Think efforts to stop the soring techniques used by a small handful of horse trainers in the deep south to produce the exaggerate “big lick” of Tennessee Walking Horses doesn’t affect you?

Think again – AND thank your farrier, if your farrier happens to be a member of the American Farrier Association. And never forget the mantra, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Living in a state adjacent to our nation’s capital, most Marylanders are accustomed to the current ongoing debate within serious media: the creation of laws via the legislative process vs. the making of laws via government agencies. Who would think this debate would touch our world?  Yet it does, and it is an example of how good intentions can go awry.

Good Intentions

Most of our readers are familiar with the federal legislation known as the PAST Act. The “Prevent All Soring Tactics Act,” is intended to strengthen the existing Horse Protection Act (HPA) and prevent the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses, specifically to ban the soring techniques used on some Tennessee Walking horses to gain an advantage in the show ring in some classes, particularly where the horse is asked to do the famous “big lick” walking gait.

The PAST Act is supported by the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, U.S. Equestrian Federation, the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Paint Horse Association, the American Morgan Horse Association, the Pinto Horse Association of America, the Arabian Horse Association, the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the United Professional Horsemen’s Association, the Appaloosa Horse Club, and the American Veterinarian Medical Association.

The legislation was introduced in the last two sessions of Congress, but has failed to pass.

Since Congress can’t seem to pass a new, stronger law to ban soring, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its cabinet powers, is going to attempt to do so, by amending the American Horse Protection Act via the executive powers of the president.

Gone Awry 

However well-meaning their intentions are, the American Horse Council and the American Farriers Association are concerned that this effort by the USDA will backfire, and both have been working with USDA to amend their language.

As Fran Jurga explains in Hoofcare Publishing:

This amendment is a bold move on the part of USDA. It is a “Hail Mary” pass to once and for all end soring by putting a Walking Horse’s hoof back on the ground via executive action. But like all daring strategies, its execution begins in the huddle. The quarterback’s signals must be clear and inarguable, or the Horse Protection Act enforcement plans could be delayed for years in the courts and other unrelated horse breeds and disciplines could become collateral damage

The emphasis on the last phrase is The Equiery‘s.

The proposed rule would make several major changes to current HPA regulations with the goal of ending soring, including a new licensing program for HPA inspectors and a ban on action devices, pads, weighted shoes and foreign substances at Walking Horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

The American Horse Council is concerned that certain provisions of the proposed rule are too broadly written, not sufficiently defined, and could cause confusion for the horse show industry.  Among the concerns regarding language in the amendment are the complete outlawing of pads, action devices such as pastern chains, and weighted shoes and the broad inclusion of breeds.

Explains Fran Jurga:

Several breeds, including Morgans, Saddlebreds, Hackney ponies, National Show horses and Arabians are shown in weighted shoes and/or pads. No definition of what constitutes a “weighted” shoe is included in either the PAST Act or the USDA amendment. The two documents do not use the same language in describing hoof equipment. The amendment suggests that all horses be limited to a “keg” or conventional horseshoe, which would compromise the welfare of many show horses that benefit from urethane or composite shoes, bar shoes, and support materials designed for therapeutic application, not to specifically enhance movement.

While soring is universally abhorred, the passing of a law that would affect other breeds is not necessary, nor is there evidence that the welfare of any padded horses is affected by the practice of weighted shoes or pads. Although welfare or soundness may be impacted in some way, this has not been specifically documented nor have the individual components (weight of shoe, length of hoof, height of heels, effect of wedging, etc.) been individually tested. 

Further, it is not fair to Walking Horses that they be held to a higher standard than other breeds, which are allowed to have pads and weighted shoes. However, the other breeds are, for the most part, limited to specific toe lengths, shoe weights, shoe materials or designs, pad specifications or other limitations, and the argument for banning pad packages in the Walking Horse are based in abuse of the pad stack for pressure shoeing or hidden manipulations within the stack. Most of the long-footed or padded breeds operate under the rules of the United States Equestrian Federation (– USEF) for that breed.

What is being done

In late summer and early fall of this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture held several amendment “listening sessions” around the country. The listening sessions were located in states with significant equine industries, including one held in Riverdale, MD in September.

In addition, numerous organizations are submitting written comment, including the American Horse Council and the American Farriers Association.


American Horse Council

The American Horse Council has submitted formal comment on the USDA’s proposed amendment language, urging that all new provisions be explicitly limited to Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses, mirroring the PAST Act.  Making this change will address most concerns the horse industry has with the proposed rule and will fulfill the purpose and intent of the HPA.

The AHC believes that many of the proposed changes to the HPA regulations are needed, such as replacing the ineffective Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program with a new independent inspection program. Additionally, because of a long history of utilizing action devices, stacks, weighted shoes, and foreign substances to sore horses, AHC believes that a ban of these items on Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses is justified and necessary.

However, the Horse Council believes it is equally important that any new regulations be narrowly focused on the problem of soring and do not  inadvertently impact or unnecessarily burden other segments of the horse show industry that have no history of soring horses.

American Farrier’s Association

While the American Farrier’s Association is commending the USDA for this effort to eradicate soring, it has also expressed serious concerns about several provisions.

The “Re-titling” of section 11.2 as “Prohibited actions, practices, devices, and substances” to prohibiting all (AFA emphasis) action devices, pads, and substances applied to a horse’s limbs. AFA leadership feels strongly that without specific qualifying language for the prohibited devices, this proposed revision would be much too broad and vague. For example, a horseshoe could be considered an action device, since a shod horse moves differently from a horse that is barefoot and various shoes have a greater influence on movement than others. And a pad can be applied with good reason to protect an unusually sensitive solar surface with the end result being a more comfortable horse rather than one previously in distress. 

Regarding paragraph #3 in references cited below calling to remove the current provision in section 11.7(a)(2) which permits farriers meeting the requirements currently contained within section 11.7 (a)(2) to serve as DQPs (to be renamed HPI’s) and state, instead, in paragraph (a) of revised 11.6 that only veterinarians and veterinary technicians may be licensed as HPIs : 

AFA leadership feels strongly that due to the wide variance of expertise in equine podiatry among veterinarians, as opposed to farriers for whom this is their focus of training, it would be deeply concerning not to have an APHIS licensed farrier accompany a veterinarian at equine events where monitoring is indicated. Seeking the primary expert hoof care opinion from a veterinarian or veterinary technician who does not make hoof care their primary focus of practice is akin to asking a general practitioner in human medicine to evaluate a complex surgical procedure. It would be unthinkable. A highly competent farrier has extensive knowledge in equine anatomy, biomechanics, and kinesiology. Their focus is on hoof care that contributes to and maintains the well-being of the horse. And their working knowledge of the factors that contribute or detract from this well-being is unparalleled. 

References from USDA Documents: 1. Retitling § 11.2 as “Prohibited actions, practices, devices, and substances” to prohibiting all action devices, pads, and substances applied to a horse’s limbs. 2. From the summary of major provisions: “Changes we are proposing to the regulations include amending the regulations to prohibit use of pads, substances, and action devices on horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.” 3. “We would also remove the provision in current § 11.7(a)(2) that farriers, horse trainers, and other knowledgeable horsemen can be qualified as DQPs if their past experience and training qualifies them for positions as horse industry organization or association stewards or judges (or their equivalent) and if they have been formally trained and licensed as DQPs by a horse industry organization or association. Instead, we would state in paragraph (a) of revised § 11.6 that only veterinarians and veterinary technicians may be licensed as HPIs [emphasis AFA]We are making this change to ensure that inspectors have the professional education, working knowledge, technical and practical experience, and training necessary to inspect horses properly under the Act and regulations.