The barbaric act of “soring” applied to Tennessee walking horses could be consigned to the history books after the American government introduced a legislation amendment aimed to stamp out the controversial practice.

Soring is the practice of inflicting pain – by chemical or physical means – to exaggerate the horses’ gait, making them lift their front legs higher in what is known as “the big lick”.

The United States Equestrian Federation is backing the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) “efforts to amend and strengthen previous regulations”.

The rule is a final upgrade to the Horse Protection Act, which bans showing or selling horses who have been sored and prohibits certain equipment.

Under the new law, the USDA will train and license inspectors to enforce the act, while chains and large stacked shoes will also be banned.

“Horse soring is truly one of the worst practices,” US representative Steve Cohen said in a statement. “I applaud the Obama administration for finalising this much-needed update to the existing Horse Protection Act regulations.”

From 30 days after the publication of the amendment, all “action devices except for certain boots” will be banned at all shows, exhibitions, sales or auctions.

All pads and wedges will be banned from January 1 2018, unless they are therapeutic. The delay will allow time for the size of any pads to be gradually reduced, to “minimise any potential physiological stress to the horses and prepare horses to compete in other classes”.

X-Ray image of a “performance package” on a Tennessee walking horse, showing shoe, “stacks”: pads, extra nails to add weight and possibly pressure and band across hoof to hold it all on.

The Humane Society of the United States welcomed the rule, which it described as “a move that should largely spell the end of the barbaric and gratuitous practice of horse soring”.

Society president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said: “Horse soring is a stain on Tennessee’s reputation, and today’s move by the USDA begins to wipe that stain away.

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“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.

“We applaud Secretary Vilsack and the administration for addressing these issues before President Obama departs the Oval Office.”