The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration held the first evening classes of its 75th anniversary event on Thursday night.
This spectacle has become synonymous with the exhibition of stacked, chained Walking horses, and, unfortunately, a showcase for the cruel practice of soring, in which trainers and exhibitors cause intentional pain to the legs and hooves of horses in order to make them step higher to perform the show ring gait that wins ribbons and trophies.
photo: BGB Chat Blog
On Wednesday, The HSUS extended its commitment to bring an end to soring by announcing we’ve expanded our tipline program to include a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of horse industry officials for bribery, intimidation or corruption in the enforcement of the federal Horse Protection Act. Callers to our soring tipline have told us they fear retaliation for reporting violations of the law, and that much of the problem in the industry stems from a failure by horse industry organizations (HIOs) and officials to cite and penalize violations when they occur.
One such group, the SHOW HIO, which oversees inspections at the Celebration and claims to have the toughest penalties in the industry, sued USDA because it didn’t want to impose minimum penalties on its participants who violate the law, as the agency mandated in a June 2012 regulation. SHOW lost its suit last month, and just days before the Celebration began, announced it would not challenge the court’s ruling and finally agreed to comply with the mandatory penalties. SHOW also related that those individuals who had pre-paid to show their horses could request a refund if they didn’t like this decision. That’s a positive step, and more evidence of the growing consensus that cruelty and cheating have no place in horse shows.
With a turnout already greatly reduced in recent years, we can anticipate that this move will drive even more competitors to drop out, rather than face penalties for HPA violations cited. The thing is, if their horses were sound and in compliance, they’d have nothing to fear.
We’ll be watching to see how the industry group handles its responsibility in meting out the penalties it’s now committed to enforce, and watching to ensure that USDA holds them accountable. An analysis of the violation records of the industry’s top competitors in its Riders Cup program has revealed that while they may rack up a rap sheet of violations, they’ve seldom if ever been penalized. Is it any wonder this behavior continues, rewarded rather than penalized?
Ultimately, as USDA’s own Office of Inspector General, the American Association of Equine Practitioners and dozens of horse industry and veterinary groups around the country have concluded, self-regulation in the Walking horse industry has failed, and the only remedy is for USDA to resume sole responsibility for HPA enforcement. This is one of the major provisions of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406, and we urge Congress to pass this legislation when it returns next month from recess. Be sure to take action and ask your federal lawmakers to relegate soring to the past and free the Tennessee Walking horse to step soundly into the future.
P.S. All Animals, The HSUS's magazine, recently published this story about our work to tackle horse soring in the Tennessee walking horse show circuit.