AVMA and AAEP Oppose Industry Efforts to stall Proposed Rule to Enforce Horse Protection Act

SCHAUMBURG, Ill., Aug. 26, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) hand delivered a joint letter to the Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack today. The organizations urge the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to move forward with proposed amendments to the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and deny requests from certain factions within affected industries to extend the comment period beyond the current September 26 deadline.

The proposed rule contains regulations that could end the practice of soring which involves deliberately causing pain to artificially exaggerate the leg motion of a horse's gait. The practice is commonly used on "big lick" Tennessee Walking Horses, but other gaited horses may also suffer from this practice.

The AVMA and AAEP have been strongly committed to ending the practice of soring for more than 40 years. 

"These requests from the industry are intended only to stall implementation of the rule," said Dr. Ron DeHaven, Executive Vice President and CEO of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "A 60 day delay would ensure that the rule would not be implemented during the current administration and cause further delay in the implementation of long-overdue changes leading to the diminished welfare of more horses."

Attempts at a legislative solution to this problem have achieved wide bipartisan support but have been thwarted before reaching the floor for a vote.

The proposed rule would address the issue of soring through amendments to the Horse Protection Act. Two significant changes are:

  • USDA-Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would assume responsibility for training, screening and licensing horse inspectors. Instead of allowing horse industry organizations to handle these responsibilities, which can be ineffective due to conflicts of interest, inspectors would be veterinarians and veterinary technicians required to follow USDA rules and standards of conduct.
  • USDA-APHIS would ban the use of all action devices, pads, and foreign substances at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. This would align the HPA regulations with existing equestrian standards set forth by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.

The proposed rule is available for public comment at http://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=APHIS-2011-0009. Comments can be submitted through September 26.

In addition, APHIS will be hosting a series of meetings where the public can provide additional comments and feedback. Future meetings are scheduled for:

  • Tuesday, Sept. 6, in Riverdale, Md.
  • Wednesday, Sept. 15, a call-in virtual public meeting.

To register or learn more about the public meetings, visit https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/horse-protection-amendments.

AVMA currently endorses the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) policy on "The Practice of Soring." In addition, the AVMA has policy on the abolition of action devices and performance packages.

To learn more about soring, visit the AVMA's resources on the subject at avma.org/soring.

For more information, or to schedule an interview, contact Sharon Granskog, AVMA media relations, at 847-285-6619 (office), 847-280-1273 (cell), or sgranskog@avma.org.

The AVMA, founded in 1863, is one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations in the world, with more than 88,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine.

Separating fact from fiction about soring and the USDA’s proposed rule

Since we issued our call to support the USDA’s proposed changes to the Horse Protection Act, we’ve been receiving some comments from our membership and others concerned about a specific phrase within the proposed rule. According to the rumors going around, people fear that the proposed changes will prohibit specific actions, practices, devices and substances (such as pads) used when training and showing breeds such as Morgans, Saddlebreds, and Arabians.

There are also rumors going around that fly sprays, coat conditioners, or even saddles and bridles could be considered “foreign substances” that would be banned.

What’s missing from the messages being spread is the context that comes from reviewing the entire text of the proposed rule, which states “related breed that performs with an accentuated gait that raises concerns about soring at any horse show, horse exhibition, horse sale, or horse auction.”  What this suggests is that if you’re not soring your horses, the USDA is not going to come after you when you’re training, riding or showing them.

The USDA has provided the needed context for this proposed rule in section 11.2 paragraph (a), which is pasted below. We’ve highlighted the relevant phrases in bold, underlined text.

Prohibited actions, practices, devices, and substances.

(a) Specific prohibitions. No device, method, practice, or substance shall be used with respect to any horse at any horse show, horse exhibition, or horse sale or auction if such use causes or can reasonably be expected to cause such horse to be sore. The use of the following devices, equipment, or practices is specifically prohibited with respect to any Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, or related breed that performs with an accentuated gait that raises concerns about soring at any horse show, horse exhibition, horse sale, or horse auction:

No matter what breed you show, exhibit, or sell/auction, the use of any action, practice, device or substance that can reasonably be expected to cause a horse to be sore is prohibited. The regulation is not about breed; it’s about ending the cruel practice of soring. There is a large, and growing, number of walking horse owners who don’t sore their horses and who ride, train and show them in their natural gaits. They despise being lumped in with the soring crowd and need your support to return the breed to its natural beauty.

Let’s work together to end soring. It damages the reputation of a great breed and has led the other gaited horse breeds to distance themselves as much as possible from the walking horse industry. Comment in support of the USDA’s proposed changes. If you believe the language of the proposed regulation needs to be improved, please make constructive suggestions to the USDA so that the regulation may be refined to protect non-harmful or beneficial practices while preventing soring. Don’t let more walking horses suffer by throwing roadblocks that prevent adoption of the proposed regulation or by helping those who sore create more loopholes within the regulations that allow them to continue their cruel practices.