USDA Seeks Public Input on Horse Protection Act Rule

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is seeking public input on a proposed rule to strengthen Horse Protection Act (HPA) requirements. These proposed changes aim to eliminate horse soring, a cruel and inhumane practice that gives horse owners and trainers an unfair advantage in walking horse competitions.

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

“Soring has no place in walking horse shows. This unnecessary abuse harms horses and makes it harder for those who properly care for their horses to compete,” said Jenny Lester-Moffitt, Under Secretary for USDA Marking and Regulatory Programs. “By strengthening the HPA regulations, we can all work to eliminate soring, which will improve the welfare of horses competing in these shows and level the competitive playing field for everyone in the industry, which should only help it thrive.”

The proposed changes include:

  • relieving horse industry organizations and associations of all of their regulatory responsibilities, which will eliminate potential conflicts of interest and ensure impartiality of inspections;
  • establishing qualifying criteria for people applying to be inspectors, as well as processes for denying applications;
  • allowing event management to appoint an APHIS representative to conduct inspections;
  • prohibiting any device, method, practice, or substance that could mask evidence of soring, as well as all action devices and non-therapeutic pads and wedges, and substances applied above the hoof;
  • clarifying the “scar rule” by modifying the description of visible changes that indicate soring, and;
  • amending recordkeeping and reporting requirements for management at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions to increase oversight and prevent those that have been previously disqualified from participating in events.

Together, these changes will allow APHIS to screen, train and authorize qualified persons to conduct inspections at horse shows, horse exhibitions, horse sales, and horse auctions to ensure compliance with the Horse Protection Act.

In 2017, APHIS withdrew its initial HPA final rule from public inspection in accordance with a memorandum that was issued by the Executive Office of the President. Following a lawsuit based on that action, on June 1, 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order that would give the 2017 rule automatic effect if the agency does not take appropriate remedial action within 180 days to either promulgate an updated version of the rule, or otherwise remedy the deficiency in the withdrawal of the 2017 rule by conducting notice and comment rulemaking on the withdrawal. The agency published a proposed rule to withdraw the 2017 rule on July 20, 2023 which is available for public comment through August 21, 2023. Today, the agency is submitting the revised proposed rule that aims to strengthen regulations and modernize APHIS’ approach to this issue.

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.

This proposed rule may be viewed in today’s Federal Register. Beginning Monday, interested stakeholders may submit comments on the proposed rule at www.regulations.gov. APHIS will consider all comments received on or before October 20, 2023.

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