A formal inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found that as many as one-third of participants at the United Walking Horse Fall Finale in Tunica, Mississippi this November were in violation of the Federal Horse Protection Act. 

Yep. Read that again. Attending two out of three days of competition, USDA Veterinary Medical Officers identified 35 percent of inspected horses were not in compliance, and were subsequently disqualified from competition. 

Violations for soring practices include applying caustic chemicals such as mustard oil, croton oil, diesel fuel, or kerosene to a horse’s legs; or inserting sharp objects into their hooves to achieve an artificial, pain-based gait known as the ‘big lick.’ This particular movement is prized in the Southeastern U.S. in Tennessee Walking, Racking, and Spotted Saddle Horse competitions.

Shocking as it is, however, it’s hardly news. This latest episode comes after nearly 60 years (and plenty of coverage) calling out the practice of horse soring in Tennessee Walking Horse breed competitions and others. And while there’s plenty to lament about the political machine and the slow-turning wheels of justice, there’s also a new reason to hope. 

“We’re not one bit surprised to see such a high non-compliance rate at the United Walking Horse Fall Finale,” said Animal Wellness Action Director Michael Irby, who is also a former president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.

“It is time for all stakeholders to come together to forge legislation that will end soring and pass both the House and Senate. With the upcoming farm bill in the 118th Congress as a potential vehicle, the timing is ripe.”

For the last five years, Animal Wellness Action has lobbied for funding to support the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970, and has made significant strides. In 2023, it helped to secure $4.1 million as part of an agricultural spending bill—nearly six times the amount appropriated for HPA in 2018. But despite the increased funding and consistent public outcry, if recent events are any indication, there’s still not enough appropriated to support HPA enforcement at the level that’s required.

What’s more, most equine and animal protection activists agree that essential updates to the outdated HPA are still needed. One recent change has come in the form of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which would help to end soring by increasing penalties for violators, eliminating devices utilized in soring from the show ring, and upgrading the inspection scheme. Unfortunately, while the PAST Act passed the House in 2019 and in 2022, it has since been stalled by a small group of legislators in the Senate. 

Disappointing? Yes. But all is not lost. Currently, opportunities to amend the old PAST Act remain with the upcoming Farm Bill in the 118th Congress, which begins in January 2023. 

Want to take action? Make your wishes as a constituent known to your representative:

  • Follow-up with a phone call to the Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121. You’ll be asked to give your zip code and transferred to your Senators’ office. When the staffer answers the phone, you can say, “Hi, I’m a constituent, and I’m calling to ask that you please support the effort for revisions to the PAST Act that will help get the measure signed into law.”