- Associated Press - Sunday, January 15, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Federal officials have made regulation changes aimed at stopping the practice of soring among Tennessee Walking Horses and similar breeds.

The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/2jlSZeB ) reports the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced changes Friday to the Horse Protection Act.

Soring occurs when a horse’s legs are intentionally injured to make the animal have a higher gait. It often includes the use of caustic chemicals and chains, or objects shoved between the hoof and stacked shoes.

The department says the final rule will be published soon in the Federal Register and become effective by next January. It will ban many of the devices used for soring and force horse industry inspectors to become trained and licensed through the USDA. The horse industry is currently responsible for training its own inspectors.

The Humane Society of the United States called soring a “barbaric and gratuitous” practice.

“Horse soring is a stain on Tennessee’s reputation, and (Friday’s) move by the USDA begins to wipe that stain away,” Humane Society president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a statement. “Hurting horses so severely for mere entertainment is disgraceful, and I put this abuse in the same category as dogfighting or cockfighting - practices that betray our humanity and that cannot stand the light of day.”

U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said Saturday that while he’s in favor of ending horse soring, he’s leery that the rule could end the century-old tradition of showing Tennessee Walking Horses. He called the new rule “overreaching.”

He called on the new secretary of agriculture to work with Congress to enact legislation “that punishes trainers, owners and riders who abuse horses while preserving the opportunity for law abiding horse enthusiasts to participate in competitions that are the basis of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.”

Agriculture secretary is the only Cabinet position that President-elect Donald Trump has not moved to fill.

A statement issued by Alexander said the Tennessee Walking Horse industry supports more than 20,000 jobs nationwide.

Mike Inman, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, said he plans to challenge the USDA’s action. The Shelbyville-based annual show is the largest Tennessee walking horse show in the nation.

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., said the treatment of animals “is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation.” He called horse soring “truly one of the worst practices.”

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