A number of horse industry organizations are working together to draft formal comments regarding the amendments to the Horse Protection Act that have been proposed by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The recently proposed changes aims to improve enforcement of the law and eliminate the practice of soring horses in parts of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse industries.

Questions and concerns about how the proposed changes will effect the wider horse industry, particularly on other gaited breeds, has prompted the American Horse Council, the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the American Morgan Horse Association the Arabian Horse Association, the United Professional Horsemen’s Association, the American Hackney Horse Society to express their concerns.

“There is no question that soring is an abusive practice that should not be tolerated or allowed to continue,” AHC President Julie Broadway says. “Because soring continues to be a problem in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse industries, improvements to the HPA enforcement program are clearly needed and justified. However, it is equally important that any new regulations are narrowly focused on the problem of soring and do not adversely impact or unnecessarily burden other segments to the horse shoe industry that are not soring horses and have not history of soring horses.”

While supporting the elimination of cruel and inhumane practices such as soring, the American Saddlebred Horse Association has publicly voiced its concern over the broad language of the proposed amendments.

“The ASHA, UPHA, and AHHS have been working with the USEF [United States Equestrian Federation] and the American Horse Council (AHC) to lobby the USDA to add clarifying language regarding their proposed rule changes to the HPA,” according to a news release from the ASHA. “Our main objective is to exclude trotting breeds (ASB, Hackney, Morgan, Arabian) from the regulation in order to eliminate any question about the application of these regulations to the ASB, Hackney, Morgan and Arabian breeds. Historically, these breeds have had no soring issues.”

The ASHA also has concerns regarding the broad language in section 11.2 a. 2, which if enacted would ban pads, wedges and hoof bands.

“This would cause unintended consequences that would be detrimental to the health and soundness of some horses,” according to the ASHA news release. “These items are used for therapeutic purposes, aid in the comfort of the horse, add balance to their natural way of moving which aids in the prevention of leg injuries, and can help address issues in older horses, such as arthritis. We are enlisting the assistance of farriers, veterinarians, and other related experts to help educate the USDA/APHIS on these issues.”

The American Morgan Horse Association, the American Hackney Horse Society and the United Professional Horsemen’s Association issued similar statements.

The American Farrier’s Association joined the ASHA in voicing its concerns regarding section 11.2 a. 2.

“AFA leadership feels strongly that without specific qualifying language for the prohibited devices this proposed revision would be much too broad and vague,” according to a statement from the AFA, which also condemned soring. “For example, a horseshoe could be considered an action device, since a shod horse moves differently from a horse that is barefoot and various shoes have a greater influence on movement than others. And a pad can be applied with good reason to protect an unusually sensitive solar surface with the end result being a more comfortable horse rather than one previously in distress.”

The USDA has been holding public meetings around the country. The final installment is a call-in virtual public meeting that will take place at 5 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Sept. 15, at which interested parties may voice their support or concerns. The USDA is also soliciting public response until Sept. 26.

“Any time regulatory changes are proposed there is always a need to seek clarifications and make improvements,” Ben Pendergrass, AHC’s senior vice president of policy & legislative affairs. “This is why federal agencies seek comments before any rule is made final. The AHC’s HPA working group is drafting comprehensive comments on the proposed rule that will  hopefully help USDA improve the rule and address any concerns the horse industry has about the rule.”

» Read The USDA’s Proposed Amendments