Judge Cancels Trial in Soring Rule Lawsuit

A Texas judge has canceled the scheduled trial of a lawsuit over the constitutionality of a USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Horse Protection Act (HPA) minimum penalty rule and ordered both sides of the dispute to present evidence pertinent to the case.

Soring--the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait--is prohibited by the HPA. In June, APHIS announced that under the final rule, which took effect July 9, all APHIS-certified HIOs must assess penalties that equal or exceed minimum levels. The final rule requires that suspensions for violating the HPA be issued to any individuals including owners, managers, trainers, riders or sellers who are responsible for: showing a sored horse; exhibiting a sored horse; entering or allowing the entry of that horse in a show or exhibition; selling, auctioning or offering the horse for sale or auction; shipping, moving, delivering, or receiving a sore horse with reason to believe that such horse was to be shown, exhibited, sold, auctioned, or offered for sale. Anyone who is suspended will not be permitted to show or exhibit any horse or judge or manage any horse show, horse exhibition or horse sale/auction for the duration of the suspension. The final rule also stiffens penalties for repeat HPA violators.

On June 25 Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW), the HIO that manages events including the National Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) Celebration; Contender Farms; and Mike McGartland filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas asking the court to block implementation of new the new rule grounds that the regulation is unconstitutional and would irreparably harm the TWH industry; the suit also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent APHIS from enforcing the rule until the court case is resolved.

On July 6, U.S. District Court Judge Terry R. Means declined to grant the TRO and ordered that the case move forward to trial and that SHOW's request for a preliminary injunction be consolidated into the case.

A bench trial in the case was slated for July 16; however, parties in the case could not agree on what evidence the court should consider. Means cancelled the trial and ordered both sides of the case to submit materials and other evidence they believe should be included in the case. Each party has until Aug. 7 to file motions seeking the exclusion of all or any part of materials submitted by the other, and parties have 21 days to respond to challenges. After the court rules on motions concerning the scope of evidence in the case, both parties will to propose a briefing schedule to move the case forward.

APHIS spokesman David Sacks said both parties agreed to the arrangement contained in Means' order. He declined further comment on the case, but said the agency will continue to enforce the HPA and associated regulations to the fullest extent.

No one from SHOW was available to comment.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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