Virginia Sen. Mark Warner is taking again aim at “soring,” a practice used by some trainers to create the exaggerated high-stepping “big lick” gait seen in Tennessee Walker show horses.
On May 24, U.S. Sens. Warner and Mike Crapo of Idaho introduced bipartisan legislation to help protect horses from the abusive practice.
Soring is the practice of intentionally applying substances or devices to a horse’s leg to make each step painful. While soring already is prohibited under federal law, a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Inspector General (IG) report has found that some horse trainers often go to great lengths to continue the practice.
“For more than 400 years, horses have been a part of Virginia’s culture. But despite a federal ban, horse soring — an act that deliberately inflicts pain on these animals— continues in some segments of the walking horse industry,” Sen. Warner said. “This bipartisan bill will finally put an end to this cruel and abusive practice.”
The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act would:
- Eliminate self-policing by requiring the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if the show’s management indicates its intent to hire one. Licensed or accredited veterinarians, if available, would be given preference for these positions.
- Prohibit the use of action devices and pads on specific horse breeds that have historically been the primary victims of soring. Action devices, such as chains that rub up and down an already-sore leg, intensify the horse’s pain when it moves, so that the horse quickly jolts up its leg.
- Increase the penalties on an individual caught soring a horse from a misdemeanor to a felony which is subject to up to three years’ incarceration, increase fines from $3,000 to $5,000 per violation, and permanently disqualify three-time violators from participating in horse shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions.
In 2017, the USDA Office of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) incorporated some of the major tenets of the PAST Act in a rule meant to strengthen certain aspects of the Horse Protection Act. However, the rule was not finalized before the end of the Obama Administration and the Trump Administration halted that process. The PAST Act would codify these changes into law.
Numerous groups have endorsed the bill, including the Humane Society of the United States, the American Horse Council, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The PAST Act was introduced in previous years by Sen. Warner and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH).
One method of soring involves using chemical agents such as mustard oil, kerosene, and other caustic substances on the pasterns, bulbs of the heel, or coronary bands of the horses, causing burning or blistering of the horses’ legs to accentuate their gaits. Dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) is sometimes added to increase the effect. The treated area is then often wrapped in plastic while the chemicals are absorbed.
Other methods of soring can include pressure shoes, where the hoof is trimmed so that the sole is in direct contact with the pad or shoe. The horse may then be ridden on hard surfaces on the over-trimmed hooves, until they are very sore.