Horse Soring Exposed: Results Show 100 percent of Samples at Major Stable Test Positive for Illegal Substances

By on August 27, 2015 with 40 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Two days ago I announced on A Humane Nation our latest undercover investigation – this one, providing incontrovertible proof that a major stable in Murfreesboro, Tenn., called ThorSport Farm, is knee-deep in the practice of horse “soring” –  the deliberate injuring of horses’ legs and hooves by chemical or mechanical means. We’ve been campaigning aggressively against soring ever since we released the results of a prior investigation three years ago. That investigation led to criminal charges against a former Hall of Fame trainer named Jackie McConnell. The ThorSport investigation put an exclamation point on our exposing of soring practices, and makes the case that reform is long overdue for a scofflaw industry

Today, I want to add to the details of our investigation – more test results have come in since Tuesday, showing that the final 12 samples of wrappings from horses’ legs all tested positive for illegal chemicals. In short, our investigator took portions of towels or cloth wrapped around the animals’ legs, after the trainers applied substances to them, and we sent those samples to a highly accredited lab. Every sample tested positive for USDA-prohibited substances – 75 of 75 samples.

Late Tuesday, ThorSport denied there’s any soring going on at its barns, even though the three trainers there had previously been cited for soring. “ThorSport Farm has a well-earned reputation for operating ethically and legally, and we emphatically reject the HSUS’s charges of soring,” said the statement released by the stable.

Someone who knows Duke Thorson, the owner of the stable, laughed out loud when the individual read this line and said that Duke always instructed his people to use the word “reject” because “deny” sounds like you’re guilty.

This is like a crack dealer denying possession or sale of cocaine when there are 75 pieces of evidence at his home. I mean, you can make the argument, but is anybody going to believe you when the preponderance of evidence is so damning?

ThorSport’s reaction is standard practice for the players in the industry.  After all, Jackie McConnell denied – or better yet, rejected — involvement in soring before we caught him red-handed.

  • At the 2014  Celebration, USDA testing results revealed that 52 percent of the horses tested were found to have illegal foreign substances, including many utilized in the soring process, according to the USDA — substances used to cause pain or to numb or mask it.
  • At the 2012 Celebration, USDA testing revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive.
  • An analysis of the violation history of the top 25 trainers in the industry’s 2014 Rider’s Cup award program found those trainers have collectively amassed more than 500 citations for violating the HPA.

Let’s face it, the Big Lick segment of the Tennessee walking horse industry injures horses as a routine matter to generate a ludicrous, hyper-extended gait, so they can win ribbons at shows. In practical terms, those involved in this fraternity have taken the oath of omerta – denying the facts even as they exist in incontrovertible form.

“ThorSport Farm continues to work vigorously to end abuse and clean up the industry,” continued the ThorSport statement. Yet, Mr. Thorson was one of the key parties to file an ethics complaint against Congressman Ed Whitfield after he introduced a bill in Congress two years ago to crack down on soring. Why would Mr. Thorson take such an active interest in the matter if he’s not involved in soring? Presumably, if no one at his stable were involved in injuring horses’ legs, he would want to root out the activity in other barns and see that his sport is cleaned up.

According to our investigator, the owner’s wife, Rhonda Thorson, walked into ThorSport’s soring chemical storage room, with our person present, and said “Oh, this is the scary room.” She made a comment about the numerous WD-40 cans (another soring chemical) on the shelf and then admitted that her husband knows about the soring at ThorSport. “He’s afraid,” she said. “He knows it’s here, he’s dealing with it but on his own time because it’s a Catch-22 kind of thing.”

No one who cares about horses should be cowed by these denials. This is a rotten industry, and only a strengthened Horse Protection Act and vigorous enforcement can stop these lawbreakers from continuing to hurt horses.

Pass the PAST Act to end horse soring »

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  1. Maggie says:

    So now you no what’s going on to those poor horses is anyone going to help them from thes cruel people

    • Pamela J. Semies says:

      Dear Mr. Markarian, It is with a heavy and breaking heart that I feel after reading of the pain and misery that horses go through because of soring. Is there a way to remove the blocks attached to their hooves once they are secured by chemicals, even iron glue? Country Boy suffered so to lay on the floor of his stable and scream through the night. I signed your petitions and have sent as much as I could afford in donation. we need to get past Act (S. 1121 to end this torture) I read the name McConnell in your most recent letter. I hope that this person is in no way related to Mitch McConnell, Majority Leader U.S. Senate ,Wash D.C. 20515 Pho:202-224-3542/ Hon. John Boehner,’s Pho:202-225-0100. When will this legislation be up for vote. Please let me know if there is anything that I can do to help to speed up the process of getting S-1121 into law. Pamela, Edgewood, Maryland

      • Brianna says:

        I am pretty sure you could at least cut a large portion of the apparatus off…it would take a long time though. Then perhaps use a nibbler to take more off over time….

    • Cathleen Doyle says:

      If Jackie McConnell had done time as he should have…..possibly
      ThorSport would have been afraid to continue to sore. However,
      Jackie McConnell was given a slap on the hand and allowed to
      walk…….and the soring continues. If Duke Thorson does three of
      a five year sentence for premeditated, intentional and malicious
      felony cruelty to horses with multiple violations of regulations, practices and
      procedures, well who knows Duke might be doing the Big Lick himself when
      he gets out?…. “Money on the books or let his feet cook!!!!”

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi Maggie, I am the blog editor. The HSUS is not law enforcement and so does not carry out search and seizures. We assist law enforcement when we are asked. Despite our solid and plentiful evidence, no charges have been filed, and the horses are not safe. We are deeply disappointed that this is the case, and it is yet another example of why the PAST Act needs to be passed.

  2. Maggie says:

    Go arrest them so they.can’t hurt anymore of these more horses

    • Pamela J. Semies says:

      I agree with Maggie. Is there anyway that the people that you have investigated and have proof of their illegal actions can be arrested and the horses removed from their possession.For these dear horses, we need to act quickly. Pamela Semies of Edgewater, Maryland 21040

  3. Margaret says:

    At least he has clean stalls

    • Jane A. Larson says:

      Were you awake when you made that comment? Watch the video and then comment.

    • Pamela J. Semies says:

      Clean stalls? If you are in excruciating pain (a severe tooth ache,) Are you going to care if the floor is clean? Are you referring to the horrible act of soring or another topic?.If this is all the passion that you have to offer, we don’t need you. Pamela Semies, Edgewood, Maryland 21040

    • Sandra says:

      Are you saying that it’s OK that he’s hurting the horses because the stalls are at least clean?

  4. Robynne Catheron says:

    Get ’em, HSUS! Force the DA to file charges on the lot of them at that barn, and seize every horse on the property. They’d better do time behind bars, and then be banned from horses for life. Despicable, deceitful cretins.

  5. Connie T. says:

    I don’t understand why this farm has not been raided. When the HSUS posted the videos of Jackie M. hitting horses and horses struggling in their stalls, his training facility was raided and the HSUS and the owners picked up their horses. He was charged and convicted and the horses were removed quickly! Why in the hell if the samples have been turned over to local authorities along with the videos haven’t the local authorities or DA raided this farm? What is the difference??? This is blatant animal cruelty! I have written Bill Haslam, Gov of TN, the local media, Alexander and McConnell, and Haslam wrote back that local authorities have jurisdiction. Why doesn’t someone raid this farm and remove those horses like in 2012? Did these horses perform in the Celebration event? I don’t get it! The video alone shows a horse suffering and should be sufficient to raid the facility without samples or “soring” legislation. I don’t care how apologists spin it, this horse is in pain and needs to be removed ASAP!

  6. sean v says:

    Every horse used for work or sport needs the same protections from neglect and abuse. Take a look at some of the Amish horses, after spending years racing as harness horses or as former gaited show horses, they spend the rest of their life pulling buggies and other vehicles. Then the day comes when the owner drives his horse to the large kill sale and trades him in for a younger model. There needs to be across the board rules on how horses are to be treated throughout their entire lives. Loading onto planes and shipping them live to Japan for the meat market also needs to end. There needs to be owner accountability.

    • Pamela J. Semies says:

      Sean, I so agree with your comment. As Americans, the Amish need to go by the law. It is depressing to think that these people treat their horses that have served them and their families so poorly. I was always under the impression that the Amish had respect for God’s creatures and took good care of them.These people are lacking in what I thought they were about, the love of God and his creations. Maybe I believed too much of what I have seen in Hollywood

    • Pamela Cook says:

      You are So right!

  7. David Bernazani says:

    I’m not at all surprised by these results. But what has me puzzled is this: where have the members of law enforcement been? Why does a non-governmental organization have to be the one who does the hard, costly and sometimes dangerous work of exposing these criminals? Everyone in the horse business (and many others) knows about the illegal goings-on in this particular sector of walking horse competitions. Why aren’t federal, state, county and local police doing anything about it, except sitting around waiting for the evidence to be handed to them on a platter? What if they did that with other crimes? I bet, say, bank robbers or drug dealers would love to be in a legal system like that– one where no cops investigated or tried to stop you from breaking the law, and only might arrest you if private citizens went through the arduous task of amassing overwhelming evidence against you. That would be a dysfunctional system indeed.
    No wonder soring is still so prevalent to this day.

    • TN4th says:

      The government is not currently allowed to spot check the barns, just the horse shows. Most of the maltreatment takes place in the trainers’ barns. So the regulations need to be changed to let the inspectors spot check the barns.

      • David Bernazani says:

        TN4th: really? Do you mean they are not REQUIRED to spot check horse barns, or are actually not allowed to? If so, what if they someone reports cruelty going on in one? Are they still not allowed?
        Such a regulation was obviously passed for and by the wealthy, those with something to hide, and should be changed. I don’t think the Fourth Amendment was written to protect scumbags torturing horses.
        What if, say, dog fighting was going on in lots of barns in a community? Would the inspectors really be unable to check them? What if it was child abuse? Does it make any difference? A crime is a crime, and the Law should be able to investigate.

    • KW says:

      Because in this area of our great state of TN, it brings in huge, huge money, the Celebration brings in huge money. We have a (i am sorry to say) “Good Ole Boy” mentality here, reinforced by the turning of the head, greasing of the palm, to keep the big hugeTWH Farms/practices going as they always have. There are threats to people also. So it takes very brave/tenacious people like the undercover person who risked alot to get that video, I am guessing. Getting all the politicians on board, on the same page, to risk their backing, from some of the same crooks who donot see anything wrong with the TWH industry. It needs something to blatantly embarrass the state to get it to change. In our area animals don’t rate that high on the list. I tried to get the governors attention as to the fact that this horse/breed has our name on it, don’t let the ones who are abusing it tarnish it, its a state namesake. Though to me personally its much more than that…………
      I have seen many big TWH farms being sold in our area. I have to wonder if they are just going somewhere else where they are not noticed…..

    • Phillip says:

      Law enforcement? Last week in Colorado…a mounted police officer can back from his shift…tied up his horse without water and food…for sixteen hours…the horse died…his punishment….one day deleted from his extensive vacation days….Wake up.

  8. Marcia Barclay says:


  9. Laura Ousley says:

    Thank you Humane Society for conducting this investigation. I live in East Tennessee and have been advocating for the end of soring for several years now. The reason it has been so hard to prosecute these people is because of dirty politics and weak laws. I hope the Thorson has to answer for his crimes, but I’m worried that politics will continue to be a problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if Thorson has already gotten the prosecutors to back off. I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve seen it happen too many times. I’m afraid that our politicians will take money from these big lick people and block the Past Act again. I’m as frustrated as can be over this, and feel sick for the horses.

    • Pamela J. Semies says:

      Laura Ousley is……so right! Now is the time for change. Time to end the corruption. Time for people to take a stand…elections coming up, the time is NOW! Pamela Semies, Edgewood Md. 21040 pamelasemies

    • David Bernazani says:

      Laura, as a Tennessee resident you have more power than most to help end this, because you must know a lot of other locals, and politicians do listen to constituents, especially when they’re in large numbers. Perhaps you can get a lot of your friends to call or better yet visit the state capital and demand changes from your legislators. They won’t listen to people like me from out of state, but maybe they will you.
      What this issue needs is LOTS of attention– not just here on Wayne’s blog; I’m talking newspapers, television, other media– like when Cecil was killed. If we can get enough people angry, maybe then that act will get passed and we’ll see some changes.

      • Phillip says:

        Tenn is a Conservative Republican state and does not believe in “regulations” so the horses suffer. Just keep voting for these guys and this is what you get.

  10. Pamela J. Semies says:

    Horse and Animal Advocates, As we send what donation we can and sign petitions, let us not forget ..THE POWER OF PRAYER.

  11. Shirley Coffey says:

    Why can’t we get a long overdue commitment from the American Horse Show Association to help the ever growing Humane Movement. There is a lot of interest within if people just knew what to do and how to do it.

  12. Jen says:

    I dont understand how the horses pictured in video could not have scars and have legitimate records that would invalidate entry into a sanctioned show. There are a number of valid wuestions in tjese comments, none of which have been answered. Suffice to say, with the records, videos, supposed testimony from owners wife; why hasnt anything been done? If discredited, by fines, stripped of titles and rinbons i think more heft will be availible to the pass stricter legislation. How about some action and not just more donation requests. Do something instead of panhandling more.

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi Jen, The HSUS is not law enforcement and we do not conduct search and seizures. Our investigator documented routine abuse in hopes getting law enforcement to hold those responsible accountable, but also to prevent future horses from suffering by raising awareness and showing lawmakers the importance of enacting the PAST Act. Despite our solid and plentiful evidence, no charges have been filed. We are deeply disappointed that this is the case, and it is yet another example of why the PAST Act needs to be passed.

    • David Bernazani says:

      Jen, the HSUS said nothing about donations; they are simply asking for support to pass the long-overdue PAST (Prevent All Soring Tacticts) Act in Congress. If anyone is guilty of asking people to support the HSUS it’s me, and I am merely just another member of what I think is a great organization which is leading the fight against soring.

  13. Karen Cassidy says:

    Horse soring is evil abuse, please end abusing Gods creatures. Horses are such good animals, stop this cruelty now please ?

  14. cindy says:

    Why aren’t you as this group of people going before the Tennessee Walking Horse Association and requesting a copy of their rules and by-laws which they rule all approved shows by and I am sure somewhere in there is a rule disallowing any and all cruel methods as claimed in this documentary! If these high class, high roller, high dollar horse breeding and training facility shows at this breed’s show, which they do because that is their marketing strategy place. If you win your horse is automatically worth more, and that bloodline becomes more in demand in the breeding season. Go after the BREED ASSOCIATION itself for allowing competitors to exhibit horses that test show, and video plainly shows and the investigation is clear about what has been done inhumanely to these horses to achieve this level of performance. Examine what the Judges of these shows are to be judging nd looking for!

    IF YOU CAN STOP THE JUDGING OF THESE ABUSED ANIMALS, AND STOP THE ASSOCIATION FROM ALLOWING SUCH OBVIOUS ABUSE, THEN you have ended the reason or demand to created these over animated show horses. Years ago, this was an issue, and I thought it had been banned by the BREED ASSOCIATIONS themselves and pretty well abolished completely, especially to this extreme. You will never stop the cruelty to these horses unless you stop the need for that extreme leg lift and animation to show and WIN. Go after the buyers and owner’s of these horses. Most owners are sitting in their millions of dollars as a CEO behind a desk somewhere and have no clue what their trainers are doing to get that winning performance of their horse. Some might not care, but surprising enough some would be shocked to know. The buyers f these show horses many times have no clue how these animals got so animated, they are told by the professionals that should know more than they do that its all in the breeding, when us horseman know breeding is important but genetics can’t make an horse move with such animation. Go after the ROOT OF THE PROBLEM instead of the individual perpotraitors of this horrible crime. No judge of any Tennessee Walking Horse show should use,place, or in any way award a horse that shows this type of training methods. And those judges can easily identify those horses in any class. In fact according to the rules of that breed association that judge should dismiss and not even acknowledge or consider that horse as a legal, legit competitor. So what is wrong with this picture.
    Somebody or a whole lot of somebodies are not playing by the rules and it appears nobody cares. How sad this society has become.

  15. Evelyn J Lennon says:

    Made me sick to my stomache, we must be their voice and help these helpless horses. Stop this horrible they pain they endure

  16. Natasha Nunes says:

    I dont understand. With all the ways we expose people through the internet today and so many videos are going viral…why cant someone go in there (sneak in there) and video this and post it to the internet so everyone can see this horror and raise a voice?

    What can be done?

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