The Tennessee Walking Horse industry expects to challenge Horse Protection Act amendments that target the soring of show horses.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the amendments in late April. The changes will fundamentally change Tennessee Walking Horse shows and how mounts are shod. Often considered the smoothest ride, Tennessee Walking Horses have a naturally high, four-beat running walk that’s coveted in show rings. Soring is the intentional application of substances or devices to horses’ limbs to inflict pain to exaggerate the high-stepping gait, known as The Big Lick.

Jeffrey Howard, publisher of The Walking Horse Report, writes in mid-May that The Torridon Group, a Washington, D.C.-based legal and consulting firm, is representing the industry and plans to file suit “in a district court this summer.”

“We have a very strong set of data and facts to push back …"

“We have a very strong set of data and facts to push back on many of the challenges being brought against us,” Howard writes. “It is clear that we don’t see eye-to-eye with the USDA on several issues, but this process will provide us clarity as to whose position is correct and how we move forward.”

The rule was published May 8, 2024, in the Federal Register. While the rule largely takes effect Feb. 1, 2025, horse protection inspectors must be trained by March 2, 2025.

“Despite the radical views and statements of many in the animal rights movement, the industry has been and will continue to be strong advocates for the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse and will continue to stand against any form or type of soring,” Howard writes. “The ability to show and promote a sound Tennessee Walking Show Horse should not be regulated away from our industry.”

As Howard points out, the USDA doesn’t agree with his latter statement.

“For far too long, some within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry have sored and abused their horses, despite the industry’s inspection process and our own enforcement efforts,” says Jenny Lester-Moffitt, undersecretary for USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs. “This abuse must stop. Eliminating this cruel practice will help protect horses competing in these shows and level the playing field for the industry. The independent inspection process should strengthen the competition at these shows and benefit the many owners and trainers who do right by their animals.”

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) support the changes.

“Ending the cruel and inhumane act of horse soring is long overdue,” says Dr. Rena Carlson, AVMA president. “The strengthened regulations announced by the USDA will help end this needless suffering of horses by providing more enforcement mechanisms to maintain horse welfare.”

“This is the beginning of a new era for horse health and welfare in the United States,” says Dr. Katie Garrett, AAEP president.

Shoeing Changes

Many of the proposed rule changes are similar to those proposed in the 2017 APHIS rule and the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act that both houses of Congress have put forth over the past several years. The rule prohibits “any device, method, practice or substance applied to any horse that could hide or mask evidence of soring, as well as all action devices and non-therapeutic pads and wedges, and substances applied about the hoof.”

While the current regulation prohibits pads or other devices on yearling horses that elevate or change the angle more than 1 inch at the heel, the new rule eliminates all pads unless they are applied for therapeutic purposes.

“Altering the angulation of a horse’s feet and legs can cause painful lameness, soreness and inflammation by transferring concussive impact and weight-bearing pressures to joints and other parts of the horse not normally subjected to these forces,” states the rule. “Elevating the foot using stacked hoof pads, or ‘performance packages,’ can also cause an increase in tension in the tendons leading to inflammation, as can extra weight on the horse’s foot.”


A new rule by the United States Department of Agricul­ture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service aims to strengthen the Horse Protection Act. The rule prohibits all action devices and non-therapeutic pads, artifi­cial toe extensions, wedges and all substances on the extremities above the hoof, including lubricants. Photo by: USDA

Although the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) “unequivocally supports the Act’s primary goal of eradicating the despicable practice of soring and penalizing those who engage in such cruelty,” they are concerned with the measures taken to accomplish it.

“The USDA’s attempt to enact sweeping alterations without adequate justification or supporting data is troubling,” according to a TWHBEA statement, noting that it is committed to collaborating with regulators. “Such measures threaten to dismantle a significant portion of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and impose an unwarranted and burdensome government takeover of the inspection system, which has been effectively enforcing regulations for nearly half a century.”

Citing an Auburn University study, the APHIS rule also makes the case that raising heels with only pads results in swollen flexor tendons and inflammation. The packages limit the ability to detect pressure soring since the solar surface of the foot is covered. Pressure soring involves the use of items such as bolts, screws, hoof packing and other materials to create force on the sole to influence the horse’s gait.

The rule penalizes “law-abiding participants due to the actions of a few bad actors,” the TWHBEA says in supporting the use of pads and action devices.

“We advocate for equitable treatment within the broader equine community,” it states. “If other show horses are permitted to utilize pads and action devices without adverse effects, then Tennessee Walking Horses should be afforded the same rights. Scientific evidence supports the contention that these practices do not harm the animals, and thus, there is no justification for their prohibition.”

Action devices are defined as “any boot, collar, chain, roller, beads, bangles or other devices, which encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg or slide up and down the leg so as to cause friction, or which can strike the hoof, coronet band or fetlock joint.”

While the TWHBEA could not be reached for comment about the evidence it’s referencing, research published in the January 2018 issue of American Journal of Veterinary Research studied the short-term effects of stacked wedge pads and chains on “behavioral and biomechanical indicators of pain, stress and inflammation.”

The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, team of veterinarians and animal science researchers studied 20 horses. Keg shoes were applied to 10 horses, while 10 others had stacked wedge pads and exercised with chains.

“No significant differences in plasma concentrations of cortisol, substance P and fibrinogen were detected between groups,” the team reports. “Although lying behaviors change after shoes were applied, these behaviors did not differ significantly between groups. Shoeing appeared to have altered behavior to a greater extent than did the type of treatment applied.”

The team concluded that the stacked wedge pads and chains over 5 days “evoked no acute or subacute stress or nociceptive response as measured. Although these findings should not be extrapolated to the long-term use of such devices in Tennessee Walking Horses performing the running walk, the data should be considered when making evidence-based decisions relating to animal welfare and the use of stacked wedge pads and chains.”


  • Tennessee Walking Horse Industry says it will file legal challenges to the Horse Protection Act amendments this summer.
  • New rule prohibits the application of all non-therapeutic pads, wedges and action devices.
  • The rule takes effect Feb. 1, 2025.

The APHIS rule also prohibits all artificial toe length extensions unless it’s prescribed and part of veterinary treatment.

“Toe extensions can be used to sore horses by increasing stress on certain tendons and ligaments,” the rule states.

In addition, the rule also:

  • Prohibits grinding or trimming the sole of the hoof to expose spongy, sensitive tissues underneath the sole.
  • Prohibits the removal or trimming of normal support structures of the hoof wall. Removing the support causes the sole to bear all of the weight. This is called “rolling the sole.”
  • Eliminates industry self-regulation and Designated Qualified Persons as inspectors. Authority to inspect horses at shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions will fall to “APHIS inspectors and independent non-APHIS-employed protection inspectors.” They will be screened, trained and authorized by APHIS.
  • Removes the scar rule and replaces it with “a more accurate description of visible dermatological changes indicative of soring.”

The 2017 APHIS rule was set to amend the HPA in the waning days of the Obama administration; however, officials failed to publish it in the Federal Register before the end of the president’s term. The Trump administration withdrew all unpublished rules and returned them to the relevant agencies for review. The final rule was not resurrected. However, the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found the withdrawal illegal. The court found that APHIS could propose the withdrawal and publish it in the Federal Register with a public comment period. APHIS concluded the comment period Aug. 22, 2023. APHIS’ withdrawal was, in part, because its proposed rule incorporates new information and research, including from “Review of Methods for Detecting Soreness in Horses,” published by the National Academies of Science in 2021.