The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has come up with new regulations to shore up enforcement against soring. Specifically, it’s an attempt to revise an inspection program put into effect after a 1976 amendment to the Horse Protection Act.

Soring is causing pain on a horse’s lower forelegs and hooves so that it lifts its legs higher to escape the discomfort. The resulting high-stepping gait, known as the “big lick,” helps breeds such as Tennessee Walking Horses and Hackneys, among others, win in the ring.

The practice was actually banned over 50 years ago, but a lack of enforcement, low penalties, and the ability to still buy soring gear on the market have meant the ban has done little to stop it.

Under the Horse Protection Act, inspectors – vets, farriers, trainers – were hired by show managers and horse auctions to enforce a no-soring event. These people were known as Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs). But studies found these independent inspectors were far less likely to identify soring at events than inspectors from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS).

The revised rule gets rid of DQPs, replacing them with APHIS-trained people on show and auction grounds, and will most likely be vets.

The new regulation also bans the tools that are used to create the high-stepping gait, such as boots, collars, chains and other similar devices.

The American Veterinary Medical Association was happy with the updated rule. “Ending the cruel and inhumane act of horse soring is long overdue and the strengthened regulations announced by the USDA will help end this needless suffering of horses by providing more enforcement mechanisms to maintain horse welfare,” AVMA president Dr. Rena Carlson said in a press release.

While it might seem like an easy piece of legislation to pass, despite this fix from the USDA the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which offers up some of the same changes as this new rule, has never passed the Senate. This is largely due to the reluctance of senators from Kentucky and Tennessee, where the vast majority of these horses are shown.

And its not just politicians who are attempting to prevent a ban on soring; according to the Walking Horse Report, a Tennessee Walking Horse publication, there is a lawsuit gearing up to fight the new legislation in whatever form is takes.

According to VIN News, Marty Irby, a former president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association who is in favour of strengthening the Horse Protection Act, is on board with the USDA new rule, but admits it’s not enough. “I still believe the best path to victory that will end soring is an altered version of the current PAST Act that is still limping along in Congress with no end in sight.”