Activists against the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses will get a chance to hear firsthand from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about proposed changes to how horse shows are inspected.
Dr. Rachel Cezar, the head of efforts to enforce the federal Horse Protection Act, will address the third annual Sound Horse Conference on Friday in Louisville.
Last week, a USDA report concluded that the enforcement program, which relies on paid private inspectors at horse shows, is ineffective.
"We found (the existing) program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused," the USDA inspector general found.
Soring is the deliberate injuring of walking horses' front legs, through illegal chemical or mechanical methods, to encourage an exaggerated high-stepping gait for the show ring. "The big lick," as the style is known, often wins big prizes for exhibitors, but to achieve it, trainers sometimes use painful treatments such as painting on caustic chemicals, piling on heavy weights or huge padded shoes, or planting painful objects under the shoes.
In response to the audit, the USDA said it will scrap its present system in favor of independent, agency-accredited veterinarians. That change has previously been recommended by the American Association of Equine Practitioners.
USDA officials also agreed with audit recommendations to seek changes that would block horses that are found to have Horse Protection Act violations from re-entering a show in another category and block people who have been suspended from participating in shows, horse sales and other events. The USDA also plans to post on USDA.gov more information about violations.
On Wednesday, Lori Northrup, president of Friends of Sound Horses, hailed the potential changes.
"I'm pleased that the transparency to the public is increasing. I think the general horse-loving public is horrified that soring is still going on," said Northrup, who also will speak at the conference.
Other speakers will include former Maryland Sen. Joseph Tydings, who wrote the Horse Protection Act enacted in 1970, and Madeleine Pickens, an animal-rights activist who has raced Thoroughbreds and lobbied against horse slaughter.
For more information, go to Soundhorseconference.com.