WASHINGTON (CN) — Prized horses are blistered and maimed to obtain a show-winning gait, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture illegally withdrew a federal rule that would prevent it, the Humane Society said this week in a federal lawsuit.
Boasting a naturally graceful stride, the Tennessee Walking Horse has been a longtime star in horse shows, the Humane Society says that Department of Agriculture recently stripped protections from the vaunted animals by killing a 2017 rule that bolstered the Horse Protection Act of 1970 and its 1976 amendments. The rule made it clear that intentionally harming a horse was illegal.
The Horse Protection Act was enacted “to end the cruel and inhuman practice of ‘horse soring’ whereby devices, equipment and foreign substances are used to inflict pain on a horse’s limbs and feet in order to provoke a high-stepping gait,” the complaint states.
In a statement accompanying the 46-page lawsuit Tuesday, the Humane Society said: “With the final rule, the agency at long last took the necessary actions to move toward fulfilling its obligations under the HPA.” the Humane Society said in a statement Tuesday.
The rule was issued Jan. 13, 2017, but the Trump administration failed to publish it in the Federal Register, and withdrew it on Feb. 2, 2017. In doing so, the USDA “authorize(d) an industry self-policing scheme which has facilitated the perpetuation of soring,” the Humane Society said in the statement.
Soring inflicts pain on a horse every time its front feet touch the ground — and is intended to inflict pain, to induce an artificially exaggerated “big lick” gait, which is highly coveted by judges in the exhibition ring.
Soring may be induced by dousing the limbs with blister-inducing chemicals such as mustard oil, diesel fuel or kerosene, or by pressure shoeing — cutting the front hooves nearly to the quick and tightly nailing on the shoes, causing excruciating pain when the horse puts weight on the hoof, the Humane Society says.
Another method of inducing a big lick is to force a horse to stand for hours on the sensitive part of its soles on a raised block.
While many Tennessee Walker owners say they care for their steeds responsibly and train them through painless means, the Humane Society says the USDA is failing to stop incentivizing some owners from harming horses for profit.
“In 2010, USDA’s Inspector General released a comprehensive audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Program, concluding that the industry self-policing system — the one authorized by the regulations that would have been replaced by the final rule — was fraught with conflicts of interest, inadequate to prevent soring, and should be abolished,” the Humane Society said in its statement. It added: “USDA agreed with the Inspector General’s recommendations and said then that it would implement new regulations to remedy the problem.”
But the USDA repealed the rule without public notice — a violation of the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the complaint. It wants the repeal of the rule vacated, and the rule published in the Federal Register, plus costs of suit, and declaratory judgment that the USDA violated the Horse Protection Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Register Act.
The plaintiffs are represented by Claudia O’Brien with Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C., and the Humane Society’s litigation team.