Ruling backs USDA’s right to impose minimum soring penalties

"Big Lick" show horses are fitted with tall, heavy stacks like these, forcing them to stand at a painful, unnatural angle. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS
“Big Lick” show horses are fitted with tall, heavy stacks like these, forcing them to stand at a painful, unnatural angle. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The head of the Humane Society of the United States has welcomed a court ruling backing the US Department of Agriculture’s decision to set minimum penalties for soring violations under the federal Horse Protection Act.

Soring is the illegal use of mechanical or chemical irritants to encourage the high gait so desired in the walking horse industry.

The society’s president and chief executive, Wayne Pacelle, writing in his blog, A Humane Nation, condemned court action that challenged the department’s right to impose minimum penalties.

“The entire case is a sad statement on the status of self-regulation in the walking horse industry,” Pacelle said.

“The organization that filed this legal challenge is certified by the USDA for the specific purpose of enforcing Horse Protection Act regulations to help end soring.

“Instead of helping the USDA enforce the Act, they are fighting in court to limit the USDA’s enforcement authority, and help repeat offenders avoid justice.

“The USDA should be commended for taking steps to enhance enforcement, and shouldn’t have to fight baseless, regressive lawsuits from their own enforcement organizations to get there.”

Horse industry organization SHOW and two walking horse show participants sued the USDA, contending that the regulations were unlawful and in violation of their constitutional rights.

The HSUS filed a briefing in defense of the regulations. A US District Court in Texas ruled that the mandatory minimum penalty regulations are constitutional and within the USDA’s statutory authority to protect horses.

The regulations authorize the agency to decertify organizations that do not comply.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president for animal protection litigation and investigations for the HSUS, called on the USDA to decertify any horse industry organization that refused to adopt the mandatory penalties.


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