My horse’s feet are as swift as rolling thunder
He carries me away from all my fears
And when the world threatens to fall asunder
His mane is there to wipe away my tears.
A. In The Beginning
The high stepping walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse as
his weight shifts to his powerful hindquarters, is breathtaking
to watch in the show arena. It’s National Celebration time, an
event held annually in Shelbyville, Tennessee, attended by
thousands of spectators, owners and trainers, and often the
Governor of the State. The pressure to win is overwhelming,
particularly the coveted title, “World Grand Champion” which
is bestowed on one extraordinary horse a year.
The Tennessee Walking Horse was originally bred in the
Southern United States to carry the owners of plantations
around their lands. They are known for their unique fourbeat
ambling gaits: the running walk, the flat walk, and
their “rocking horse” canter. They make excellent trail
horses because of their smooth gaits, stamina and calm dispositions.
By the 1920’s, the Tennessee Walking Horse had
their own thriving show circuit and became a registered
|About Theresa LaVoie
Ms. La Voie has been involved with horses for more than 20 years both as an equine law attorney and an avid equestrian who breeds and shows her own Tennessee Walking Horses both in California and Tennessee. She also enjoys carriage driving and has competed in three-day-combined driving events. Prior to these activities, Ms. La Voie’s Arabian horse participated for many years on the Arabian Horse Show Circuit in dressage and jumping.
Ms. LaVoie's equine law practice focuses on sales and leasing, boarding and breeding contracts, liability releases, horse related accidents, stallion syndication, and veterinarian liability concerns. She also lectures on equine legal matters and has been designated as an equine law expert witness.
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As the Tennessee Walking Horse breed improved
through the 1930’s and 40’s and started competing more
steadily with the showy Saddlebred horses,
B. The Dark Side of the Tennessee
the “big lick”
performance horse emerged. By the
late 1960’s and early
1970’s, stacked pads were added beneath horseshoes and
chains were placed around the coronet
(ankle). The exaggerated front leg action, drew spectators to
the horse shows and increased the popularity of the breed.
Many decent and honorable people trained their horses
to achieve the show gaits naturally and comfortably. Others
chose a cruel short cut to produce an exaggerated action in
a hurry. In the 1950’s, trainers started to apply caustic
chemicals to the pasterns (area just below the ankles) of
show horses – sensitizing the area and forcing the horse to
lift his front legs high off the ground in an attempt to avoid
pain. The horses may be ridden with metal
chains around their ankles, which further
accentuates the high-stepping action with
each painful stride. The horses shift their
weight to their back legs as they try to relieve
the pain in the front feet and often walk with
a “squatting movement.” This abusive practice of causing pain to the horse’s pasterns or front feet is known as “soring.”
One popular method of soring is chemical soring. This
involves applying a caustic chemical agent to the front
pasterns of the horse. One common agent is mustard oil.
N-croton oil, salicylic acid, kerosene, and diesel fuel are
also agents frequently used for chemical soring. The legs
are frequently wrapped with plastic wrap to allow the
chemicals to penetrate the skin. Sored horses would be
shown with open sores on their pasterns. Boots were used
instead of chains during this time, as they had the dual purpose
of causing irritation to the sores and hiding the open
sore from spectator’s view. It is also known that exposure to
these agents can often cause health problems to the horses,
including muscle contractions gastrointestinal changes,
heart and liver problems, fertility issues and fetal loss in
Another method of soring is called pressure soring.
Objects such as metal beads, nails, or screws are placed
under the shoes or pads on the horse’s front feet to cause
pain. Horses may also be road foundered by riding them
excessively on hard surfaces. Pressure soring can also be
achieved by cutting a horse’s hoof too short and applying
the shoes, or applying piano wire or other thin wire around
the area just below the hairline and tightening it, or standing
a horse on wood or metal blocks that apply pressure to
the sensitive sole of the horse’s foot.
By the 1960’s and 1970’s, soring was extremely prevalent
in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, prompting
C. The Horse Protection Act
(15 U.S.C. §§ 1821-1831)
In 1970, the Congress passed the Horse Protection Act
(“HPA”), a federal law that prohibits the showing, sale, auction,
exhibition, or transport of sored horses. See, H.R.
Rep. No. 9101597, 91st Cong., 2d Sess. (1970), reprinted
in 1970 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin.News 4870, 4871-72.
Congress found and declared that the soring of horses is
cruel and inhumane, and that sored horses, when shown or
exhibited, compete unfairly with horses that are not sore.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) of
the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
enforces the HPA.
The responsibility to enforce the law fell to the
Veterinarian Medical Officers (VMSs) of the USDA’s APHIS.
But Congress failed to fund the USDA to carry out its duty.
Instead, Congress expanded the inspection program, allowing
the very industry for which the law was written to train
is own inspectors. See, H.R. No. 94-1174, 94th Cong., 2d
Sess. (1974) at 4-5, 6, reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. &
Admin. News 1696, 1699, 1701. People trained to detect
soring, called the Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs)
must meet the requirements set forth in 9 CFR section 11.7,
and must be licensed by a Horse Industry Organization
(HIO) certified by the USDA.
The Act gives the management of a horse show or sale
the statutory responsibility of identifying sored horses and
preventing them from participating in these events.
Representatives of the USDA and/or DQP’s, are sent to horse
show to inspect any horse for signs of soring before they
enter the arena. Any horse that wins first place at the
Tennessee Walking Horse Show or exhibition must be reinspected
for signs of soring after the winning class.
D. The Horse Protection Act is
Amended in 1976
In 1976, Congress revised the definition of “sore” to
eliminate requirements that the soring be done with the
intent to affect the horse's gait, See, H.R. Rep. No. 94-1174
at 2, reprinted in 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Admin. News
1696. Consistent with the congressional purpose, section
1824 prohibits the showing of a sore horse or allowing a
sore horse to be shown; it contains no express element of
intent. 15 U.S.C. § 1824(2) (1976) Further, the 1976 substitution
of “sore” for “sored” implies that the offense focuses
on the condition of the horse, not on the actions of the
owner or exhibitor. See, Pub.L. No. 91-540, § 2(a), 84 Stat.
1404 (1970), reprinted in 1970 U.S.Code Cong. &
The 1976 amendment also added a statutory presumption
that a horse is sore if it manifests abnormal sensitivity or
inflammation in both of its forelimbs or hind limbs. Id. See,
15 U.S.C. §§ 1821(3), 1825(d)(5). It is also well settled that
the presumption of soreness is rebuttable. Zahnd v. Sec’y of
Dep’t of Agriculture (11th Cir. 2007) 479 F.3d 767, 772.
There were later attempts to alter the HPA in 1999,
2000, and 2001, to call for an Operating Plan (OP) to clarify
procedures and penalties. Each time, the OP was
opposed by the majority of the Horse Industry
Organizations that put on the shows. One of the hot issues
of the OP was the “scar rule” which eliminated horses from
competition that show obvious signs of having been sored
in the past, regardless of whether or not they were sore at
the time of the competition.
E. Avoiding Detection – Or Not
Those who sore often justify the practice as the only way
to protect their livelihood. As former United States
Department of Agriculture veterinarian Tom James says, “As
long as the “big lick” wins at shows, the trainer must produce
it to stay in business . . . The day a trainer stops producing “big lick” horses is the day all horses in his or her
barn are removed and taken to another trainer. The pressure
is enormous.” (King, Maria. “A Sore Issue: The Debate on Soring.” Horse
Illustrated, July 2004.)
To avoid detection, some trainers bypass the inspectors by
training their horses not to react to the pain and palpation or
hoof testing. They severely punish the horse for flinching
after the sored area is palpated. Creams can be used to minimize
scarring, and topical antiseptics such as lidocaine or
benzocaine numb the pain. Certain chemicals can be applied
so that the agent will not be detected when the horse is examined,
but will be in effect when the rider goes into the ring.
Trainers also will leave the show grounds if they realize that
more stringent Federal inspectors are present.
In 2006, the USDA began a larger crackdown on soring
within the industry with new techniques in soring detection.
Swabbed samples are taken from the horse and then
sent to a trandem mass spectrometer at another site. The
tandem mass spectrometer can detect and identify the
chemicals present on a horse’s legs.
F. Penalties for Violations of the
Horse Protection Act
Civil and criminal charges can be brought against violators
of the HPA. 15 U.S.C. § 1825. If convicted, a violator can
spend up to 2 years in prison and received penalties of up to
$5,000. Civil penalties can be imposed through administrative
procedures, resulting in disqualifications of one or more
years and penalties up to $2,200 or more per violation.
Disqualified person may only attend horse events as spectators.
They are not allowed to participate in any other fashion,
and the sored horse is also banned from competition. These
fines and suspensions from competition for allowing sore
horses to be shown is not an abuse of discretion because the
sanctions are within the range authorized by Act See, Stamper
v. Secretary of Agriculture, supra, 722 F.2d at 1489.
G. Cases Applying The Horse Protection
Act’s Enforcement Policies
Courts interpreting the HPA have affirmed that there is
no “intent” or “express knowledge” requirement in order to
violate the Act . See, e.g. Stamper v. Secretary of Agriculture (9th Cir. 1984) 722 F.2d 1487-1488; Thornton v. U.S. Dept.
of Agriculture (11th Cir. 1983) 715 F.2d 1508, 1511-1512.
A horse owner need only allow the entry of a "sore" horse
into a horse show. He does not need to have knowledge of
the horse as being sore or be at fault with respect to the soring.
Stamper, supra, 722 F.2d at 1489; McCloy v. U.S. Dept.
of Agriculture (10th Cir. 2003) 351 F.3d 447, 451. Even if
the owner does not give the direction to sore the horse, this
is insufficient to allow him to escape liability for a violation.
Thornton, supra, 715 F.2d at 1512.
In Lacy v. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (6th Cir. 2008) 278
Fed. Appx, 616, the United States Department of
Agriculture (USDA) found that a horse owner failed to rebut
the statutory presumption that his horse was sore within the
meaning of the Horse Protection Act. The owner presented
testimony of a veterinarian that the horse had reacted with
hypersensitivity associated with encephalitis resulting from
West Nile Virus rather than soring during its inspection
prior to show. Id. at 622. However, substantial evidence,
including declarations and documents in the record from
veterinarians and show inspectors supported that the horse
was sore when its owner presented it for inspection. The
horse exhibited pinpoint pain responses solely in the front
surfaces of the pasterns, which was indicative of soring, not
the West Nile Virus. Id. at 620, 622. The Court of Appeals
affirmed the USDA decision.
In the Stamper case, a Tennessee Walking Horse named
“Playboy,” was shown in Sacramento, California on
September 22, 1979. Twenty to thirty minutes prior to his
exhibition, “Playboy” was examined and passed by a nonveterinarian
DQP assigned to inspect horses for violations of the
Act. After the show, Departmental inspectors selected
Playboy for a second examination because he appeared in
distress. The Departmental veterinarians concluded that
Playboy was sore in violation of the Act. Playboy had extensive
loss of hair, callus formations, and raw abrasions in the
pastern area of both of his forelimbs. Both of “Playboy’s” front
pasterns were palpated, using a dabbing motion with about
as much pressure as used to feel a person's pulse, and both
forelimbs were found to be abnormally sensitive. The veterinarian
in charge, next examined “Playboy” and noted seepage
of blood-tinged serum from the posterior and anterior aspects
of the pasterns, and a bilateral condition that suggested misuse
of action devices. Stamper, supra, 722 F.2d at 1485.
“Playboy's” co-trainer next examined the horse, and
according to the other trainer who testified during the hearing,
the horse showed no reaction to this examination. The
final examination was by the DQP. In response to his palpation
of the first pastern, “Playboy” violently jerked back,
hitting the stall wall. The DQP also observed the abrasions,
and concluded that the injuries were caused by overuse of
action devices. Id. at 1485.
At a hearing held in 1981, the Department's
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) concluded in her initial
opinion that Playboy's abrasions and reactions were caused
by factors not prohibited by the Act. Nevertheless, she
found the trainer and owners in violation on the theory
that the statutory presumption of soreness was irrebuttable.
The Department's Judicial Officer, however, remanded on
grounds that the statutory presumption was rebuttable. On
remand, the ALJ held that the statutory presumption of
soreness was rebutted, and that “Playboy” was not “sore”
within the meaning of the Act. The ALJ held Playboy's reactions
may have been caused by the number and manner of
examinations by Departmental inspectors, sand and grit
from the arena rubbing on the pasterns, “Playboy's” striking
himself, the presence of a tail brace, or stretching of the
leather bands holding the action devices in place. Stamper,
supra, 722 F.2d at 1486.
The Judicial Officer reversed the ALJ. He held
“Playboy's” injuries stemmed from the use of action
devices at the show, coupled with a preexisting callus
buildup on the pasterns. The Judicial Officer further held
that the owner and the exhibitor are “absolute guarantors”
of the horse's condition, so that even if other factors
exacerbated the injuries, the trainer and co-trainer
should have considered those factors before using action
devices. Id. at 1486. Finally, the Judicial Officer held
that the owner need not know of the sores to be held
liable under the Act. He imposed fines of $2,000 on the
owners and $750 on the trainer, and suspended all three
from showing horses for one year. Ibid.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Judicial
Officer’s decision finding that no “intent” to violated the Act
was required. The testimony indicated that the owners did
not affirmatively order the trainer to show Playboy with
knowledge that he was sore. Nonetheless, the owners
allowed a sore horse to be shown because they did not
expressly order the trainer not to show “Playboy.” Id. at
To find out more about the HPA, you can visit the APHIS
Web page at www.aphis.usda.gov or
send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also contact
the agency at:
4700 River Road, Unit 84
The above article and all articles in this website are not intended to be legal advice. Readers should consult an attorney to determine how the law applies to their particular circumstances. Also, please understand that the law constantly evolves and changes. Certain of the decisions and legal propositions quoted in the above article may be out of date or superseded. Questions or comments about the above article can be directed to Theresa LaVoie.
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234
Telephone: (307) 734-7833
Fax: (307) 734-4978
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