The U.S. Department of Agriculture will propose a rule Tuesday that would eliminate the practice of “soring,” used by some horse show trainers but decried by animal welfare groups.
Under the proposed changes, the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would take responsibility for screening, training and licensing the inspectors charged with enforcing federal law.
Soring involves burning or binding a horse’s legs to modify its gait. Congress banned the practice in 1970 but has allowed the industry to largely police itself. Soring produces a unique gait prized at horse shows but that can cause the animals pain and discomfort.
Kentucky and Tennessee breed the bulk of walking horses, known for their prancing gait.
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The USDA’s proposal would also ban the pads, chemicals and other devices used to achieve soring from horse shows, sales and auctions, bringing federal rules in line with standards set by the U.S. Equestrian Federation.
Identical bills introduced last year in both the House of Representatives and the Senate aimed at stopping the practice have considerable bipartisan support but have not made it past key committees.
Kevin Shea, the administrator of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said in a statement Monday that the 1970 law, the Horse Protection Act, gave the USDA the authority to make the changes.
“We believe an independent pool of APHIS-trained inspectors, combined with a ban on inhumane training methods, will be a more effective deterrent to the cruel and inhumane practice of horse soring,” he said.
Congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have frequently criticized the Obama administration for taking executive actions to bypass Congress, on matters ranging from climate change to immigration to gun restrictions.
The legislation before Congress, the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, has 263 co-sponsors in the House and 49 in the Senate. Only one member from Kentucky, Rep. John Yarmuth, a Louisville Democrat, supports the measure. Only one member from Tennessee supports it: Rep. Steve Cohen, a Memphis Democrat.
Another bill, introduced in 2014 by McConnell and Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Lamar Alexander R-Tenn., would have kept the inspection process under a single body governed by an industry-appointed board.
In a 2017 spending bill for the USDA, the House Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican, notes that “any substantive changes to the statute or its intent should be made by Congress through the legislative process.”