Politics & Government

Agriculture Department saddles up new show horse protections

An Agriculture Department proposal to crack down on the “soring” of show horses has spurred strong feelings in California, Kentucky and beyond.

More than 7,600 comments have trotted into the department, in addition to the crowds that attended hearings in Sacramento and Lexington. Now, as officials prepare to close the public comment period on Sept. 26, their really hard work is about to begin.

“It has been fits and starts in trying to eliminate soring,” Grass Valley, Calif.-based horse breeder Fran Cole said at the Aug. 16 hearing in Sacramento. “You know we are winning the war but we need to do it now.”

A co-founder of the Northern California Walking Horse Association, and a leader in other horse-related organizations, Cole was among nearly two dozen witnesses to speak at the hearing convened by the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Many shared Cole’s concerns.

“When any citizen is informed of the inhumane, cruel, and abuse that soring inflicts on horses, they are appalled to learn of this illegal activity and the fact that it continues,” said Marilyn Jasper, on behalf of the Humane Society of the Sierra Foothills.

Some, though, consider the proposed new rules to be excessive government interference.

“To punish all of the industry based on what 5 percent do is criminal,” Maysville, Ky. resident Thomas Denham stated in a Sept. 22 written comment, adding that “the proposed changes will eliminate the show horse industry.”

Soring refers to the use of chemicals or other physical objects to change a show horse’s gait. Congress in 1970 banned the sale or showing of sored horses, through passage of the Horse Protection Act.

Citing ongoing problems, the Agriculture Department is proposing a number of regulatory changes that include banning pads and having APHIS take over from horse industry organizations the work of training and monitoring inspectors.

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10