UPDATE: Deadline for Comments Extended to October 26
Veterinary Professionals:
Help End the Cruel Practice of Horse Soring

(September 7, 2016) - The USDA is proposing to amend the Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations to finally bring about an end to the decades-old cruel and illegal practice of horse soring. Veterinary professionals can help ensure success by submitting supportive comments to the USDA by the October 26 deadline.


Horse soring is the process of intentionally inflicting pain on the lower limbs of Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses for the purpose of creating an exaggerated, artificial gait known as the "Big Lick." It is accomplished by chemical and physical methods.

The chemical method includes applying caustics (such as kerosene or mustard oil) to the horse's lower legs then wrapping it in plastic for several days to allow the chemicals to penetrate the skin, resulting in severe inflammation. Chains or other "action devices" are then strapped to the inflamed legs to exacerbate the pain as these objects strike the painful area with each step taken by the horse. The physical method includes grinding or trimming of the hoof and/or sole to expose sensitive tissues, then nailing on a pad with objects inserted between the pad and the sole to place pressure on this sensitive area of the hoof. In addition, the horse is made to wear tall and heavy platform shoes held on with over-tightened metal hoof bands that are applied to cause excessive pressure, resulting in pain when the horse's hooves strike the ground. These grotesque practices are done because they cause the horse to lift its legs faster and higher to avoid the pain, i.e., the "Big Lick".

Congress passed the HPA in 1970 to eliminate this abuse, but weak regulations and a failed system of industry self-policing have undermined the law's effectiveness.  Soring is still rampant after 46 years. Industry inspectors, selected by horse industry organizations, have conflicts of interest, and allow sored horses to compete. The number of violations cited by industry inspectors is a small fraction of those found when USDA veterinarians are present. Currently, USDA veterinarians inspect at only 10 percent of shows due to lack of resources.

Although a majority of members of Congress support the passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, Congress has failed to vote on this important protection for horses. Consequently, the administration is seeking to take action within its authority by amending the USDA regulations.

Proposed changes to strengthen enforcement of the HPA: 

  • APHIS would ban the use of all action devices, pads, wedges, hoof bands and foreign substances on any Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse or related breed that performs with an accentuated gait that raises concerns about soring at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. 
  • APHIS would assume responsibility for training, screening and licensing horse inspectors. The new cadre of inspectors would be veterinarians and veterinary technicians who would be required to follow APHIS rules and standards of conduct. This will eliminate the horse industry organization system of self-policing using industry inspectors to detect violations. Horse show management will continue to pay for inspectors, as they do now, so taxpayers won't have to shoulder a new expense. 

How You Can Help

Please tell the USDA that you support the proposed amendments described above by submitting a comment via the website no later than October 26. In your comment, also ask them to make these important adjustments to the proposed rule:

  • Include a weight limit on shoes allowed to be used on the breeds specifically impacted by the rule.
  • Prohibit any shoe which covers or significantly obscures the sole of the hoof so as to render impossible an examination of the sole, including the use of hoof testers.
  • Amend the "scar (tissue) rule" so that criteria governing tissue changes to the anterior pastern also apply to the posterior pastern.

As veterinary professionals and leaders in the field of animal health and welfare, we should applaud and encourage this effort to stop the abuse of horses. Our support of this rule change has significance.

Dr. Michael Blackwell, an HSVMA board member, submitted comments on behalf of HSVMA at a USDA public hearing in Riverdale, MD on September 6th. You can view a copy of his comments here.  Feel free to use these as a guide for drafting your own commentary to submit on the USDA website at

Thank you for adding your support for an end to this cruel chapter in the history of American horse practices. And please remember to submit your comments by October 26 via the government website.