There’s been so much public condemnation of horse abusers since The HSUS released its jarring undercover video last year showing Hall of Fame Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell and his stewards intentionally injuring horses in order to create the “Big Lick” gait that wins ribbons at competitive shows. The practice of “soring” has been illegal since 1970, but the industry tolerated widespread criminal conduct and the statute and its enforcement have not been sufficient to deter this pattern of cruelty and law-breaking.
On Friday, Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., introduced legislation in the U.S. House to strengthen the outmoded 40-year-old Horse Protection Act. The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, H.R. 1518, would end this industry’s self-regulation enforcement scheme. Horses will be checked at shows for evidence of soring by inspectors trained and licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture, not by industry insiders. House Resolution 1518 will also ban action devices and stacks – devices implicated for their role in the soring process – as the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners and other national organizations have called for, and which the United States Equestrian Federation has already banned from all of its licensed competitions. For the horses, and for those who wish to participate in Tennessee walking horse shows with sound horses and fair judging, the stronger provisions that this bill will add to the HPA are a lifeline.
Chad Sisneros/The HSUS
The artificial, high-stepping gait called the “Big Lick.”
While our polling shows widespread disapproval of soring and support for state and federal laws to fortify the prohibition on soring, there is a brazen move afoot in the Tennessee legislature to make it a crime to conduct these undercover investigations, by requiring that footage be turned over to authorities just as an investigation is starting. Such a legal requirement would terminate an investigation prematurely and it would give law enforcement an undeveloped case. It’s an attempt to stifle these sorts of investigations to document abuse on farms.
The trainers and owners of these abused animals have had decades to clean house, yet the majority of winning trainers in the walking horse industry have been cited for violations of the HPA over and over again, with no apparent deterrent effect. The American people have seen the cruelty that Tennessee walking show horses are subjected to, and they want it to end.
The HSUS will continue to call out the perpetrators of abuse for their deceptive statements and cruel, illegal acts — please join us and call your representative in the U.S. Congress and urge them to co-sponsor H.R. 1518. And we’ll be fighting the maneuvers of state lawmakers who want to cover up abuse and make it a crime to document it.
P.S. Tennessee’s anti-whistleblower bill, H.B. 1191/S.B. 1248, is expected to come up in the state Senate as early as Tuesday of this week. While there are some great champions of animal welfare in the Tennessee legislature, there are too many lawmakers who defend just about any sort of animal exploitation. Rep. Andy Holt, the House sponsor, is an industrial hog farmer who is actively working to open horse slaughter plants in the state. The Senate sponsor, Delores Gresham, represents the district where The HSUS undercover investigation of Jackie McConnell took place, and she’s the owner of a stockyard. Both legislators absurdly claim that this legislation will prevent abuse, yet both of them voted against the Animal Fighting Enforcement Act last week to strengthen penalties for dogfighters and cockfighters. Their decision to align themselves with the cockfighting community speaks volumes about their true intentions.