The Horse Protection Act, the PAST Act and New USDA Proposed HPA Regulations

Recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a new rule that would make changes to the current Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations. This is separate from efforts by the AHC and the majority of the horse show industry to pass the PAST Act (S.1121/ H.R.3268).  Many people in the horse industry are wondering what are the HPA and the HPA regulations and how are they different from the PAST Act.

Horse Protection Act

The Horse Protection Act (HPA) is a federal law that was passed in 1970 to stop the cruel practice of “soring” horses that was occurring in sectors of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse industry.  In the 1950s, some walking horse owners and trainers who wanted to improve their horses’ chances of winning began to sore their horses.  As this practice spread, public concern led to the passage of the HPA.

The HPA prohibits the showing, sale, auction, exhibition, or transport of horses that have been “sored” and delegates the authority to enforce the law to the USDA.  Simply stated, soring is an intentional act that causes a horse to suffer pain in the lower part of its front legs in order to produce a higher gait in the show or sales ring. A full definition of soring can be found here. The HPA bans soring in all breeds and disciplines, however because soring has only been a problem in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse and Spotted Saddle Horse industry the law has really only impacted those three breeds, which  have a history soring and continuing problems with soring.

HPA Regulations

Because the USDA is responsible for enforcing the HPA it must publish rules/regulations that describe exactly how they will implement the HPA.   Furthermore, Congress amended the HPA in 1976 and directed the Secretary of Agriculture specifically to prescribe, by regulation, requirements for the appointment of persons qualified to conduct inspections for the purpose of enforcing the HPA.  These HPA regulations have been periodically updated and changed through the federal rule making process several times. Federal agencies cannot change the law, but they do have considerable rule making power in how they administer and enforce the law.

Recently, USDA has proposed new changes to the regulations governing enforcement of the HPA. The proposed rule would make several major changes to HPA regulations with the goal of improving the HPA enforcement program and ending soring, including a new licensing program for inspectors and a ban on action devices, pads, and foreign substances at walking horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. USDA is taking this action because the current regulations are failing to prevent soring in the walking horse industry and soring continues to be especially prevalent in the so called “big lick” segment of the industry.  

This is a proposed rule only and USDA will be accepting comments until September 26, 2016.  USDA will then have to review all comments and release a final rule. 

The entire proposed rule can be found here:


The PAST Act (S. 1121/ HR 3268) would amend the HPA to prohibit a Tennessee Walking Horse, a Racking Horse, or a Spotted Saddle Horse from being shown, exhibited, or auctioned with an “action device,” or “a weighted shoe, pad, wedge, hoof band or other device or material” if it is constructed to artificially alter the gait of the horse and is not strictly protective or therapeutic.  These new prohibitions would not apply to other breeds that do not have a history of soring.

The legislation would also increase fines and penalties for violations, including the potential for a lifetime ban for repeat offenders. 

Additionally, the bill would create a new licensing process for horse show inspectors, eliminating the current ineffective designated qualified persons (DQPs) program. The bill would require the USDA to train, license and appoint new independent inspectors for shows and other HPA-regulated activities that wish to hire an inspector.  Licensed or accredited veterinarians would be given preference for these positions.  The decision to hire and cost of an inspector would still reside with the management of a show, sale or auction. 

Most major national horse show organizations support the PAST Act, including the American Horse Council, the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Paint Horse Association, U.S. Equestrian Federation, the American Morgan Horse Association, the Pinto Horse Association of America, the Arabian Horse Association, the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the United Professional Horsemen’s Association, and the Appaloosa Horse Club as well as many state and local horse organizations. The bill also has broad bipartisan support and currently has 263 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives and 49 co-sponsors in the Senate. 

AHC Position

The AHC opposes soring and continues to strongly support the PAST Act (S. 1121/ HR 3268) and believes passage of the bill will strengthen the HPA and finally end the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses.

Some of the proposed changes to the HPA regulations are similar, but not identical, to provisions of the PAST Act.  At this time the AHC is continuing to review the proposed rule to determine its impact on the horse industry and drafting detailed comments to submit to USDA.