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USDA Moves Towards Mandatory Penalties

Reprinted from Nashville Tennessean

Responding to renewed outrage over the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses, the federal government moved Tuesday toward stiffer, mandatory penalties for horse soring and other related violations.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will implement a new rule requiring organizations that inspect horses to assess minimum penalties to violators of the Horse Protection Act, including violations from soring Tennessee Walking Horses.

Currently, outside organizations licensed by the USDA and certified by the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service can inspect horses for soring and other violations. The new rule would require these organizations to assess the same level of federally mandated penalties in any horse show they are inspecting.

The new final rule will be published by the government Thursday and will take effect on July 9.

Soring is the practice of pouring caustic chemicals on the hooves and lower legs of horses to induce the “Big Lick,” the high leg kick that wins prizes in horse competitions. Last month, the Humane Society of the United States released a video showing Collierville trainer Jackie McConnell abusing and soring horses.

McConnell later pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating the Horse Protection Act in exchange for a sentence of probation.

According to a USDA statement released to The Tennessean, any violation of the Horse Protection Act will now require the horse in violation to be dismissed from the show. If the horse is shown to be sore, the new rule will also require those responsible for the soring to be suspended from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales, or auctions. These suspensions would increase in length based on the prior number of violations an individual had, said a USDA official.

“The final rule will also help ensure a level playing field for competitors at all horse shows,” said the statement. “Previously, as some horse industry organizations have declined to issue sufficiently serious penalties to deter soring, those shows have attracted more competitors than shows where horse organizations have used APHIS’ minimum penalty protocols. With this final rule, competitors now know that inspections and enforcement will take place consistently at all shows they and their horses attend.”

SHOW, an industry organization based in Shelbyville, has opposed minimum penalties in the past. After a USDA Inspector General’s report on the industry recommended that the department develop and implement protocols for more consistent penalties, SHOW officials wrote a letter saying that it had “met or exceeded” all of the standards identified in the report and did not think mandatory penalties were necessary.



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