Yesterday, Congressmen Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., introduced legislation in the U.S. House to strengthen the Horse Protection Act and allow for a stronger crackdown on the widespread abuse within the Tennessee Walking Horse show world. There’s been a fever pitch about this abuse, since The HSUS released undercover footage months ago showing an industry Hall of Fame trainer abusing horses in order to get them to step high in the show arena.
The industry’s reaction to yesterday’s bill introduction suggests it has something to hide. Jeffrey Howard, communications director for the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization, denounced the bill in a statement to the Tennessean, stating that “It is shameful that elected officials would attack an industry that means so much to small communities across the country, all for political gain. He added, “Have they ever talked to anyone who rides a walking horse, to anyone who lives in the communities to which this animal and the sport means something?”
His comment begs the question: if they are not soring horses, what is he worried about? And how does fortifying a law to end a criminal practice hurt the Walking Horse industry? In fact, this bill is just what the industry needs to prevent a continuing erosion in public credibility. The small crowds at this year’s Celebration in Shelbyville showed the consequences of a growing concern about inhumane treatment of horses within the industry.
So many of you have written to me about this topic, and today, I share some of your comments. (If you haven't already, please take action by contacting your federal lawmakers and urge them to support H.R. 6388 to crack down on horse abuse.)
How can anyone be cruel to these gentle creatures? As a Tennessee Walker owner and animal lover, how can anyone be cruel to any animal? Beyond comprehension…. —Fran Townsend Okrei
Thanks to all the real horsemen out there who are boycotting these shows. This is one of the most horrid and shameful acts on a magnificent creature. Time for the LAW to enforce this practice that keeps happening right in their faces…Thanks, Wayne for going. —Deborah Daquila
I can't think of another legal "tradition" or "pastime" or whatever you want to call it that America can do without more than the Tennessee walking horse travesty. If, as [convicted] trainer Davis said, "They've got to be sored to walk," then let's outlaw it altogether, and put an end to the whole silly business. I've seen footage of the spectacles, and the bizarre, unnatural way they make those poor horses walk is grotesque and appalling. It strikes me as the same vein as horse "diving" or making circus bears ride motorcycles. Only a relatively few wealthy individuals participate in this cruel and degrading activity, and surely they can think of something better to do with all their money. I guess the only reason it hasn't been banned already is because of that same wealth—money is power. —David Bernazani
Owners and trainers that participate in this cruel practice should get a LOT more than just a year in jail. —Victoria Kay Johnson
Thank you for being concerned for horses’ well-being. As a former AQHA parent of an exhibitor, I know abuses happen in all breeds and venues. What happens to Tennessee Walkers is beyond anything a civilized society can accept. AQ has had its really bad problems too, and I just am so glad HSUS is looking out for these wonderful animals that give us their all every time we ask. If it had not been for horses, we would not have this world we have and we should and must respect them for what they have done for us and for what they are, intrinsically. My horses make me happy every day just by being there, and I do my best to make sure they have the best of care. Thank you for your efforts. —Anne Foster
I am just learning of the abuse that goes on with the Tennessee walking horse. It just breaks my heart that this abuse can happen to one of the most beautiful animals on the planet. Why are people so cruel and money hungry? Why must they torture an innocent, sweet and spectacular animal such as the horse? I hope to get an email when this cruel horse show is OVER. I am so tired of hearing about or reading about the torture of animals who don’t have a voice. —Pamela Kaczynski
I have been so saddened by the undercover tapes. I was so relieved to see you are still fighting this battle. Thank you. —Gladys Amherdt
Increase the size of the reward for tips and take out more billboard ads. Undercover video is critical too. Let them know that the eyes of the world are watching them. —Laura Meltzer
Just like dogfighting, these people will continue this barbaric behavior like a thief in the night. The people working undercover and the people with the ability to make changes will have to stay long-term vigilant to even make and reinforce ANY kind of permanent changes. Even then, you'll have your old school good ol’ boys who will never conform no matter the penalty. I'm keeping the faith though that HSUS and everyone who can make a difference will not forget or abandon these abused and mistreated horses. I'm also hoping more whistleblowers come forward and use their conscience as their guide. —Paula Sklar
Thank you HSUS for fighting all the atrocities humans are inflicting on animals. When it comes to the Tennessee walking horse show, we can put pressure on the powers to be, by NOT ATTENDING! If no one shows up, then there is no "celebration." Don't support it by buying tickets or anything—money talks. Keep the fight going. Make this more and more public. Maybe someday the tide will turn, even if it is slow. —Patricia Blackie Tolbert
How awful. To cause pain for no need. —Linda Clauson Eskew
All of this abuse, torture, and nauseating training for an elite prize and reputation…if these owners and trainers had a conscience, or the slightest amount of dignity and respect for animals, then they would be more proud to announce that they may not have gotten the award for the best horse but train them the right and humane way. This needs to end…the trainers shouldn't receive a few years of probation from the shows….they should never be allowed back, or near another horse; that is the only way this will truly stop! —Kendall Aufmuth