Friday, April 30, 2021

Almost half the U.S. Senate has called for swift action to end the indefensible practice known as horse soring—in which scofflaw trainers of Tennessee Walking horses and related breeds torment horses to get them to fling their front legs high, just to win a cheap blue ribbon in a show ring. 

Led by champions Sens. Michael Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., a bipartisan set of 48 Senators sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the USDA to publish and reinstate a final rule developed under him when he served in the Obama Administration. 

That rule, announced on January 13, 2017, by the USDA under Secretary Vilsack, would have eliminated a failed system of industry self-policing and the use on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses of devices integral to soring. Due to delays at the Federal Register, this final rule was not published before the Trump administration took office and withdrew it from publication. But Secretary Vilsack can revive it now, as the Senate letter and a House letter sent last month urge him to do.

We commend Sens. Crapo and Warner for their outstanding leadership and all the legislators who joined this crucial effort. Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla. led a parallel letter in March signed by a total of 114 Representatives.

“I support the humane treatment of all animals and the responsible training of horses,” said Sen. Crapo. “I remain committed to ending the cruel practice of soring, and will continue to promote enforcement of current animal welfare laws. I implore the USDA to publish its rule to finally end this horrible practice.”

“Today, some horse trainers often go to great lengths to get a competitive edge over other horses— which unfortunately includes using the abusive method known as soring,” said Sen. Warner. “That’s why I’m proud to lead a group of bipartisan Senators in urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use their rulemaking authority and protect horses from this inhumane treatment.”

Congress passed the Horse Protection Act more than 50 years ago in an attempt to end this cruelty. But a 2010 audit by USDA's Inspector General and undercover investigations in 2012 and 2015 by the Humane Society of the United States of top trainers and owners found persistent, rampant soring in the segment of the industry that forces horses to perform a pain-based artificially high-stepping gait known as the "Big Lick" that wins prizes at some horse shows.

When it was first proposed, this rule garnered sweeping approval, with bipartisan letters signed by 42 Senators and 182 Representatives and more than 100,000 public comments in support. Subsequent congressional letters in the intervening years have demonstrated continuing resolve to see this Horse Protection Act rule implemented, as did a provision in the Fiscal Year 2021 omnibus appropriations package directing USDA to publish it. The HSUS and HSLF also 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. 

In his second stint as Secretary of Agriculture, Mr. Vilsack can easily resurrect the rule finalized under his watch in 2017 and complete the job he started. By bringing an end to soring, he would put the industry on a better path, one that celebrates these magnificent animals by giving them the protections that Congress intended more than half a century ago.