USDA Rule Requires Minimum Soring Penalties

Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) that manage Tennessee Walking Horse and other gaited horse shows are now required to assess minimum penalties for Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations found at shows and other events they manage under a final rule published by the USDA Animal and Plant Inspection Service (APHIS) this week.

The HPA prohibits "soring" the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait. The USDA enforces the Act and certifies HIOs and trains Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). HIOs hire DQPs to carry out HPA compliance inspections on horses presented for exhibition at the horse shows.

According to APHIS spokesman David Sacks, in September 2010, auditors from the USDA's Inspector General's Office recommended that APHIS develop and implement protocols to more consistently penalize HPA violators. In May 2011, the USDA proposed a minimum HPA penalty protocol that would require HIOs enforce uniform minimum penalties for HPA violations found at the horse shows they manage. On June 5 after a public comment phase, the agency published the rule in its final form.

Under the final rule approved Tuesday, 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.

Sacks said that the final rule will eliminate inconsistency in the way HIOs assess HPA violation penalties while removing the incentive to sore horses.

"There will be no incentive for individuals to sore their horses if they know that they will not only be dismissed from the show/event for violating the Horse Protection Act, but also be suspended if their horses are found to be sore," Sacks said.

No one from Sound Horses Honest Judging Objective Inspections Winning Fairly (SHOW), the HIO affiliated with the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was available for comment.

Marty Irby, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) said that the organization's executive committee had not yet discussed the final rule as a group, but that "TWHBEA continues to stand behind our commitment to the sound horse and support the fair but rigorous enforcement of the Horse Protection Act."

Teresa Bippen, spokesperson for the HIO Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), said that the final rule levels the playing field for all Tennessee Walking Horse exhibitors by keeping repeat violators out of the show ring.

"Violators with multiple violations will be assessed years' of suspensions from the show ring instead of a few weeks or months, and penalties will be served consecutively and not concurrently," Bippen said. "The result is a wonderful win-win for both the horse and sound exhibitor."

The final rule takes effect July 9.

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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