USDA Finalizes Rule in Horse Protection Act to End Soring

The United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services announced today that a rule banning the use of stacks and soring practices in Tennessee Walking Horses has passed.

Source: Flickr/USDA/CC


A Hail Mary, nailbiter, zero hour surprise – all the clichés apply to the final rule announced today, January 13, 2017 regarding the practice of soring of gaited horses. The specific focus is the big lick Tennessee Walker show horse. I am guardedly optimistic enough to share this news with Theo, the subject-horse from the “Saving Theo” series who was trained with the soon-to-be banned devices.

Changes to the Horse Protection Act will clearly ban the use of various soring practices that create the big lick show gait. The ban on the use of stacked (padded) shoes and chains will be celebrated by the equine advocate groups who have been fighting the use of these devices for decades.

I am paraphrasing a statement on the final rule issued by Hallie Zimmers, Adviser for State and Stakeholder Relations, U.S. Department of Agriculture  Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. For more information, Zimmers can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 202-799-7029.

The final rule will be published in the Federal Register “in the coming days.” The changes regarding the ban on the use of action devices (chains and heavy shoes) and associated lubricants for exhibitors of Tennessee Walking Horses and racking horses, along with the training and licensing of inspectors will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The rest of the rule will be effective January 1, 2018.

It is my understanding that under the final regulation will roll out as follows:

“Beginning 30 days after the publication of the final rule, all action devices, except for certain boots, are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction. All pads and wedges are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction on or after January 1, 2018, unless such horse has been prescribed and is receiving therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges.”

I am pleased to read that there is a delay to allow time to “gradually reduce the size of pads to minimize any potential physiological stress to the horses and prepare horses to compete in other classes.” To me, this delay deflates the claim that “you can just pop the stacked shoes off” as many big lick trainers and owners profess. Doing so seems to not be in the best interest of the horse.

Various equine related groups, including the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) have issued recommendations and white papers that support ending the use of the action devices including the stacked or padded shoes used on the big lick TWH.

On the issue of inspection: “APHIS will license, train, and oversee independent, third party inspectors, known as Horse Protection Inspectors (HPIs), and establish the licensing eligibility requirements to reduce conflicts of interest. Current Designated Qualified Person (DQP) licenses will remain valid until January 1, 2018. Beginning January 1, 2018, management of horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions that elect to use inspection services, must appoint and retain a HPI to inspect horses.”

It ain’t done ‘til it is done. The new administration could bend to anti-government intervention pressure. Under new guidance, the USDA could fold like origami. The big lick stake holders could continue to launch law suits. For now, Theo’s compadres… standing… waiting… in chains and stacked shoes have real hope that the days of the “big lick” will be coming to an end.

Read the announcement on the USDA website.

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