USDA Moves to End the Cruel “Big Lick” for Horses

The Biden administration’s final rule eliminates key factors enabling horse soring

Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a long-awaited final rule that would help end horse soring, an extremely cruel practice in which trainers secretly and deliberately cause intense pain to show horses to produce the “Big Lick,” an exaggerated, high-stepping gait rewarded by judges in some show circuits of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds.

“Horse soring causes agony to horses, all in service of creating a spectacle in the show ring,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “We’ve been fighting the cruelties of soring for decades, and it must end now. No animal should ever be so cruelly tormented for any reason, much less entertainment.”

In training and competitions, trainers engaged in soring slather horses’ limbs with painful chemicals and wrap them tightly with plastic wrap to “cook” the chemicals into the flesh. The horses are then forced to wear heavy, high-heel-like stacked shoes and metal chains that knock repeatedly against their sored ankles. Some sorers even cut the hooves down to the delicate tissue and jam in hard or sharp objects.

“There are few wins for animals as bittersweet as this one. Our work to end this abject cruelty is a testament to never giving up on ending horse soring, an egregious practice that has gone unabated for far too long. Can you imagine inflicting such pain for a high-stepping ride around the ring for a blue ribbon? I can’t, and neither could numerous equine and veterinary organizations and the lead sponsors of the PAST Act,” said Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. “At last, the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes a critical step to protect horses from these unimaginable cruelties and our society is all the better for it.”

The rule eliminates the system of industry inspectors. The USDA will now assign sole responsibility to its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to screen, train and authorize inspectors. The rule creates a system in which inspectors are veterinarians or veterinary technicians, or other persons employed by state or local government agencies to enforce laws and regulations related to animal welfare.

The rule also prohibits the use on a Tennessee Walking Horse or Racking Horse of all action devices that strike the leg of the horse, or tall, high-heel like horseshoes (known as “stacks”), at any horse show, exhibition, sale or auction. An action device is any boot, collar, chain, roller, beads, bangles or other device which encircles or is placed upon the lower part of the horse’s leg in a way that it can either rotate around the leg or slide up and down the leg so as to cause friction, or which can strike the hoof, coronet band or fetlock joint.

In passin the Horse Protection Act in 1970, Congress intended to end soring, but the practice remains pervasive among some horse trainers working with the Tennessee walking and racking horse breeds. Now, over half a century later, the USDA still repeatedly finds evidence of widespread and continuous use of soring techniques and prohibited substances used to sore horses’ legs or mask evidence of soring.

Separate undercover investigations by the Humane Society of the United States have led to the arrest and conviction of a prominent trainer for violations of the Horse Protection Act and other laws and revealed evidence that the legs of every Big Lick horse at another prize-winning stable were being sored using prohibited substances. But those prosecutions were the rare exception to the rule of underenforcement due largely to weak regulations. USDA data indicates that horse soring has continued unabated in this faction of the industry. Most of the members of the Walking Horse Trainers Association board have faced citations for violating the Horse Protection Act.

Ending horse soring is broadly supported by Congress. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 4004 and H.R. 3090) would codify key elements of this rule, including eliminating the failed industry self-policing system and the use of devices integral to soring. The PAST Act would also increase penalties and make the underlying act of soring a horse illegal. The legislation has twice been passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority in the House and has been consistently co-sponsored by a majority in both chambers going back to 2014. Congress has also expressed support for upgraded regulations through appropriations language each of the last four years calling for the swift proposal, finalization and publication of the new final rule.

Find photos and footage depicting horse soring here.

Read more in our blog.

About the Humane Society of the United States
We fight the big fights to end suffering for all animals. Together with millions of supporters, the Humane Society of the United States takes on puppy mills, factory farms, the fur trade, trophy hunting, animal cosmetics testing and other cruel industries. Through our rescue, response and sanctuary work, as well as other direct services, we help thousands of animals in need every year. We fight all forms of animal cruelty to achieve the vision behind our name: a humane society.

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About Humane Society Legislative Fund
Humane Society Legislative Fund works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues and support humane candidates for office. Formed in 2004, HSLF is incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code as a separate lobbying affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States. Visit us on the web at, read our blog at, and follow us on Facebook at and on X, formerly known as Twitter @HSLegFund.

Media contact: Kate Sarna | 202-836-1265 |