Resurrecting a rule shelved in 2016 could tackle horse-soring head-on, says HSUS

Thermographic image showing excessive warmth (seen as red and orange colors), which may be caused by inflammation from soring. The pattern seen is consistent with soring using a chemical agent. © USDA
Thermographic image showing excessive warmth (seen as red and orange colors), which may be caused by inflammation from soring. The pattern seen is consistent with soring using a chemical agent. © USDA

The Humane Society of the United States is hoping for the resurrection of a 2016 federal rule under the incoming administration to address the widely scorned practice of horse soring.

In mid-2016, federal authorities were looking at using regulations to clamp down on soring, as a widely supported bill aimed at doing exactly the same thing remained caught in a congressional logjam at the time.

Soring, which involves the use of chemical or mechanical irritants on the legs of horses to encourage the “Big Lick” gait favored by some in the walking horse industry, is outlawed under the Horse Protection Act. However, it is widely accepted that the existing act is not tough enough to stamp out the practice.

Federal authorities moved toward introducing regulations under the existing Protection Act that would mirror many elements of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act — the legislation proposed to enact the tougher measures needed.

The proposed soring rule was announced by the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the closing days of the Obama Administration. It received more than 100,000 supportive public comments, including bipartisan letters signed by 182 US Representatives and 42 Senators.

However, when President Trump took office, it became one of the many regulatory changes frozen and left to sit on the shelf with no explanation, no justification, and no public comment solicited, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) president and chief executive Kitty Block and her colleague Sara Amundson wrote in their blog, A Humane Nation.

The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, of which Amundson is president, sued the USDA and the Office of the Federal Register to compel the reinstatement of the rule in a case still pending in the federal courts.

The pair suggest that President-elect Joe Biden has a simpler pathway.

“He was part of the administration that championed the rule, and as president, he can easily resurrect it for implementation.”

They say political support for effective reforms to end soring is abundant in Congress.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, in its 2019 incarnation, passed the House of Representatives in July with a commanding vote of 333-96. It enjoys strong bipartisan support in the Senate with 52 cosponsors there.

Joe Biden speaking with supporters at a community event at Sun City MacDonald Ranch in Henderson, Nevada.
Joe Biden in Henderson, Nevada, in February 2020. © Gage Skidmore, Surprise, AZ, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

However, Block and Amundson voiced concern about what they describe as a last-ditch attempt by the “Big Lick” faction to bamboozle legislators and others with a misleading new proposal.

It would, the pair allege, fortify the status quo in soring, allow the use of soring devices, institute an inspection protocol designed to not find soring, and further shift enforcement responsibility from the USDA to industry self-policing interests.

They describe the proposal as a desperate gambit.

They and other horse industry groups had analyzed the new proposal and believed it was a backward step.

Several have written to Congress strongly opposing the new proposal, which is being championed by retiring Senator Lamar Alexander.

Senator Lamar Alexander, from Tennessee.
Senator Lamar Alexander, from Tennessee.

“In short, we’re united in the conviction that the proposal is an effort to derail both the 2016 rule and the PAST Act.

“We can’t let that happen, given the favorable climate around this issue as we enter 2021 with a new President.

“If there was ever a proposal in Congress that deserved to be stopped dead in its tracks, it’s this one.”

Block and Amundson urged US citizens to contact their senators and urge them to cosponsor and help secure passage of the PAST Act of 2019.

The red herring “compromise” put forward by Alexander favors a recalcitrant minority that seeks to defend and perpetuate the scourge of soring, they asserted.

“We’re confident that focusing on the 2016 rule with the incoming administration is the right path, and that’s the one we’ll pursue in the weeks ahead.”

President Biden could make it happen with a simple pen stroke, they said.

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