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USDA releases new HPA rule

Posted on Wednesday, May 1, 2024 at 11:33 am

From Staff Reports

The United States Department of Agriculture released a copy of the new Horse Protection Act rule that will be published in the upcoming weeks and will be effective February 1, 2025.

The Celebration wrote in a news release that, “The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has been preparing, along with other industry leadership, for this rule to become finalized. The timing as well as the effective date of February 2025 are as we expected. This is a very serious issue for our breed, The Celebration, and our local community that depends heavily on this industry. The Celebration, along with other industry leadership, will work diligently with our attorneys, The Torridon Group, to prepare our next steps.”

In the release, sent out on April 29, the USDA confirmed that the rule will abolish the HIO system as well as remove action devices and non-therapeutic pads from Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses. It will also eliminate the current scar rule – which refers to the presence of certain types of skin conditions on the horse’s pastern and fore pastern suggesting that a horse has been sore – and replace it with a more accurate description of visible dermatological changes indicative of soring.

According to the release, in an effort to end horse soring at Tennessee Walking Horse shows, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is announcing strengthened Horse Protection Act regulations.

What is soring?

Soring is the practice where some owners and trainers chemically or physically irritate or burn horses to provide an accentuated gait that gives them an advantage in walking horse competitions and fraudulent purchase prices at horse shows.

Walking horses are known for their naturally high gait, but to be more successful in competitions some owners and trainers use these methods to exaggerate a horse’s gait. These inhumane methods may cause the horse to suffer physical pain, distress, inflammation, or lameness while walking and moving.

“For far too long, some within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry have sored and abused their horses, despite the industry’s inspection process and our own enforcement efforts,” said Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Under Secretary for USDA Marking and Regulatory Programs. “This abuse must stop. Eliminating this cruel practice will help protect horses competing in these shows and level the playing field for the industry. The independent inspection process should strengthen the competition at these shows and benefit the many owners and trainers who do right by their animals.”

The new regulations include:

1. Eliminating industry self-regulation and the role of industry-backed Designated Qualified Persons as inspectors at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. Only APHIS inspectors and independent non-APHIS-employed horse protection inspectors screened, trained, and authorized by APHIS will have inspection authority.

2. Prohibiting any device, method, practice, or substance applied to a horse that can cause or is associated with soring.

3. Prohibiting on Tennessee Walking or racking horses all action devices and non-therapeutic pads, artificial toe extensions, and wedges, as well as all substances on the extremities above the hoof, including lubricants.

4. Removing the scar rule from the regulations and replacing it with a more accurate description of visible dermatological changes indicative of soring.

According to the Horse Protection Amendments, the amendment states, “Visual changes to the skin resulting from soring appear markedly different from signs of aging. As we noted above, skin changes resulting from soring often show a distinct pattern of thickened skin ridges on the posterior pastern, consistent with lichenification,” which means the skin has become thick and leathery.

5. Amending recordkeeping and reporting requirements for management at covered events to better enforce the HPA.

HPA History

In 2017, APHIS withdrew the initial Horse Protection Act (HPA) final rule from public inspection per a memorandum issued by the Executive Office of the President. Following a lawsuit based on that action, the agency withdrew the 2017 rule on Oct. 30, 2023, and published a new proposed rule, receiving 8,787 comments.

According to the press release, “The new rule builds upon information we have learned since the 2017 rule was drafted. Notably, it incorporates lessons and science-based recommendations from the 2021 National Academies of Science review of the inspection program.”

The HPA is a Federal law that prohibits sored horses from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions. The HPA also prohibits the transportation of sored horses to or from any of these events.

A copy of this rule may be viewed today, and the rule will be published in the Federal Register in the coming weeks. This rule will be effective Feb. 1, 2025.

The rule book is a 225 page document that can be viewed here: