5th Circuit ruled last week that the regulation overstepped the USDA’s authority.

“The suspensions target participants in Tennessee walking horse events like Contender Farms and McGartland, and they are as much objects of the Regulation as the HIOs [horse industry organizations] themselves,” Judge E. Grady Jolly said, writing for the three-judge panel. (Emphasis in original.)

The regulation states that if an inspector discovers a violation, individuals responsible for showing the horse, allowing entry of the horse into a show, or selling the horse must all be suspended.

“Although participants in horse shows have always been subject to regulations from both HIOs and the USDA, the USDA has now taken intrusive steps into the private scheme to strengthen the penalties that HIOs must levy against those found to sore horses,” the 23-page opinion said.

While a horsing organization may decline to hire USDA-approved inspectors, it must then accept liability for failing to disqualify a sored horse, even if management was unaware the horse was sore, a choice very few organizations make, according to the judgment.

“The plain language of the HPA suggests that Congress intended a private horse inspection system. This statutory regime does not support the USDA’s position that Congress authorized it to promulgate the regulation, which requires private parties to impose government-mandated suspensions as an arm of HPA enforcement,” Jolly concluded. (Emphasis in original.)

Source article, Courthouse News Service »
Opinion Document, Feb. 19, 2015 (pdf, 23pp)


Fifth Circuit Rejects USDA’s Attempts to Increase Enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; by Nancy E. Halpern DVM, Esq.; Animal Law Update; March 2, 2015
Walking horse industry wins court fight, works to form new HIO; by Jason Reynolds; Shelbyville Times-Gazette; Feb 27, 2015
Will we ever really get rid of the horrible abuse of horse soring?; May 13, 2014, Tuesday’s Horse

Horse Soring Fact Sheet and FAQ’s »

8 thoughts on “5th Circuit strikes down USDA rule aimed at penalizing owners who purposely sore horses”

  1. WHAT?????????? What is wrong with this Imbicile ???? Are his Brains where he sits????? I am completely disgusted…………………… I think Im going to be sick !!!!!! This is completely idiotic……


  2. There is to much money and prestige in these horse shows along with sales and breeding fees that could be lost if the horses were protected with stiff laws. Once the horses are to crippled up to perform they are simply sold off at auctions and into the slaughter pipeline never to be seen again. I wonder just who the judge knows in the show horse business??


  3. IDIOTS! Sheer ignorance….How much more do these horses have to suffer for these dirt bags and owners to put money in their pockets. The victims are the horses over, and over again their torture never ends…..I pray that something changes for the victims being the helpless creatures that give love while the trainers, owners and government are all corrupt and deserve to rot in Hell!


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