Proposed USDA rule would prohibit ‘soring’ of walking horses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will propose a rule Tuesday that would eliminate the practice of “soring,” used by some horse trainers but decried by animal welfare groups.

Under the proposed changes, the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would screen, train and license the inspectors charged with enforcing federal law.

Soring involves burning or binding a horse’s legs to modify its gait. Congress banned the practice in 1970 but has allowed the industry to largely police itself. Soring produces a unique gait prized at horse shows but that can cause the animals pain and discomfort.

Kentucky and Tennessee breed most walking horses, which are known for their prancing gait.

The USDA’s proposal would also ban the pads, chemicals and other devices used to achieve soring from horse shows, sales and auctions, bringing federal rules in line with standards set by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

Identical bills introduced last year in the House and the Senate aimed at stopping the practice have considerable bipartisan support but have not made it through committees.

Shea, the administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in a statement Monday that the 1970 law, the Horse Protection Act, gave the USDA the authority to make the changes.

“We believe an independent pool of APHIS-trained inspectors, combined with a ban on inhumane training methods, will be a more effective deterrent to the cruel and inhumane practice of horse soring,” he said.

Congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have frequently criticized the Obama administration for taking executive actions to bypass Congress. The legislation before Congress, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, has 263 co-sponsors in the House and 49 in the Senate.