New HSUS Investigation Exposes Soring, Abuse of Walking Horses at Top Tennessee Stable

By on August 25, 2015 with 122 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Moments ago, I announced at a press conference the findings of the latest HSUS undercover investigation documenting horrific abuse of Tennessee walking horses, with major trainers caught red-handed hurting horses and prepping animals for the breed’s upcoming National Celebration – the multi-day pinnacle event in Shelbyville, Tennessee – by cooking chemicals into their legs. A brave HSUS investigator worked at ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for several months, documenting grooms and upper-echelon trainers applying caustic chemical substances to horses’ legs, wrapping them in paper towels, thick cotton, and common horse leg wraps – sometimes while their owners looked on. This practice, called “soring,” deliberately inflicts pain to the legs of show horses in order to force them to perform a hideous, exaggerated gait called “The Big Lick.” The HSUS is calling upon federal and state authorities to aggressively investigate, and, if warranted, prosecute these individuals to the fullest extent of the law.

Our investigator gathered incontrovertible and damning evidence of soring. All of the 75 wrapping samples that the investigator obtained directly from the legs of horses either owned by or trained at ThorSport had soring or masking substances on them that are prohibited at horse shows by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Horse Protection Act. One of ThorSport’s homemade soring concoctions contained mustard oil – a nasty blistering agent used for soring – along with camphor, methyl paraben, methyl salicylate, and hydrocarbons, which are all USDA-prohibited substances.

One ThorSport employee gave his opinion on how they should be soring horses – “put some diesel on them on Monday” he said. Even after that revealing group conversation, everyone at ThorSport denied that soring was going on when they spoke to the HSUS investigator.

The investigator also documented the use of heavy “action devices,” including double chains and metal rollers attached to horses’ legs that would bang against the painful sored areas and hurt the animals even more as trainers and owners rode them.

In one instance documented by the investigator on July 4, 2015, Play Something Country lay down in his stall groaning in pain, 40 minutes after a chemical substance had been applied to his front legs, which were then wrapped tightly with materials to enhance the pain and to sear the animal’s skin. This sort of willful disregard of the law is precisely what we found in 2011 when we investigated trainer Jackie McConnell and his stable and caught him abusing horses in pursuit of ribbons at the Celebration.

There was lots of talk documented this time by our investigator of trainers and grooms worried about getting caught conducting their illegal practices – and there was good reason for their paranoia. They knew what they were doing was unlawful, cruel, and harmful to the horses. For instance, according to the USDA, butylated hydroxytoluene — one of the prohibited substances the lab found in the wrapping samples our investigator took off a champion horse named He’s Vida Blue – can be toxic to the horse’s blood, liver, and central nervous system. It is also a carcinogen that can produce organ damage with repeated and prolonged exposure.

Three ThorSport trainers – Chad Williams, Aaron Self, and Robert Cortner – have all received “tickets” for soring horses but are still riding, training, and soring. Our previous case demonstrated deep and pervasive corruption within the elite circles of the sport, and this investigation clinches the case.

The federal Horse Protection Act of 1970 and the laws of several states prohibit soring, but the penalties are so weak and loopholes so gaping that scofflaw trainers gamble that they can sidestep law enforcement action.

Over a period of more than 50 years the Big Lick faction of the Tennessee walking horse industry has gotten away with routine crippling of horses as a core training strategy. They have become addicted to the grotesque, unnatural Big Lick gait.

The current enforcement of the Horse Protection Act – which relies on a failed system of industry self-policing – just isn’t working, as the USDA’s Inspector General concluded in its 2010 audit. Here’s all the additional evidence that Congress needs to justify swift action to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.3268/S.1121 – legislation to upgrade the existing federal law. Sadly, Senators Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Mitch McConnell, R-KY. have introduced legislation essentially drafted by the horse soring industry as a diversion. Their bill promises no meaningful reform, and is simply amounts to a legislative blocking maneuver.

In 2012 The HSUS exposed former Hall of Fame Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell as an animal abuser and a fraud; he wasn’t a great trainer – he was a great sorer. Any trainer can garner blue ribbons and fool people by cheating and intimidation. The leadership of the walking horse industry tried to fool the public into believing that Jackie McConnell – with a 52-count federal indictment against him as a result of our investigation – was just one bad apple. But as this new investigation reveals, soring is rampant in the Big Lick faction, and it’s what trainers do to compete and to induce this ludicrous and impossibly high-stepping gait.

The horse soring crowd and their apologists on Capitol Hill continue to deny the truth –in the process condemning generations of these stoic, gentle creatures to lives of torment. We’ve presented more evidence today that leaves no more room for their hedging and intentional distortions and denials. Watch our video below, then contact your legislators to urge them to put an end to the abuse of horses like Play Something Country, once and for all.

Help The HSUS fight animal cruelty »

Editor’s Note: This blog has been updated to reflect the latest lab test results on wrapping samples obtained from the legs of the horses. All 75 samples tested positive for substances prohibited at horse shows by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Equine, Investigations, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Lisa Petty says:


    • John Manion says:

      It seems like everyday our society is getting worse. The abuse is beyond comprehension, it’s disgusting. We are a vial human animal nation. We are the problem, not the solution. Our species needs to be eradicated!

    • Pam courtney says:

      Because no one does anything to stop it. We need to write our congressmen and get these Horse organizations to implement a no cruelty policy! We need to stand up for our beautiful horses. Where is the Horse Protection people? Where is HSUS PETA at all show, auction facilities and horse organizations! It’s time to prosecute cruel trainers and horse owners!!! Report and video tape all incidents to the police and humane society!

  2. Kathryn Karaba says:

    How could anyone live with another person knowing the cruelty inflicted on the horse. How could any human think this is entertainment? The horses are in agony for some stupid high stepping show. It
    was torture for me just to watch the clip of those horses being abused for someone’s so-called entertainment. Anyone who could do this has a cruel heart.

    Please support the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics).

    • Susan Trout says:

      No, they don’t have a heart, period! They are demons!

    • Debbye Hutchison says:

      I’m so glad attention is being brought to this issue. I’ve hated seeing snd hearing about this treatment to these wonderful horses. Judge them by their natural gait! They are beautiful like they are and by what they do also causes hip issues fir the rest of their lifes. Thank you HSUS!!!

  3. Robynne Catheron says:

    HALLELUJAH, AND PRAISE THE LORD! Finally. Thank you, HSUS, and especially this courageous investigator who put his very life in jeopardy to bring these cretins to justice.

    I am forwarding this to my legislators in NY along with a plea to co-sponsor the PAST Act. I implore everyone who reads this to do the same. It only takes a few minutes. If they’ve already co-sponsored, please thank them.

    Again, THANK YOU, HSUS!

  4. David Bernazani says:

    I haven’t been this upset about animal abuse for a long time, and I am a follower of this blog and read elsewhere about cruelty to animals every day.
    But this deliberate and chronic long-term torture of beautiful and innocent horses by corrupt wealthy owners and their minions sickens and appalls me to no end.
    I can’t believe we have Senators in Washington who actually support and defend this senseless cruelty. I wish I could wrap Senator Lamarr’s and McConnell’s legs with caustic substances and see how they like it.
    I already know the good senators of my state of California would like to pass the PAST act; now I think it’s time to call those two who are against it and ask them why.

    • Robynne Catheron says:

      David, I feel the same. The revenue from the annual Celebration alone is around $90 million. Alexander and McConnell aren’t about to let their state lose that kind of money.

      My fear is these filthy pigs will simply devise new, more heinous methods of evading detection. The only thing that will stop them is massive fines, permanent ban from the horse industry, and prison sentences for every single offense.

      God bless anyone who can finally end this despicable, horrific 60+ year nightmare for these horses. We failed to get the PAST Act signed into law last session. We must not fail this year. CALL YOUR LEGISLATORS!

      • David P Bernazani says:

        Wow, I had no idea the kind of money these strange compentions draw. Who in their right mind would pay to watch silly-looking wealthy people pompously strut around on the backs of suffering horses walking in bizarre, unnatural gaits, when they surely know that terrible suffering is involved? They must choose not to believe, like many do when they eat meat or buy puppies online, for example.
        Anyway I think the entire industry where the “Big Lick” is involved should be outlawed, as it surely cannot exist without suffering and torture. It’s ugly, it’s needless, and it’s ridiculous. Horses walking normally, fine. Horses forced to do a grotesque parody of, well, I can’t think of a thing that high-stepping walk is similar to, but it’s a travesty, and to think the owners do it for something as trivial and frivolous as a trophy is simply pathetic.

        • KW says:

          Sorry to butt in on your blog, I live here in (Columbia)TN now, I have arabians, we have had are own abuses too, as do all the breeds, there are many bad horse owners/trainers, just wanted to get that out of the way. I lived in PA before, when I first saw the Saddlebreds with their big gait, at that time they did not use “soring” but the cruelty of leaving these big beautiful animals in their stalls 24/7, only out for their training, in stalls that were dark, windows painted dark, so the horse was startled and acting startled when out and training. The shoes on these horses the same as the shoes on the TNWalkers. The shoes in them selves are damaging to the horse, think of years of them being on 24/7, what it does to the tendons and bone/growth of that horse. Those horses never got outside to feel the sun and run loose ever because of the shoes. I went to horse shows where the different breeds competed, these Saddlebreds would come into the ring, I just think the “exaggerated” gaits painful to watch. What is wrong with these people to treat these naturally gaited horses so horribly, if it was a human they would be in prison for abuse. The beautiful smooth gait that comes natural is what makes these breeds so wonderful, then some greedy, arrogant trainers/owners decide its not enough, make them “Big Lick”. It would be equal to a adult human putting high heels on a young child and making them wear them the rest of their lives…. but then thats not exaggerated enough, putting castic chemicals on them to keep them stepping higher… the newest undercover video is damming to the TWH industry that it is STILL going on, trying to hide it, the excuses the owner just put out there on the news last night was to the inexperienced horse lover, sounded like they are just picking on us, the “chemicals” were bought from the numerous tack shops in our area..the horses leg was stuck in the waterer, the horse was sleeping and dreaming. The Veterinarian who is paid by these owners says they are ‘sound”. The news channel shows only pieces of the HSUS video. What happens to all the horses that these owners get rid of when the soring cannot be hidden anymore…? How can this be a sport when its includes chemically burning and changing the natural gait and crippling the horse for life? In the end of this, you have crippled horses and you cannot sell them. The horses lose. The owners have big fancy farms and ribbons/trophies and money. This is not to pick on the TWH breed this is to stop the human abuse of this beautiful wonderful breed and celebrate the normal gait of this horse, stop the high shoes and the soring, just celebrate the TWH naturally. Make us proud of the natural TWH again. Grateful to the HSUS for making this video and not letting this abuse go back to the quiet, horrible hidden secret of the Tennesseans TWH industry. I have written our governor several times…keep up fighting for them.

          • David Bernazani says:

            KW: thank you for adding your informative comments and for writing to the TN governor. It’s state residents like you that will make the most difference, and of course the HSUS, in changing the laws and ridding us of this cruel, senseless activity.
            You also bring up a good point in that the veterinarian paid by the owners said the afflicts horse was “sound”. Any vet who doesn’t speak out against soring and other forms of animal abuse (such as at rodeos) is a disgrace to their profession, a quack, and a greedy scumbag who needs their license revoked. As a veterinary technician, if I ever saw what was happening in those barns I would immediately document and report what I saw to the police and the state board of veterinary medicine. I call upon all fellow vet techs in Tennessee and Kentucky who work with horses to do just that. To do nothing makes you just as guilty as the ones doing the torturing.

          • MJ Mason says:

            Very,very well said !!!! But, this has been going on for decades !!!!!! Animal welfare groups etc have been screaming about this for years, thousands of petitions have gone out. Do you think anything can stop this ???? These sub human creatin animal abusers have been paying off officials for as many years and therefore the abuse continues If enough people cared and made it known, this abuse would not continue. But, when it comes down to it… it’s all about the money, not the well being of all the suffering animals.
            The people that reap the most…. do not care for the well being of the animals AT ALL !!!!! They are the most inhumane creatures on earth and will pay for it in hell.

          • reddeye says:

            when they are of no more use they are discarded to slaughter

          • Pam says:

            First, you shouldn’t put saddlebreds and walking horses in the same pot. Saddlebreds are not naturally gaited as TWH are. They must be trained and shod to help them slow gait and rack. A TWH foal will naturally gait – a saddlebred foal will not. Many saddlebreds will never gait, some that can be offset enough that they will shuffle a bit but they won’t do it well and are taken back to 3 gaits instead of 5. Those saddlebreds who gait easily are usually from bloodlines that do so. A saddlebred would never, ever, be able to be shod or sored the same as a TWH because anything that caused pain couldn’t be hidden when trotting as it wouldn’t be square and they would show lame. Because a TWH and other naturally gaited horses never trot being off just doesn’t show and in fact helps their gait. We have all ridden a horse that we note is off when trotted and is shuffling around a bit – we get off, check them and discover something as simple as a rock in the foot, a lose shoe, or something more serious. Saddlebred horses, even foals, will show a tremendous amount of motion trotting barefoot in the pasture if so inclined and being of bloodlines with a lot of natural motion and conformation to do so. The goal in training is to mimic and encourage that motion with as lite a shoe and as short a foot as possible; however, length of foot will certainly help – longer toes equal reach, higher heels equal tuck, rolling or squaring toes and longer feet affect stride and breakover. If they are in pain in anyway – they won’t perform. You will see it in pinned ears and a general unhappy look. We want our show horses to work high, lofty, freely, up in the bridle with ears looking bright and up, eyes bright and alert. They can’t do this if in pain. So I would most appreciate you not rolling the two breeds together. In fact, for 99.9% of saddlebred owners, they feel the same about soring, extreme stacks and showing in chains as the rest of the world does. Most saddlebreds wear shoes lighter than than the average man does along with 1 wedge and 1-2 flat pads to add length. These horses get plenty of exercise and are kept most part very fit. They will be lined in mornings, ridden in afternoons and hand walked to get grass in evenings. It would be stupid to put a horse with anything other than a lite plate out to run free in a field unless you wanted to do damage. These horses are better behaved than most other breeds even when kept up which most horses are to keep them from fading and out of flies. I think it is better to be in a dark barn which keeps flies away under a fan with free choice hay than standing in a paddock in 100 degree heat, 80-90% humidity, with flies including horse flies eating them up. Anyone who has horses knows a dark barn keeps flies down compared to a bright sunlit one and is cooler. It is the same as your house – in the heat of summer, you close the blinds and drapes in the heat of the day.

    • Claudette Bradley says:

      Has anyone stared a petition to help this cause?

    • Walkin Man says:

      Don’t just stop with those two. Look at Diane Black who attempted to introduce a counter message when the PAST act was introduced, that’s the thing that got the PAST act diluted and didn’t make it out of committee.

      Then there is Scott DesJarlais and the rest from TN. I would love to see them sored, then make them run on the beach with chains on their sored ankles, and every time they wanted to stop hit them with a cattle prod, the way they do walkers. That would be their real punishment.

      Black and DesJarlais both accepted large payoff from the TWH industry and Celebration for their non-acts or opposite actions to the PAST act.

    • sharon says:

      Can y put up the link to congress for other countries to also petition against this barbaric treatment – ofcourse inflicted by males!

  5. Sandi faeth guiher says:

    Are the horses going to be rescued?

  6. Karen Lonkey says:

    I recently signed up as a donor again after being out for a couple of years due to finances. This crap has to stop! All animals, yeah!!

  7. Jessie says:

    jey , Im from Germany and I just moved to tennessee me and my husband we so have horses and a rescue horse . I hope and pray that this absolutely horrible thing will have a end soon . How ever I can help let me know . Big lick is a big lie and everybody should realize this ! They have feeling they feel the pain like we humans do ! This is the worst thing I ever seen in my life !!!

    • David Bernazani says:

      As Wayne wrote in the last sentence of the blog, please contact your legislators and ask them to pass the PAST act. This is especially important for you who live in Tennessee. And please let all your friends know about it. Danke!

    • David Bernazani says:

      And also, become a supporting member of the HSUS, which is leading the fight to stop this abuse.

  8. RedHorseMama says:

    Thank you HSUS for your continued (and dangerous) work to end the despicable and horrifically cruel training practices utilized to obtain the show gait known as the *Big Lick*. As we keep a prayer in our hearts for these magnificent creatures, we must work towards passage of SB1121 and HB3268.

  9. Diane Peters says:

    The abuse and exploitation of animals for the amusement and financial gain is deplorable, and must be stopped.

  10. Rhonda willis says:

    I know they’re not all sired but this video is clear that something is going on and hitting the horse in the face isn’t that cruelty to animals and a class A Felony. That passed this year. Why isn’t it enforced.

    • David Bernazani says:

      Rhonda, that part of the video (the horse getting hit in the face) is from the earlier investigation of Jackie McConnell at a different stable a few years ago, before the law was passed.

  11. Sue Carter says:

    Thank You for all you do HSUS. Especially against horse abuse such as Soring and, also, For your work against Horse Slaughter.
    You are the major force keeping the slaughter-hounds at bay!

  12. Maryjane says:

    Well, the judges are placing them too! The judges need to stop rewarding this cruelty!

    • David Bernazani says:

      So true! They’re all part of the whole corrupt gang of sick sadists.

    • KW says:

      I have a good friend who was a judge, she fairly judged these shows, she was against the soring. She judged all different breeds shows, this is how she made her living. In the end of her judging the TWH shows, she had to have a officer of the law with her all the time, as the owners/trainers threatened her life. She gave up on judging the TWH shows because of the threats against her. I have also heard horrible stories about some of the threats(burning of horse barns, poisoning of horses) that were carried out on people against the soring practice.

  13. Judy Obermeyer says:

    Makes me ashamed to live in Tennessee! Stop this torture now! Please……..

    • David Bernazani says:

      Judy: if you live in Tennessee you can be a great help by spreading the word about this to everyone you know, and ask them to demand that their congressmen pass the PAST act. Thank you.

      • Walkin Man says:

        Everyone in TN knows all about soring! It’s a fact that we live with. I have flat shod horses, thank goodness for WHOA, they have stepped up, gotten rid of the padded horses, and now do only flat shod horses; and they now have a who series of flat shod shows for us to attend. Thank you WHOA!

        So now we don’t have to “associate” with the padded horses and their owners; however, there was several flat shod shoes at Thor-Sport farm this year. Let’s see what happens in 2016, should be interesting.

        • Donna Jones says:

          If everyone in TN knows about this practice (and others) why aren’t you knocking down doors of the government to see that it stops??? YOU are the voters they want to please in your state and the ones who should be refusing to attend shows, etc. Please start now!

        • sharon says:

          This is as barbaric as binding feet in China but much worse – How cruel and pointless – The Old Boys rednecks from TN will eventually die and the younger generation will be horrified – it will be banned eventually

  14. Jo Anne says:

    This industry needs to be put to an end. This is so unnatural, painful and disgusting to even watch them perform. smh My heart aches for these horses.

  15. Gail Wiot says:

    Nothing will be done until they start prosecuting these people to the fullest extent of the law. Based on this information these horses should be impounded immediately! The owner present should also be held accountable too. Most shows are sanctioned by the United States Equine Federation. They should ban the shows as well as the people. No horses and no shows!! Ow once in jail, these violators should be subject to the same thing as the horses. If that jerk liked diesel fuel, lets cover his skin and apply some heat while his legs are chained together. Shameful, just shameful!! And all for a ribbon and a trophy! Jail time is the only solution..and no Pat on the hand. It should be a felony!!

    • Walkin Man says:

      Very few if any TN Walking Horse Shows are sanctioned by the US Equine Federation. In fact USEF will not sanction big lick TWH shows. So there is only the HIOs to answer to and they are controlled by the big lick trainers and owners. So you see it’s actually a Catch-22 situation.

  16. Bethan says:

    This video is Just heartbreaking… What’s happening to these poor horses?

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi Bethan, the horses in the video are not safe, and they along with many others won’t be safe as long as people are allowed to keep soring horses without consequence. 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.

  17. Susan Trout says:

    As seasoned as I am to horrifically cruel videos, I couldn’t bring myself to watch this. Just looking at the still of this beautiful horse breaks my heart in two and makes me hate the human race. I know, we’re not all like those who carry out this torture, but what’s wrong with us that we continue to tolerate these actions? Why can’t this be stopped? This is indisputable animal cruelty. What is it going to take to make our legislators act? Must a horse’s leg snap off in the middle of a performance? SHAME on anyone involved in the Tennessee Walking Horse world who turns a blind eye. You are as guilty as those who sore! Stand up and demand the ridiculous “big lick” classes be OUTLAWED! No true horse person could ever regard this gait as anything but grotesque. Fortunately, my legislators are firmly against this and support the Horse Protection Act. But many states have legislators that are ranchers or farmers by profession and they view any law that attacks animal abuse as detrimental to their livelihoods. VOTE THEM OUT OF CONGRESS. SEND A MESSAGE–you either evolve and stop animal cruelty wherever it occurs, or you step into a time machine and send yourself back to the dark ages. THERE’S NO HOPE FOR YOU! I have a beautiful 29-year-old Arabian gelding and I would never do anything to enhance or harm him for human ego. Please, Wayne, blow this story up as big as you can! Thank you for all you do to advance the humane treatment of animals everywhere!

  18. Olga says:

    Write/phone the TN governor. Ask them to shut this “business” down. This is insane cruelly, and it has to stop.

    • David P Bernazani says:

      Thanks for the excellent link. I hope everyone uses it to call or write the Tennessee government and asks them to get rid of the torture.

    • Maggie says:

      Unfortunately it won’t work. The senator supports Big Lick. The most we can do is hope and work to make sure he get’s fired from his job.

  19. Bernice Reynolds says:

    I don’t know how we will stop this. It’s been allowed for too long. Blatant abuse and cruelty. We need this law to pass, apparently the equestrian industry has no conscience or morals. The good ole boys have gotten by with this abuse for ages and apparently they’re not going to stop until we quit showing up.

    • Stella M S (@24CarlyS119) says:

      Contact your Democratic Representatives. The #GOP won’t do a thing since a horse isn’t a fetus.

      • Mimi EM says:

        A comment like this doesn’t help anything. It actually slows progress. We are talking about the cruelty these horses are suffering through abusive stable owners. Please don’t get political with an entirely different subject. I think we can all agree on this…a politician is a politician (Democrate or Republican) and they ALL generally look out for themselves. Let’s just leave it a that and send letters to whomever will and can put a stop to this.

      • Walkin Man says:

        Neither will the Democrats! They all are getting money from the Celebration and the industry as a whole.

    • Cj Skudlarek says:

      Please do not label the entire equestrian industry, nor even every Tennessee Walker owner/breeder/trainer as horrible based on the ones you see here. There are so many more of us that partner with our horses than who abuse them. The sad part is that you never read of those stories, only the horrific ones.
      I just ask that you judge horse owners on a case by case and not label all of us in the same category as the awful ones shown here.

      • David Bernazani says:

        CJ: Of course nobody thinks that, any more than they think all dog owners are bad because a few beat their dogs. Nobody in all these comments said anything about “all horse owners”.
        But besides being defensive, what are YOU doing about it? As an owner (I presume), have you spoken out agInst soring? At all? To anyone? Are you in an owner’s or breeders association? Do THEY speak out against it? If not, why not? And if not, what have you done about it?
        I hope you use your influence as a member of the horse community to push for changes. Thank you.

      • Amelia says:

        I agree with David … as with any thing, if each one of us doesn’t become part of the solution, we are part of the problem. As part of ASPCA’s HAT – Horse Action Team – I’m going to a townhall meeting tomorrow night to speak out against horse slaughter. The people at ASPCA just made me aware of soring. I will become involved in helping people know more about both issues, and doing something about it.

        • David Bernazani says:

          Good for you! I hope your town hall meeting went well; I’d love to hear about it. And I’m still waiting to hear from CJ!

          • Cj Skudlarek says:

            I’m sorry, I didn’t realize there has ever been a reply.
            As an owner of horses, not TW breed, I help teach and mentor the next generation of what is not acceptable in the treatment of horses, dogs, sheep, livestock in general. I do not live in an area where soring is done. And I have limited access to technology and internet in general, so I teach and mentor those I can. I rescue animals whenever I come across abuse or neglect. If it’s a case of lack of knowledge, I don’t judge and harass the owner, I teach them how to take care of, how to groom, how to feed, daily needs and nutritional needs, etc for whatever animal they have. You’d be amazed how many people who get a horse have no idea the ratio of roughage to body weight is needed for healthy horses.
            I highly doubt I’ll be back to reply again. Do what you can to help what needs help.

  20. Renee Fox-Turbush says:

    I called and ahared this breaks my heart to see that I could not look at that video thank you HSUS for helping these innocent horses who do not deserve this cruel treatment . I pray this stops that the horses are free and happy and are in a good place to be soon!

  21. Kathleen Holland says:

    So the big question is… Did anyone save that horse Play Something Country.. Or just leave it behind to continue suffering?

    • Terese says:

      It is good that you investigate this, but how could anyone stand by and allow this to happen? Why aren’t we seeing someone fight for this horse? Did your “investigator” just allow it to,suffer? How is that any better,than what the “trainers” did?

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi Kathleen, I am the blog editor. It takes several weeks to receive results from the samples that are sent to the lab that show definitely whether or not a horse is being sored. We presented all of our evidence to law enforcement and offered to assist with rescuing the animals. However, we don’t have law enforcement capabilities to be able to carry out search and seizure, so we have to rely on law enforcement to take action. 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. You can help by asking your US Representative and two Senators to support the PAST Act here:

      • Robynne Catheron says:

        Thank you, Valshall, for that information. I knew there was a lot of red tape and waiting on local authorities; any chance this will be swept under the rug?

        Btw, you do an awesome job on this blog. I appreciate it very much.

        • Walkin Man says:

          YES!!!!! It will all go away and you will not hear anything else about it. The reason the Murfreesboro Police has ben “investigating” this matter was so the horses could show at the Celebration. I they really wanted to do something they would have taken the horses immediately, then investigated. They left the horses because Thorson donates a lot of money in the Murfreesboro area, as well as Shelbyville.

    • Maggie says:

      Seizing these horses is not that easy. ThorSport is a very respected barn. Plenty of lawyers and stupid excuses that the court would favor over. They arrested Jimmy, but the horses weren’t seized as far as I know. I could be wrong. But unfortunately they were too late. Play Something Country passed away from colic before they could save him.

  22. Lorraine roberts says:

    My heart breaks for these poor animals

  23. Angela Shields says:

    Can you help organize a protest for this years event? With the amount of publicity from this investigation it would help us channel our energy after we write our lawmakers.

    • David P Bernazani says:

      That’s a good question. I live in California, so I can’t go, but I wonder if anyone near these events goes to protest. Anyone know about this?

    • Robynne Catheron says:

      Angela, FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses) holds protests as often as possible. They’re also dangerous- their president, Theresa Bippen was practically run over by an angry Big Lick supporter last year.

      The best way to help end this is to get the PAST Act out of committee, voted on, and signed into law. But first we need ALL our Congressmembers to co-sponsor!

    • Michelle says:

      The protest is starting at 3:00pm today in Shelbyville, where the big show is starting.

      • David Bernazani says:

        Michelle, how did the demo go? Did you get a good turnout? Did any horse sorers get ugly? If so, I hope you got it on video. Did you post anything about it somewhere?

  24. Jan Pippins says:

    Thank you, HSUS!
    For everyone who reads this and is sickened, PLEASE contact your senators and representatives. If they are already supporting S. 1121: Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act and the PAST Act House Bill, thank them. If they are NOT supporting, urge them to join this compassionate bipartisan effort and sign on to support the PAST Act.

    • Isabelle says:

      I’m 13 and know that everyone has their opinion about padded horses. But there are different people who care for their horses different ways. I know there is some abuse with TWH padded horses, but it isn’t all. But look at race horses, there are probably more sores on them then any other. I hate how everyone goes assuming after a couple articles, that it’s everyone who abuses one kind of horse when it isn’t. Maybe you all that think this way should shut up because this hurts my feelings as a little girl with a love for horses of all kinds. I know MANY padded horses that have never been abused. So keep your nose on your faces. NOT ALL PADDED HORSES ARE ABUSED YOURE JUST IN DENIAL. ✌️

      • Miss Jennifer says:

        Padding IS abuse, honey. Stacks HURT the horse.

        A horse is an animal that prefers to stand the majority of the time and padding makes standing uncomfortable for the horse. Padding is part of soring. A convicted trainer admitted that padding itself sores a horse. Not including all the other things they do to cause severe pain to the horse.

        Have you ever gotten a new pair of shoes that hurt your feet. When you got home from school, it felt so good to take those new shoes off. Well, pads don’t come off. The horse never gets a break. Ever.

      • Maggie says:

        You know many padded horses that are not sored because you refuse to realize what is really going on with them. Stacks do hurt horses. They are standing animals and it can make them feel uncomfortable. It’s a form of soring called “mechanical soring”. It can even strain their muscle structure and in some cases, even dislocate their pasterns from their fetlocks. While not all of them would be completely abusive from chemical soring, it’s still abusive from the stacks. And it’s unfair for the horses that suffer from stacks that you’re approving it.

  25. Melisa Bale says:


  26. Robynne Catheron says:

    If your Congressmembers’ names aren’t on this list, please call them and urge them to co-sponsor the SAFE Act immediately.

  27. Stella M S (@24CarlyS119) says:

    Those of you who vote conservative and put people in power like Steve King.. who wants to make dog fighting legal can thank yourselves for things like this. You want justice for all those abused… vote for Democrats.

  28. Nan Graham says:

    It makes me sad to have to petition to encourage people to do the right thing. Please stop the abuse!

  29. Connie T. says:

    I just don’t understand why these people aren’t prosecuted for animal cruelty without the “soring” legislation. Doesn’t TN have basic animal cruelty laws? I was a Republican for 20 years and left the party five years ago after seeing their horrific record on animal cruelty. I am a member of many animal welfare groups and have a rescue myself, and am sickened by this repeat torture of these animals. I wrote McConnell, Alexander, and many others telling them I left the RNC because of sociopaths like them. How in the hell the RNC blocked the soring legislation last year is just appalling.

    What happened to these horses? Did they get removed from the farm if this video was from July? Someone from HSUS please update us and get these animals away from these people!

    The Tennessee Walking industry needs to be shut down and banned all together.

    • GLM says:

      I completely agree with you!!! I will take one of these animals forever!

    • Walkin Man says:

      TN enacted a very specific and very punishable law about 2 years ago, so that anyone found soring a TWH would get a large fine and jail time.

      AS OF NOW, NOT ONE PERSON HAS BEEN FOUND GUILTY OF SORING. And only one trainer was brought to trail under the law. The case was eventually dismissed because they said, I believe the evidence was to be contaminated. (Don’t quote me on the reason, I’m not sure now, it went to trail several times, and the HSUS rescued the horses, the Judge demanded they be returned to the rightful owners, I believe they refused for different reason, can’t remember all of those either. It got VERY complicated and people gave up trying to follow it.)

    • Maggie says:

      Many of these people get away with this abuse because of scummy coverage. They have endless lawyers, friends, and political puppets that do the work for them so they get away with abuse. Also I think the horses from ThorSport were not seized sense Jimmy’s “friends” kept them for him. And the HSUS wasn’t allowed to take them. As far as i’m aware. Could be wrong. Also the Tennessee senator supports Big Lick which makes it even worse. But hopefully they’ll kick his butt out.

  30. Rhianna says:

    While i dont agree with 90% of this video or the soring practice… how are you gonna put him getting a cast horse up as part of an “abuse” video?

    • barbe says:

      that horse was not cast at all. he was refusing to get up because of the pain. after the yelling and physical prodding didn’t get him up, the idiot grabbed his head an flipped him over so he would scramble and try to rise.

  31. Kris says:

    This is disgusting! I will never think these are beautiful horses again. Ban those shows so these trainers have nothing to go show at. I will never watch one again. Let’s put some of those chemicals on those trainers and wrap their legs!! That is just horrible!

  32. Emily Love says:

    We banned the walking horse classes from our local horse show years ago because our charity was the animal welfare league. The two just don’t go together. I believe the change must come through an American Horse Shows Association ban.

  33. sandra badger says:

    I was in to training and showing for many years not walking horses they also break the tails on these horses so they can set them to hold their tails up. the tail wraps are very painful and they are in them all the time this has to stop

  34. Kathy says:

    This is animal CRUELTY at any level!!! These are beautiful horses being dangerously harmed and cruelty being applied for something UNNATURAL. This is unbelievable the trainers and owners would do this! Arrest, charge and prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, the owners, trainers and anyone else who is involved. Hopefully rescue the horses. Keep up the good work HSUS.
    I am glad our RSPCA has teeth! Kathy. Australia.

  35. Cynthia Shuman says:

    Thank you for the undercover investigation that exposed this horror. Please do tell me that something has been done to RESCUE the horses exposed in this particular video. I understand that the investigator had to endure watching this in order to expose the greater evil, but tell me – have these horses been saved?

    • Vaishali Honawar says:

      Hi Cynthia, unfortunately, the horses in the video are not safe, and they along with many others won’t be safe as long as people are allowed to keep soring horses without consequence. 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.

      • Robynne Catheron says:


        Can’t the HSUS (and/or the state rep) put daily pressure on the district attorney to file charges? You’re much more experienced than I am, of course, but when several of us closed down a local, unethical horse rescue it took lots and lots of phone calls and visits to the DA’s office before they finally filed charges and allowed the horses to be seized. I hope and pray the HSUS keeps the pressure on until those horses are seized and safe, and the cretins in the video are arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty. I imagine it would only be misdemeanor, but I’m going to pray for felony.

        • Maggie says:

          The Tennessee senator supports the Big Lick in unfortunate events. Also a lot of Lickers have become sophisticated at hiding their abuse. And their lawyer puppets and friends back them up. Also they can’t really protest. BillyGoBoy has tried to do that before and got in trouble multiple times for “slander”. Despite the abuse Lickers subject to their horses.

  36. Deb Russo says:

    I’ve signed every petition and written to have bills passed for this. I don’t see why these perpetrators were just not hauled off to jail like an abuser is! My ears are ringing in anger! We’re these horses taken away from the owners ? Pls let us know what actions were taken here

  37. Yolanda Bernhard says:

    I have to throw up …… this monster are still normal ??????
    you should with this scum do the same – always pooh – pooh – pooh
    abolish this ordeal immediately

  38. jan says:

    This sicken me. Hoe.anyone could do this is beyond me. Use the chemicals on the trainers to drive home the message that “this is not okay “. Somebody in the human society needs to step in—rescue the horses and throw these jerky in jail for a very long time.

  39. David P Bernazani says:

    Thank you for your support from the U.K. We’re trying to get it stopped. Please share with any American friends you may have. Thanks again!

  40. Amanda Parkerson says:

    Can someone start a petition to ban the Big Lick gate from the show industry. With the power of social media I’m sure it would gain support! The natural gate of the horse is beautiful all its own. I have written my legislators to support the PAST bill. I am utterly disgusted by this article as this is happening where I live and this barn is in my town. I have never understood why people would treat these horses so horrible especially when they expect them to perform them so the owners make money.

  41. Rachel says:

    How do I adopt this boy?! I would love to have him be with my other Walker and just trail ride him. That’s it. He’d never look at a stack again in his life.

  42. Anonymous says:

    First of all, I’m not saying that there aren’t people out there who mistreat their animals, but this is ridiculous! The majority of the ingredients listed that are “soring” the horses are in fact anti-inflammatories and are used to PREVENT soreness and other illnesses, NOT cause it. The reason these drugs are banned is not because they are harmful, but because they influence how the horse moves and behaves. They want all competitors to be able to compete on the same playing field.

    Camphor- CAMPHOR IN OIL is a respiratory stimulant used as an aid in the treatment of breathing difficulties in horses.
    Methyl Paraben- Recommended to help maintain calmness in horses.
    Methyl salicylate- The drug is used as an anti-inflammatory agent (aspirin), in topical creams and powders to treat ringworm and skin problems, and as an active ingredient in linaments and medicated washes.
    Hydrocarbons- mainly found in various fly sprays and mite/tick prevention

    • David Bernazani says:

      Anonymous: I noticed you didn’t mention the mustard oil used by the “trainers” in this investigation. Is that also supposed to prevent soreness? If so, this veterinary technician is surprised to hear that. And how is camphor oil– that stuff that heats up and causes a burning sensation– supposed to help a horse’s respiratory problems when it’s wrapped up under dressings way down above the hooves?
      And “ringworm and skin problems”? All needing to be treated just before competitions? And all only around the fetlocks?
      Please. Spare us your lame exuses.
      Do you really support the kind of shenanigans that go on behind closed barn doors with these poor horses? If so, no wonder you don’t have the courage to even use your own name.

      • Walkin Man says:


        I like your comments! They are so true, anything that produces heat can be used as a soring agent. They use diesel fuel and HoJo (?) I think that’s what it’s called. It’s a hand cleaner most mechanics use to get grease off their hands.

        And there are others even liniment.

    • Hi, I am the blog editor. According to Mary Beth Sweetland, senior director of investigations for The HSUS, the USDA classifies camphor as both an irritant and a numbing agent because it is capable of both. It is used to numb sored horses’ legs so they don’t react when inspectors press on their pasterns. Methyl paraben is also used as a masking agent for the same reason. Methyl salicylate comes from the reaction of salicylic acid and methanol and it can be used as an irritant. Many people can’t handle aspirin because it irritates the stomach. The soring industry has used many otherwise helpful and even healing substances to sore horses and the commenter has chosen a few. But there’s no explanation as to why butylated hydroxytoluene, sulfur, glycols, organic acids and hydrocarbon mixtures are so prevalent in our test results. Many lab results refer to a hydrocarbon mix being found in the wrapping samples on ThorSport horses. The lab uses the same definition as the USDA to describe “Hydrocarbon Mixture” and it isn’t very pretty – “Defined as a group of various volatile, highly flammable mixtures that are composed of hydrocarbons, benzene, and petroleum ethers, where benzene is a petroleum ether composed of a mixture of alkanes, like pentane, hexane, and heptane.” We’re not talking about fly sprays. As for wrapping horses’ legs being a common practice, indeed it is. It is also used by the soring industry for the nefarious purpose of intensifying the absorption of these nasty chemicals.

  43. Anonymous says:

    And the wraps on the legs are there to create more circulation to make the liniments work quicker and more effectively. They cause heat to build up and circulation is dramatically increased, causing the horse less pain. It is no different than when an athlete applies biofreeze to relieve their pain and soreness.

    • Michelle says:

      mustard oil?
      what is diesel used for?

      • David Bernazani says:

        Michelle, didn’t you know? Diesel oil is the latest high-tech drug used topically as an analgesic and anti inflammatory. It soothes as it heals. At least, it does according to “Anonymous”! According to Mr. No-name, it’s the best thing since snake oil for your horse! Try some today!

    • Connie T. says:

      Anonymous – Spin all you want. Does this horse look like it is enjoying the cocktail applied to it’s legs and hooves? How do you rationalize the groans of pain in the video? Why don’t you apply the same cocktail to your legs and feet and leave it for a few days and report back to us. Also embed the painful inserts and other sick, twisted mechanisms these sociopaths use and get back to us in a few days. I

    • Amelia says:

      Except an athlete is the one creating their own pain; these trusting horses aren’t asking people to inflict pain.

    • Walkin Man says:

      Then why do they first wrap them with plastic wrap before they wrap them in bandages and standing wrap. You my dear are part of the problem!

      I bet you love your horse, now don’t you?

  44. Sue Weisenreider says:

    no petition to sign to stop this???

    • David Bernazani says:

      Sue- I don’t think a petition is going to do much good when even local law enforcement officers don’t investigate, and D.A.’s won’t prosecute these wealthy but cruel owners and handlers. The only thing that will stop them is new, stronger laws banning it like the PAST act the HSUS is trying to get voted on in congress. You can help by spreading the word and get all your friends to call and email your congressmen and ask them to pass it, and become a supporting member of the HSUS. That will help WAY more than any petition.

  45. Jeff says:


    I’ve been a horse-training professional for 50 years – in another discipline – not blameless itself, but nothing as horrific as this.

    Not politically correct or ‘the American Way’, but this stuff should be done to the testicles of the perps. Forget “No cruel and unusual punishment” – it’s apparently not unusual in some venues. I’ll volunteer to inflict the punishment.. I don’t believe in ‘an eye for an eye’ – except in this case.

  46. Priscilla says:

    I find it so disheartening that 50 years since i was a young child trainers were ‘soring’ walking horses. If judges and show personnel will immediately eliminate horses with signs of abuse and black-ball trainers and owners… that will put a dent in this abuse.
    Many events with horses will have a vet check a horse before it can even enter the show arena …

  47. Connie T. says:

    Here is the response from the TN Governor. Is the local branch of the HSUS working to raid this farm and confiscate these animals?

    Dear Connie:

    Thank you for writing and sharing your concerns about Tennessee’s law regarding suspected cases of animal abuse, cruelty and neglect. Your interest in the welfare of animals is commendable.

    As you may know, Title 39, Chapter 14 of the Tennessee Code Annotated provides authority to local humane organizations to investigate cases of animal cruelty. Local humane organizations also have the authority to investigate suspected cases of livestock cruelty with the assistance of a recognized animal husbandry expert such as a county agricultural extension agent or a veterinarian. Under the law, local humane organizations have broad authority including: courts and local law enforcement to prevent further cruelty or otherwise make arrests, taking possession of animals, destroying injured or diseased animals that are beyond recovery, and to placing a lien on animals to help pay for care.

    Local humane organizations provide an important service to communities and we support their efforts. Although authority regarding these matters primarily rests with local organizations and law enforcement, I believe that any type of abuse or neglect of small or large animals is unacceptable and should be dealt with properly.

    Again, thank you for contacting my office. I look forward to hearing from you again on matters of importance to you and your community.

    Warmest regards,

    Bill Haslam

    • David Bernazani says:

      Good job writing to the governor. It looks like he politely told you he doesn’t give a hoot, and is saying the local animal control people are responsible. It appears he won’t lift a finger to help, even though he says “abuse of animals is unacceptable”. Typical politician’s spin and double-talk. I’m sure he panders to the wealthy in his state– if not, he’d probably be out of a job. That’s why only a federal law will help this situation.

  48. Amelia says:

    How in God’s name could anyone do this to these beautiful animals?? “The moral compass of a nation can be seen by the way it treats its animals.” What this says about our country is appalling and disgusting. Most likely the owners/riders knew this was going on, yet did nothing? They are as guilty as the people who actually did this to the horses. If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem. If we don’t get this stopped, then our country is absolutely no better than China, Japan etc where we try to point the finger at their inhumane treatment of animals.

  49. Joe Scott says:

    The issue at hand is that there is NO such thing as a big lick horse that has NEVER been sored. Trainers who have been convicted of this crime and those who have turned away from this evil practice tell that. So the issue of a horse passing the inspection the day of a show doesn’t matter. Just a game of cat and mouse. It’s like a group of women wanting to have a club for virgins ONLY, but yet will allow pregnant women. Catch my drift,, may not have happened right lately but it has happened. It’s all a big joke, and it’s only about money. The walking horse business lost it’s way in the early 50’s when it got into this soring crap for the sake of pleasing the crowd’s of the dwindling horse shows. If they had stuck with the breeding of the early natural walking horses, no telling what that breed would be now. Another sad thing that doesn’t really make the headlines is that a lot of the flat shod, plantation horses are just as sore if not more. Just don’t have as much crap on their feet. I hope the crowds continue to dwindle at the Celebration and other shows because I think that is the only way it can ever be stopped if they don’t outlaw the pads and chains. Yes it will take a toll on a sector of the economy in middle Tenn., but so be it. It was all built on something that is wrong and fake and the poor horse is the one that has paid the price. These people that have tortured these horses will rot in hell.

  50. Joe Scott says:

    These big lick trainers are always insisting that soring is a thing of the past and that people like Jackie McConnell and Barney Davis are just a couple of bad apples in a big barrel. As for myself, I know if I was constantly being wrongly accused for something someone said I had done, I would do anything in my power to prove my innocence. Here is what I would like to suggest to the big lick trainers. “PROVE to the public and the government that you can TRAIN a big lick horse from the ground up with no soring”. They claim they have proven themselves when they pass these ridiculous inspections, which are done so because of every crooked trick of the trade they have learned . And not to mention the crooked inspectors who have been bribed and bought. Back to proving it, they should host a pilot project where a trainer is given a green broke 2 year old walking horse to train as a big lick. The trainer would not be allowed to touch this horse without being overseen by an inspector, cameras would be placed in the stall. The well being of that horse would be accounted for 24 hours a day. I would bet my life that no trainer would volunteer to participate in anything like this.. Why??? because it can’t be done that’s why. A horse that isn’t sore, with a 5 inch chunk of rubber and crap nailed to the bottom of it’s feet will do nothing but trip over his own two front feet. The big lick is NOTHING but a reaction to PAIN. So what I am saying is that once that is clinically proven to ALL, then there is no question at all as to the fate of the big lick. Refer back to my sarcasm in my post above,, finding a big lick horse that isn’t or has never been sore would be like trying to find a pregnant woman who has never had sex. The government is pussy footing around with these thugs and has been since 1970. They know what the facts are and they need to grow the man parts needed to finally do the right thing and to pass the legislation to not only stop soring and showing sore horses, but also to outlaw the reason that soring exists. Get rid of the freak show and bring back Strolling Jim, Merry Wilson and Midnight Sun. Mr. Dement, Mr. Brantley, and Mr. Davis would roll over in their graves if they could see what these rednecks have done to their horse that they devoted their lives to developing. A horse is nothing but a thing, an inanimate object to these big lick people. I do hope I live to see the end of it.

  51. herta laporte says:


  52. Heidi K. says:

    This won’t go unpunished forever, GOD hats animal abuse: English Standard Version
    Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.

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