The Humane Society of the United States is asking a federal court in Texas to uphold much-needed regulations issued by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to strengthen enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to prevent horse “soring”.
Soring involves the application of painful chemicals or other painful training methods to force horses to perform an artificially high-stepping gait for show competitions.
The regulations require that USDA-certified horse industry organizations impose uniform mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the act.
Horse industry organizations are the industry’s self-policing groups that operate alongside the USDA to conduct inspections at Tennessee walking horse competitions.
In 2010, the humane society, along with horse industry and animal protection groups, filed a legal petition with the department seeking regulatory changes to improve enforcement of the act, including the implementation of a mandatory penalty structure.
The plaintiffs in SHOW et al. v. USDA – a horse industry organization and two participants in horse shows – sued the department, contending that the regulations are unlawful and violate their constitutional rights.
The humane society argues that those arguments have no legal foundation.
“By challenging these regulations, the walking horse industry has made it clear that it has no interest in cleaning up its act and getting rid of the brutal practice of soring,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice-president for animal protection litigation and investigations for the humane society.
“We know that soring is not limited to a ‘few bad apples’, and we applaud USDA’s decision to develop new regulations to improve Horse Protection Act enforcement.”
The Horse Protection Act prohibits the showing and transporting of horses whose legs have been “sored”.
There is abundant evidence that soring of Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds remains prevalent throughout the industry despite the decades-old law, the society says.
A recent undercover investigation by the society revealed soring by a nationally-known trainer.
It says a large part of the problem is benign penalties imposed by horse industry organizations against perpetrators that have no deterrent impact.
The Humane Society of the United States is represented in the matter pro bono by attorneys from the law firm of Latham & Watkins, as well as by lawyers from The HSUS.