USDA, authorized and tasked with enforcing the humane treatment of horses pursuant to the Horse Protection Act, has published amendments to its regulations pursuant to the Act.

According to a 2010 Audit Report by USDA’s Office of Inspector General:

“APHIS’ program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused. At present, horse industry organizations hire their own inspectors (known as designated qualified persons (DQP)) to inspect horses at the shows they sponsor. However, we found that DQPs do not always inspect horses to effectively enforce the law and regulations, and in some cases where they do find violations, they deliberately issue tickets to friends or family members of responsible individuals so that the responsible person could avoid receiving a penalty for violating the Horse Protection.”

APHIS agreed with the findings of this report and proposed regulations that would dramatically amend its regulations—not only removing the authority of horse industry organizations to train designated qualified persons, and reassigning that responsibility to APHIS—but also amends the regulations “to prohibit use of pads, substances, and action devices on horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.” See 81 FR 49112, July 26, 2916.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA), who will be most affected by the proposed regulations have expressed concerns about the proposed rule, warning that:

“[t]he proposed rule by the United States Department of Agriculture that would eliminate the use of any pad, action device or hoof band as well as eliminate all self-regulation will have devastating impacts. The demands on horse show management will be costly and create an unnecessary hassle and the demands on exhibitors to enter horses, regardless of the division will be prohibitive as well. Horse shows in many cases will cease to exist.

The proposed rule is clearly an overreach, typical of today’s Washington, and an overt effort to bypass Congress. In order to appease radical animal rights organizations, USDA is refusing to objectively look at the facts and instead implementing rules that are not based in science or reality. Veterinary experts at Auburn University and the University of Tennessee have proven that action devices and pads do not harm horses.”

Instead “TWHBEA is calling on USDA to assemble a group of Equine Specialists to determine objective tests and end more than forty years of conflict,” adding that:

“TWHBEA is currently funding veterinary research in order to obtain objective, scientific tests for our show horses. Changing inspectors and eliminating our show horse will do nothing to help the welfare of our horse and will crush hundreds of civic clubs across the country who depend on our shows for fundraising.”

The American Association of Equine Practitioners, whose mission is “to improve the health and welfare of the horse, to further the professional development of its members, and to provide resources and leadership for the benefit of the equine industry,” is in favor of the proposed regulations.

 

“The AAEP is extremely pleased with the USDA’s work in proposing regulation changes to end the inhumane act of soring, which is one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline in the United States.

As doctors of veterinary medicine, we have previously recommended the use of only veterinarians to inspect horses at shows for evidence of soring, as well as a ban on action devices and performance packages. Both of these items are included in the USDA’s proposed rule changes.

Soring is an intentional, cruel act which must end. The AAEP will continue to support the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act and work to eliminate this practice.”

In USDA’s “Regulatory Impact Analysis & Analysis in support of Certification that the Rule will not have a Significant Economic Impact on a Substantial Number of Small Entities” the agency concluded that the proposed  “rule will not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities.”

However, the agency also invited comments that refute that conclusion, which provides the TWHBEA or others negatively affected by this proposed regulation the opportunity to inform USDA about potential unintended consequences of its rule.