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What Is Horse Soring?

Updated on April 1, 2015

Rescued Tennessee Walking Horse


What Does 'Soring' Mean?

Soring (pronounced "soaring") is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait. See the videos below and note the difference between the artificial “big lick” and a natural gait.

Soring causes a horse to lift his front feet quickly off the ground to escape the pain that afflicts him when he places his feet on the ground. Another way the horse attempts to avoid the pain is by shifting his weight to his back feet, which makes him appear as though he is squatting as he reaches his hind legs beneath him. This is described as "praying mantis crawl.”

Soring is mostly inflicted on Tennessee Walking Horses (TWHs) because of their easy trainability and four beat “running walk.” These horses are sored by a number of tactics. Trainers use “stacks” which are attached to the front hooves and add weight, causing the horse to stand in an unnaturally elevated position. Trainers also use “action devices,” which are chains worn around the horse’s pasterns. Six ounce chains are allowed in the ring, but trainers often use heavier chains in training, or use chemicals in conjunction with the lighter chains worn in the ring. Pressure shoeing, placing ball bearings between the pad and hook, and road foundering are other methods of keeping a horse from wanting his feet on the ground.

Chemical soring involves using agents such as mustard oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, salicylic acid, and other solutions on the horse’s pasterns, hells, or coronary bands. Often trainers use chemicals that are so caustic that they must use gloves and a brush to apply them. Some trainers use Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO), which is an absorption enhancer, in conjunction with plastic wrap, so that the chemical “cooks” overnight. An example of how powerful mustard oil is: a package of (illegally mailed) mustard oil was accidentally dropped in a post office, and the building had to be evacuated, and postal workers were hospitalized.

Sored horses’ legs tend to be more sensitive, swollen, have abrasions, bleeding, oozing, or abnormal hair growth. Horses who have been severely sored to the point that standing is unbearable may lay down and be very resistant to stand up. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has released undercover video evidence which shows—among other abuses—trainers dragging and whipping horses until they stand even though they are obviously in too much pain.

  • This video may be very difficult for some people to watch. However, it is a comprehensive representation of how soring is done, how stewarding is practiced, and how the horses suffer. One thing to remember is that the man principally shown in the video pleaded guilty to a felony.

History of Soring


How Did It Start?

Soring originated during the 1950s, and spectators enjoyed seeing the exaggerated gait. Evidently judges also liked this new step, and show managers hired the judges who chose the big lick horses as winners, creating a cycle. The practice became widespread in the 1960s; however, outrage led to the creation of the American Horse Protection Association (AHPA) in 1966, and the passing of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) in 1970.

Unfortunately, the HPA is not enough to protect horses. Currently, inspectors manually examine a horse’s front legs to see if he reacts in pain and to check for any abnormalities (such as scarring or fresh wounds). Horses born after 1970 are subject to the “scar rule,” and their legs should show no evidence of scarring that indicates soring. Although inspectors have jurisdiction to inspect horses anywhere on the show grounds, at shows where the USDA inspectors show up, “as many as 60% or more of the exhibitors suddenly remember they had a dentist appointment that day. The showgrounds clear out in 20 minutes.” Additionally, threats have kept inspectors have from inspecting horses, and trainers practice “stewarding,” which is a means to disguise the horse’s reactions to the pain in his hooves during inspection, accomplished by beating the horse so that he is in even more pain than from the soring. This could involve whippings, beatings with a bat or other sharp instrument, burning the tongue with a cigarette butt, or anything more painful than the palpating of the horse’s sore areas (refer to HSUS undercover video). Trainers may also apply numbing agents just before inspection to soothe the horse’s pain, but these wear off by showtime.

Natural Gait

Walking Horses

Have you ever been to a Tennessee Walking Horse Show?

See results

Unnatural "Big Lick" Gait

Where Can I Find Out More?

Here are some helpful websites that offer content and information about soring.

Icelandic Horse Connection: “Gaited Horses: More Than Sore

  • This webpage is filled with background information compiled by Rhonda Hart Poe. Formerly run by The Gaited Horse Magazine, the webpage has (some dead) links to other informational pages. The managers advocate for natural training of gaited horses, and encourage stronger USDA enforcement of the HPA.

USDA APHIS: Horse Protection Act

  • On this factsheet PDF the USDA APHIS states that their goal is to end soring completely. There is background information about what soring is and how it originated, as well as how it is enforced. The fact sheet also gives a brief explanation of detection practices and penalties.
  • This PDF has a very brief description of the HPA’s history and how it is administered. There is slightly more information about Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) than can be found on the USDA APHIS factsheet.

Michael Markarian: Blog

  • On November 13, 2013 Mr. Markarian wrote about the PAST Act’s progress in congress, and why it is necessary. This blog is updated rather regularly, and is helpful for keeping up with current events federally, and state by state.

AVMA: Resources

  • It is always helpful to have support for a bill from a large organization that is historically not necessarily pro animal welfare laws. The AVMA page here has a video from a USDA inspector at a horse show where horses are being sored. Footage is from the Summer of 2013, and the language above the video states that soring is unethical and makes horses suffer. There are a number of links to other AVMA and outside resources.

Horse Fund: FAQs

  • This website draws in large part from the Icelandic Horse Connection’s website, but includes information from other reports as well. This is a helpful site to look to in order to understand the various methods of soring practiced by trainers. There are also images, news updates, and links to pages about other equine issues.

Process of Soring


What Are The Laws?

The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) is proposed legislation which would amend the HPA. It was introduced to Congress by Representative Ed Whitfield from Kentucky. Unfortunately the last action taken on HR 1518 and S 1406 was in April 2013 when it was referred to the Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade.

The website contains thousands of files and is likely the largest legal website devoted specifically to animal issues. It is run by the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University, and is chiefly edited by David Favre. Besides searching for cases and laws, one can also find news, articles, and international materials. By searching “soring” you can also find the HPA, AHPA v. Lyng, and a table of cases.

If you have access to Westlaw you can search these topic and key numbers: 315T Public Amusement and Entertainment, 92 Constitutional Law, and those within. If you use LexisAdvance, try Governments > Agriculture & Food > Animal Protection; Torts > Types of Negligence Actions > Animal Owners > STatutory Duties; Administrative Law > Judicial Review > Standards of Review > Deference to Agency Statutory Interpretation, or > Arbitrary & Capricious Standard of Review.

Where Does Soring Occur?


Are There Legal Cases About Soring?

Below are a few examples of cases that concern horse soring. These are from different federal circuits to give a sampling of how different courts handle the topic.

  • American Horse Protection Ass'n, Inc. v. Lyng, 681 F.Supp. 949 (D.D.C.,1988). USDA denied the Plaintiff’s application for additional rulemaking for the HPA to expressly prohibit the use of tn ounce chains and padded shoes for training horses. Plaintiff argued that their use constituted soring. The court denied Defendant’s motion to dismiss, granted Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, and directed the Secretary of the USDA to institute rulemaking procedures concerning the use of action devices. The court also held that the existing regulations were contrary to law and that the Secretary ignored his Congressional mandate under the HPA.
  • McCloy v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 351 F.3d 447 (10th Cir. 2003). Horse owner petitioned for review of an order of the Secretary of the USDA finding him liable under the HPA for allowing a “sore” horse to be entered in a horse show. The Court of Appeals held that substantial evidence supported finding that the owner violated HPA.

  • Baird v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 39 F.3d 131 (6th Cir. 1994). Horse owner appealed from a decision of the Secretary of the USDA finding that he violated the HPA by allowing horses he owned to be exhibited and entered in horse show while horses were “sore.” The Court of Appeals found that the owner actually attempted to prevent rather than allow exhibition or entry of his horses while they were sore and thus did not violate the HPA.

  • Hendrick v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., CIV.A. 1:06-CV-80M, 2007 WL 2900526 (W.D. Ky. Oct. 1, 2007). Plaintiffs sought to have the Court define “sore” and “scar” beyond the definitions provided in the regulations of the HPA (specifically, the “scar rule”). The Court found that any alleged or threatened injury based on the HPA or the “scar rule” has not yet occurred, and mere uncertainty about the HPA and “scar rule” does not create an injury in fact.

Happy Horse


What Can I Do?

Check out this book by Eugene Davis: From the Horse’s Mouth, 2002: It is somewhat basic, but a good source of information about the history of soring. It's touching and sweet, and is a quick way to understand the industry from the horse’s perspective.

There are simply not enough Designated Qualified Persons to attend every Tennessee Walking Horse show. Those who do attend an event cannot examine every horse thoroughly, and those who do attempt to exclude sored horses are threatened by members of the industry. By “stewarding” and using numbing agents on horses, trainers have proven that they will go to great lengths to avoid being caught. Whether it is for the thrill of winning or the money, trainers and owners evidently want to win at the cost of their horses’ health and happiness. Penalties are obviously not strong enough to discourage this barbaric practice. Local laws in the Southeastern states would likely help curb soring, as this practice occurs mainly in Kentucky and Tennessee. The good news is that Congress has already shown concern for horse welfare with the HPA and its amendments, and is again showing that it wants to crack down on bad trainers with the PAST Act. Contact your elected officials and let them know how you feel.


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    • Penny Miranda profile imageAUTHOR

      Penny Miranda 

      4 years ago from Portland, OR

      I agree. And thank you!

    • renee21 profile image

      Tori Hendricks 

      4 years ago

      Soring is a cruel practice. Great hub!


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