Horse Protection Act

The following information was provided by Tim Cordes, DVM, Senior Staff Veterinarian, USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services. The Horse Protection Act was put in place and is being modified in order to prevent the act of soring, whereby caustic chemicals, foreign materials, or mechanical devices are used on horses in order to enhance gait. The following is the USDA's current plan for enforcing the Horse Protection Act to prevent soring of horses. For further information on the Horse Protection Act, or to comment on regulations, contact Dr. John V. Zisk, Director, Horse Protection, Animal Care Staff, REAC, APHIS, USDA, 4700 River Road, Unit 84, Riverdale, MD 20737-1234; 301/734-7833. Copies of the Strategic Plan are available through that office.

I. Mission Statement

The USDA seeks to enforce the Horse Protection Act and to continue to strengthen its relationship with the horse industry through a cooperative partnership and a comprehensive plan of "self-regulation."

In order to achieve the elimination of soring, this proposal requires acceptance of elementary principles and the elements contained within. It is set forth with a programmed vision and expectation for the welfare of horses. Without compromising Horse Protection Act regulations or USDA enforcement expertise, this proposal utilizes and incorporates historical enforcement perspective and forethought on evaluations, audits, and the utilization of research to develop innovative policies and regulations to assure the protection of horses.

II. Statement Of Philosophy

The Congress of the United States and their constituencies have sought to eliminate the practice of soring through passage and execution of the Horse Protection Act (HPA).

Unquestionably, the welfare of horses has been and continues to be the primary concern of Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) veterinarians responsible for the enforcement of the HPA. APHIS believes that its role in enforcing the HPA should be specifically tailored toward the eventual elimination of soring. To that end, APHIS now seeks to strengthen USDA certified horse industry organizations with a proactive regulatory program geared toward the curtailment of both blatant and inconspicuous methods of soring. APHIS recognizes the challenges that such a proposal will place upon the program, however, it believes these can be overcome through a cooperative, non-partisan approach.

Just as APHIS veterinarians abide by their veterinary oath taken upon entry into their profession, we believe and have expectations that horse industry organizations should adhere to our standards of commitment, knowledge, and skill to relieve the suffering of sored horses.

The ideal strategy for the eventual elimination of soring would be the establishment of an effective program of self-regulation for USDA certified horse industry organizations. Such a program would make the best use of available resources. Self-regulation would have the added challenges of:

  • Minimizing conflicts of interest within and among various industry organizations.
  • Establishing an effective penalty system for offenders.
  • Strengthening of the horse industry and betterment of the affected breeds.
  • Providing educational programs to strengthen HPA enforcement and compliance.

Trained inspection professionals familiar with industry procedures and possessing proven inspection skills for the detection of sore horses are not just a requirement, but a necessity. Detection methods must continuously advance, becoming increasingly more sophisticated as soring techniques change and take on new applications. Continuous research on soring practices and the effects on horses is essential to achieving this goal.

III. Rationale

1. Enforcement History

The Horse Protection Act was passed by Congress in 1970, and Federal veterinarians began its enforcement by attending horse shows in 1972. Despite over 20 years of government intervention and regulation, and an amendment to the Act to incorporate Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs), the practice of soring continues.

Enforcement statistics garnered from Congressional reports support USDA contentions that the time for adoption of the Horse Protection strategic work plan is now. Recent DQP assessed violations when APHIS is not in attendance at a show/sale have approximated DQP assessed violations when APHIS is in attendance. Although a discrepancy still exists with the number of issued DQP violations based on USDA presence, APHIS believes this "gap" can be further reduced through Horse Protection strategic plan adoption and implementation.

2. Program Concerns

APHIS continues to support the elimination of soring practices and the work of DQPs to that end. APHIS and industry inspectors have expressed similar discontent over Horse Protection items such as:

  • Scar rule enforcement inadequacies.
  • Inadequate penalty system for industry violators.
  • APHIS concern that the elimination of soring is not equally shared by all of industry.
  • Dissatisfaction with lack of exploration of alternative methods of evaluating/detecting soring through research.

3. Public Concern/Special Interest Groups

A proactive, self-regulated enforcement plan is a tool successfully used by APHIS in other regulatory programs. APHIS believes this approach for the Horse Protection program would capture the support of professional equine organizations and build an accurate and representative picture of enforcement and success in the public view.

4. APHIS Vision And Program Review

The enforcement of the HPA through a self-regulatory work structure is consistent with the APHIS vision. Team-based leadership between APHIS and the horse industry is the first step in achieving our mutual goal of eliminating the illegal practice of soring.

APHIS is cognizant of the tremendous public interest in the Horse Protection program and is committed to deliver services of the highest quality. APHIS can accomplish this goal through a process of open communication, continual program evaluation, responsiveness to changing times, and strong proactive leadership. We welcome the challenges that lie ahead as we focus on continued achievements and advancements in Horse Protection.

IV. Self-Regulatory Enforcement Plan

1. Partnership In Enforcement Of The Horse Protection Act

Through the cooperative concept of self-regulation, USDA certified horse industry organizations would enter into an enforcement partnership with APHIS.

Enforcement (through inspection efforts) of the Horse Protection program would be placed primarily upon the horse industry DQP systems.

APHIS would not relinquish its authority under the Act of regulations, but seek to empower the industry through advisory, audit, and consultant roles.

Horse industry organizations would be held accountable for the action of their DQP inspection programs.

USDA certification would be contingent, in part, upon the satisfactory fulfillment of DQP program operations.

Measurable performance standards for horse industry organizations and APHIS would be developed and continually reviewed to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Communication between APHIS program managers and horse industry representatives would be formalized through specified meetings, direct involvement of APHIS regional offices with industry representatives, strategic planning committee workshops with industry personnel, and specialized training for industry organizations.

2. USDA Oversight Of Industry Staff

a. Certify horse industry organizations.
b. Decertify horse industry organizations.
c. Review and approve industry rule books.
d. Organize public meetings with industry representation.
e. Initiate and review program projects, work plans, policy, and regulatory initiatives.


a. Assign Horse Protection inspection teams to shows.
b. Receive reports/data generated by DQPs.
c. Act on reports of noncompliance and issue letters of reprimand (i.e., Letters of Caution/Warning).
d. Communicate directly with industry representatives in areas involving training, daily operations, dispute resolution, and regional requests by industry officials.

APHIS Veterinarians

a. Audit industry records.
b. Participate and execute training courses in their region.
c. Observe and evaluate DQPs in the performance of their duties.
d. Inspect horses and document Federal cases when necessary.

3. Horse Industry Organizations' Responsibilities

a. Formulate rule books and submit them for APHIS approval.

  • Phase I: Submit for approval after
    adoption of the StrategicPlan.
  • Phase II: Submit for approval after any
    industry changes.
  • Phase III: Submit for approval when
    requested by APHIS.

b. Enforce standards of conduct for DQPs and industry officers.
c. Issue DQP licenses to qualified candidates and provide uniform and consistent training.
d. Submit show schedules and DQP assignments to APHIS regional offices in a timely manner.
e. Make records available for APHIS audits.
f. Evaluate individual DQP performances and take appropriate administrative action as necessary.

V. USDA Certification Of The Horse Industry

Horse industry organizations (HIO) certified by the USDA would receive either a full, probationary, or decertification level determined by APHIS audits and evaluations. The following three factors would be utilized to establish certification status:

  • Industry self-sanctions (on DQPs, members, etc.) must be consistent with APHIS standards.
  • Industry must effectively address DQP conflicts of interest and obvious discrepancies or ticketing rates with and without APHIS presence.
  • Industry must remove its officers from office if given a ticket.

Full certification of the industry program would be granted if all three criteria were met upon auditing. Probationary certification would be for industries which have not met the three criteria. The maximum period of time that an organization can be placed on probation status is limited to one year.

Based upon subsequent audits and review, an industry placed on probation can become fully certified once it meets all criteria.

APHIS auditing teams will have discretion when recommending certification status.

Headquarters, with Regional offices recommendations, will provide final certification status decisions.

Probationary and decertified industries would be subject to increased scrutiny by APHIS.

VI. Uniform Rules, Regulations, And Sanctions

A credible and efficacious penalty system remains at the cornerstone of this proposal for self-regulation. Unless suspension standards levied by horse industry organizations become commensurate with APHIS, the adoption of a self-regulation plan would be compromised.

The following penalty recommendations/procedures are proposed:

  • Letters of reprimand will be requested by the APHIS inspection team.
  • At the time a reprimand is requested by the APHIS inspection team, the DQP in question will be informed at the end of the show/sale with a notification ticket.
  • Requested letters of reprimand will then be forwarded to the APHIS Regional Office for approval and subsequently forwarded to the DQP program director.
  • After receiving a second letter of reprimand within a two-year period, the DQP's license will be suspended for a period of three years.
  • If after three years a DQP returns from suspension and receives a third letter of reprimand, his/her license is subjected to lifetime revocation.

Actions taken against poorly performing DQP(s) by their Organization:

  • Suspensions.
  • License Revocation.
  • After receiving a letter of reprimand that DQP must apprentice under a USDA inspection team for a minimum of two shows/sales.

The industry hearing committee for DQP performance must notify the APHIS Regional Office before the hearing so that an APHIS representative may be present if desired.

Actions taken against industry for poor DQP performance include:

  • Fines.
  • Revocation/suspension of horse industry organization certification based on:
    • chronic inaction/noncompliance to
    • correct the DQP(s).
    • fraudulent bookkeeping.

Actions taken against unaffiliated shows include:

  • Use of current administrative hearing process against show management/ exhibitor/trainer.

USDA personnel will continue to work both affiliated and unaffiliated shows for the 1996 show season. If and when horse industry organization self-regulation successfully demonstrates effectiveness, USDA emphasis will be shifted more to unaffiliated shows.

Designated Qualified Persons System Proposal

The following violation categories represent the majority of infractions committed by industry participants. As a major component of the self-regulatory work plan, APHIS believes these penalty levels should be adopted by industry.

Penalty Categories Followed By Penalty

  1. Bilateral Soreness (including Scar Rule and Bad Image)--one year disqualification, $1,000 fine.
  2. Unilateral Soreness--six-month disqualification, $500 fine.
  3. Bilateral/Unilateral open lesions--six- month disqualification.
  4. Foreign Substance--disqualification from the show.
  5. Technical Violations (i.e., shoeing)--disqualification from that class.
  6. Bilateral/Unilateral aversion to palpation--disqualification from the show.

This is not a comprehensive list and only represents first-time violators. Repetitive violators would be levied more severe penalties.

Post-show violators would not only be assessed appropriate penalties, but also would forfeit trophies, prizes, or class/category point awards. In the event that more than one violation is assessed, all penalties would be applied and suspensions cumulatively served.

Sore horses would be equally suspended from competition/exhibition for the duration of the penalty served by the trainer/owner.

VII. Training

Proper training of all participants in Horse Protection is essential. Training must contain certain elements and be applicable, informative, and uniform so that all USDA certified horse industry organization participants maintain consistency and accountability in their performance under a self-regulatory enforcement plan.

Two primary groups of participants require training: Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) and APHIS veterinarians.

APHIS and industry training programs will focus on the following three areas:

  • Training schedule timetables.
  • Training formats.
  • Training program development and implementation.

With an effective training program, performance and measurement standards can be developed and analyzed throughout the administration of the program. The initial development of an enforcement partnership in Horse Protection will begin with training. In order to provide specialized training to USDA certified horse industries, APHIS will regionalize the scheduling of training sessions. All enforcement stakeholders will have the opportunity to participate in agenda proceedings and presentations. APHIS will follow this training with the adoption of yearly education seminars that will be available to all horse industry constituencies.

VIII. Research Proposal

Under this strategic work plan, research would receive immediate attention on the part of APHIS and industry in a cooperative agreement.

Areas of potential study include:

  1. Thermography and other methods to detect soring.
  2. Pathological/physiological effects of soring upon horses.
  3. Shoeing techniques and associated changes in the form/function of the foot.

APHIS currently has the opportunity to engage in scientific research through a number of academic settings. Interest on the part of the research community has been expressed, and concurrent investigations are underway at several universities. APHIS veterinarians believe research is the most important element in this self-regulatory proposal.

Measurement standards for the Horse Protection program can be defined, established, and authenticated with the assistance of the medical/research community. Resources for research would be taken from annual appropriations to the Horse Protection program and potential solicitation from horse industry groups.

About the Author

Tim Cordes, DVM

Tim Cordes, DVM, is the Senior Staff Veterinarian for Equine Programs at Veterinary Services of APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services).

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