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Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
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Horse Protection Act

The Horse Protection Act is a federal law that prohibits sored horses from participating in shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions. The Horse Protection Act also prohibits the transportation of sored horses to or from any of these events.

Soring is a cruel and inhumane practice used to accentuate a horse’s gait. It is accomplished by irritating or blistering a horse’s forelegs with chemical irritants (such as mustard oil) or mechanical devices.

Walking horses are known for possessing a naturally smooth gait, but in order to be more successful in competitions their gait will often be exaggerated. 

Horse Protection Act Contact Information

If you have any questions about the USDA Horse Protection Program or to file a complaint regarding soring, please file an online complaint or contact:

2150 Centre Ave.
Building B, Mailstop 3W11
Fort Collins, CO 80526-8117
(970) 494-7478

The Horse Protection Act 

U.S. Code Title 15 -- Commerce and Trade
Chapter 44 -- Protection of Horses

The Horse Protection Regulations

Code of Federal Regulations
Title 9 -- Animals and Animal Products
Chapter I--Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Department of Agriculture

The Horse Protection Act is administered by APHIS. A 1976 amendment to the Act led to the establishment of the Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program. A DQP must be an individual who meets APHIS' regulatory requirements and is licensed by a Horse Industry Organization (HIO) certified by the Department. 

APHIS works with certified HIOs and licensed DQPs to help ensure the effective identification of sored horses, that proper penalties are imposed, and that the goal of eliminating the practice of soring is achieved. APHIS officials also monitor as many unaffiliated horse shows (i.e., horse shows that do not hire licensed DQPs) as time and resources allow.

APHIS monitors HIO compliance by reviewing show management, HIO, and DQP reports that are filed with the agency, and by conducting audits of records maintained by the certified DQP programs. APHIS Veterinary Medical Officers (VMO) also attend selected shows and sales to evaluate HIOs' inspection procedures and the performance of individual DQPs.

VMOs may utilize additional diagnostic technology during their examinations to obtain objective and scientific data to help identify sore horses.

APHIS may bring administrative or criminal complaints against alleged violators of the HPA. Administrative complaints may result in civil penalties of not more than $2,200 for each violation, and an order disqualifying the violator from showing or exhibiting horses or otherwise participating in any horse event except as a spectator.  Periods of disqualification are determined on a case-by-case basis but must be no less than 1 year for the first violation and no less than 5 years for any subsequent violations. Civil penalties of up to $3,300 can be assessed for a violation of an order of disqualification. The Act also authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to provide for the settlement of cases.

Criminal proceedings may be initiated against individuals who knowingly violate the Act. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $3,000 and 1 year in prison for a first offense. Each subsequent violation may result in fines of up to $5,000 and imprisonment for up to 2 years.

A Designated Qualified Person (DQP) is a person who may be appointed and delegated authority by the management of any horse show, exhibition, or auction, to detect or diagnose horses which are sore or to otherwise inspect horses and records to enforce the HPA.

The USDA does not license DQPs on an individual basis. Licensing of DQPs is accomplished through certified DQP programs maintained by Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs). An HIO is an organized group of people engaged in the promotion of horses through, among other things, the showing, exhibiting, sale, auction, or registration of horses. An HIO must apply to the USDA to certify its DQP Program. The USDA will not certify or will de-certify any DQP Program that is not in compliance with the HPA Regulations.

Licensed DQPs receive inspection assignments to various shows and sales through certified HIOs. While affiliation with a certified HIO and the use of licensed DQPs is not mandatory, most horse show and sale managers choose to use DQPs to reduce their liability under the Act if a horse is shown or sold while sore. When the management of a show, sale, auction, or exhibition does not affiliate with a certified HIO to secure inspections by a licensed DQP, show management and other responsible individuals are held accountable for any violations of the HPA that occur at the event.

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