A new USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) rule has banned the use of chains and stacks in the training and exhibition of Tennessee Walking Horses (TWH) and Racking Horses.
The Horse Protection Act (HPA) prohibits soring, the deliberate injury to a horse’s feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait.
The final rule published on Jan. 13, specifically prohibits the use of action devices, including chains weighing more than 6 ounces, on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. The final rule also forbids the use of boots other than soft rubber or leather bell boots and quarter boots used as protective devices and associated lubricants. It also prohibits the use of “pads and wedges on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions, except for therapeutic pads and wedges.”
The new rule also establishes the licensing eligibility and training requirements for Horse Protection Inspectors (HPIs), clarifies inspection procedures, and requires that event managers have a farrier “physically present to assist HPIs at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions that allow Tennessee Walking Horses or Racking Horses to participate in therapeutic pads and wedges if more than 150 horses are entered, and have a farrier on call if 150 or fewer horses are entered.”
The USDA said the ban on action devices, pads, and stacks aligns the HPA regulations with existing U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) standards. In a written statement, the USEF announced its support for the final rule change.
“This rule is designed to eradicate the cruel practice of horse soring in Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses,” the USEF statement said. “After an initial review of the APHIS’ final rule, the USEF applauds the strengthened requirements for Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses.”
However, not all in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry support the final rule change. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN)—who, during the last Congress, signed onto legislation that amended the HPA without imposing an outright ban on action devices and stacks—said that while he opposes soring, the new rule threatens Walking Horse traditions.
“I am in favor of wiping out the contemptible and illegal practice of horse soring, not wiping out the century old tradition of showing Tennessee Walking Horses as this rule could do,” he said in a written statement. “I would hope the new Secretary of Agriculture will not concur with this overreaching rule announced during the last few days of the Obama administration and instead will work with Congress to enact legislation that punishes trainers, owners, and riders who abuse horses while preserving the opportunity for law abiding horse enthusiasts to participate in competitions that are the basis of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.”
The ban on action devices will take effect in February. Also in February, APHIS will begin training HPIs on an individual basis. All other provision of the new rule take effect on Jan. 1, 2018.