By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson | HSUS
Some really good news from a federal courtroom on a fight we’ve long been waging for horses: Last month the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the United States Department of Agriculture had unlawfully withdrawn a 2017 rule designed to fix the agency’s weak regulations that have allowed horse soring to persist within the Tennessee walking horse industry. Along with several individual plaintiffs, we filed a lawsuit that challenged the USDA’s withdrawal of the rule, which had been finalized and publicized by the agency, and we prevailed.
For many decades, humane organizations have been trying to root out soring—the intentional infliction of pain on a horse’s legs or hooves to force the animal to perform an artificial, exaggerated high stepping gait. But it’s been difficult to achieve, despite hard-hitting investigations and exposés, a damning audit by the agency’s own Inspector General, sweeping bipartisan support for strong legislation in the U.S. Congress for about a decade, and the pressure we and others have brought to bear on the USDA and its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act of 1970. That law and the agency’s regulations under it contain loopholes that have allowed dishonest parties within the walking horse community to continue soring horses while chasing ribbons at shows and competitions—loopholes that must be closed if we are to realize the intended purposes of the Act and finally shut down soring.
We believed our own efforts to strengthen those regulations had succeeded when, in the last weeks of the Obama administration, the USDA announced a final rule to upgrade its enforcement protocols under the Horse Protection Act. The 2017 rule featured important changes to protect horses in the Tennessee walking and racking horse breeds from soring, including a ban on the use of “stacks” (heavy platform shoes), chains and other cruel and painful devices and practices intended to produce the showring gait called the “Big Lick.”
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