Representatives Cohen, Schakowsky, Buchanan, and Fitzpatrick Lead More than 100 Members Asking Secretary Vilsack to Publish Rule Preventing Horse “Soring”

March 16, 2021
Press Release
Completed rule was withdrawn by Trump Administration

WASHINGTON – Representatives Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Vern Buchanan (FL-16) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) today led a letter with more than 100 Members of Congress asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to publish a rule to prevent the intentional harming of horses known as “soring” that the Obama Administration was days from publishing in 2017 when Vilsack previously served as Secretary. The rule was withdrawn by the Trump Administration.

In their letter, the Members noted that the rule has massive bipartisan support in Congress and generated more than 100,000 public comments in support. Efforts to strengthen Horse Protection Act enforcement are overwhelmingly popular with the public.

The letter reads in part:

“We are committed to ending the plight of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds who are subjected to the intense cruelty known as ‘soring.’ As you know, this indefensible practice involves trainers deliberately inflicting pain on the legs and hooves of these horses using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform a pain-based artificially high-stepping gait known as the ‘Big Lick’ that wins prizes at some horse shows. We fervently hope you will swiftly publish the USDA rule promulgated under your leadership in 2016 but withheld from publication that will finally end the conflict-ridden industry self-policing scheme and the use on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses of devices integral to soring.

“Congress passed the Horse Protection Act more than 50 years ago to end this abuse, but a 2010 audit by USDA’s Inspector General and undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States of top trainers and owners in 2012 and 2015 found persistent, rampant soring. Under your leadership, USDA promulgated a final regulation to strengthen HPA enforcement and end this cruel practice, drawing on the IG’s recommendations. The final regulation was at the Federal Register and awaiting publication when the Trump Administration came into office and on January 23, 2017, withdrew the rule from publication.

“This rule had and continues to have massive bipartisan congressional and public support….

“USDA’s final rule mirrors key reforms in the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 693/S. 1007 in the 116th Congress), which was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 333-96 in the House in July 2019, with 308 cosponsors, and had 52 Senate cosponsors including then-Senator Harris. The identical legislation passed the Senate Commerce Committee in 2014. This legislation is endorsed by hundreds of stakeholder groups and individuals, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation, and 69 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, National Sheriffs' Association, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.”

See the entire letter here.

Statements of support for publishing the rule:

“It’s long past time for USDA to strengthen its weak regulations to stop one of the worst cruelties imaginable – where scofflaw trainers deliberately torture horses to get them to fling their front legs high, just to win a cheap blue ribbon in a show ring.  It'd be like forcing an Olympian to wear broken glass in her shoes so the pain will make her leap higher over the hurdles,” said Sara Amundson, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “Secretary Vilsack was poised to fix this in January 2017 and he’s positioned to finish the job expeditiously, as today’s strong bipartisan letter urges him to do.  We commend Representatives Cohen, Schakowsky, Fitzpatrick, and Buchanan for their outstanding leadership and all the legislators who joined this crucial effort.”

“We are grateful to Congressman Cohen, Congresswoman Schakowsky, Congressman Fitzpatrick, and Congressman Buchanan for their leadership in urging the USDA to reissue the Horse Protection Act rule that would protect Tennessee Walking Horses from horrific abuse. The department is overdue in cracking down on the pernicious practices associated with ‘soring,’ which include applying caustic chemicals to a horse’s lower legs and inserting hard objects into tender areas of hooves.  No horse should be forced to endure excruciating pain for the sake of earning a ribbon at competition.” -- Cathy Liss, President, Animal Welfare Institute

“The horse industry has long supported the USDA’s Horse Protection Rule issued in early 2017.  At that time, we worked closely with then-Secretary Vilsack to develop important protections to eliminate the practice of soring a horse’s limb.  Now that Secretary Vilsack has returned, we look forward to working with him to reinstate important protections for horses on issues where he has a demonstrated a track record of commitment.” -- Julie Broadway, President, American Horse Council

“The AAEP was pleased with the USDA’s work in proposing regulation changes to end the inhumane act of soring in 2016, which sadly still 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 continues to support legislation for the welfare of horses, and works to eliminate this practice.” -- Scott Hay, DVM, 2021 President, American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP)

The letter to Secretary Vilsack was signed by 114 bipartisan Members of Congress:

Representatives Steve Cohen, Jan Schakowsky, Brian Fitzpatrick, Vern Buchanan, Adam B. Schiff, Adam Smith, Adriano Espaillat, Alan Lowenthal, Albio Sires, Alcee L. Hastings, Alma S. Adams, Ph.D., Ann Kirkpatrick, Ann McLane Kuster, Andy Levin, Ayanna Pressley, Barbara Lee, Bill Foster, Bill Posey, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Brad Sherman, Brendan F. Boyle, Chellie Pingree, Cheri Bustos, Chrissy Houlahan, Christopher H. Smith, Claudia Tenney, Colin Allred, Conor Lamb, Daniel T. Kildee, Danny K. Davis, Darren Soto, David Cicilline, David P. Joyce, David Price, David Schweikert, David Trone, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Deborah Ross, Derek Kilmer, Dina Titus, Donald M. Payne Jr., Donald S. Beyer Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Elise Stefanik, Gerald E. Connolly, Grace Meng, Grace F. Napolitano, Guy Reschenthaler, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., James R. Langevin, James P. McGovern, Jamie Raskin, Jared Huffman, Jason Crow, Jeff Van Drew, Jerrold Nadler, Jerry McNerney, Jesús G. "Chuy" García, Jim Himes, Joe Neguse, John Katko, John Yarmuth, Josh Gottheimer, Juan Vargas, Julia Brownley, Katherine M. Clark, Kathleen M. Rice, Kathy Castor, Katie Porter, Ken Calvert, Kurt Schrader, Lance Gooden, Linda T. Sánchez, Lois Frankel, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Madeleine Dean, Marcy Kaptur, María Elvira Salazar, Mark Pocan, Mark Takano, Mary Gay Scanlon, Mike Quigley, Mike Thompson, Nancy Mace, Nanette Diaz Barragán, Nikema Williams, Norma J. Torres, Nydia M. Velázquez, Paul D. Tonko, Peter DeFazio, Peter Welch, Pramila Jayapal, Rashida Tlaib, Raúl M. Grijalva, Richard E. Neal, Ro Khanna, Rodney Davis, Ruben Gallego, Salud Carbajal, Scott Peters, Stephen Lynch, Steven Horsford, Suzan K. DelBene, Suzanne Bonamici, Ted Budd, Ted Deutch, Thomas R. Suozzi, Tom O’Halleran, Tony Cárdenas, Veronica Escobar, William R. Keating

Endorsing Organizations: Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), American Horse Council (AHC), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), and the American Horse Protection Association (AHPA).