USDA Lab Results Show Horse Soring Crowd Looks More Than Ever Like Organized Criminals

By on February 2, 2016 with 17 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Trainers and owners in the “Big Lick” segment of the Tennessee Walking horse show world are addicted to injuring horses and breaking federal and state laws against animal cruelty in order to win ribbons at major horse shows. For evidence of that, look no further than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest test results from sampling conducted at the Celebration — the Tennessee walking horse industry’s marquee competition and the very sort of high-profile event that should prompt the competitors to be on their best behavior.

Of the 200 random samples taken by the USDA at the 2015 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, 175 tested positive for illegal foreign substances used to “sore” horses or temporarily numb them to mask their pain during inspection. Soring is the deliberate infliction of pain to the hooves and legs of these show horses by mechanical or chemical means in order to create an exaggerated, high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick.”

These damning results released days ago by the USDA shatter claims from the Big Lick faction of the Tennessee walking horse industry that it has cleaned up its act and that soring hardly ever occurs. The USDA data demonstrate that owners and trainers who abused horses to achieve this gait not only participated in the Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee, but that many were rewarded with top honors. Play Something Country – a horse who was documented by a 2015 HSUS investigation moaning in pain on his stall floor after having harsh chemicals slathered on his legs – placed second twice, including a World Grand Championship. He’s Vida Blue made it into the final class of the Celebration and was awarded Reserve Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion, but died not long after due to colic, a condition sometimes induced by stress and common among Big Lick walking horses.

An HSUS undercover investigation into ThorSport Farm, a well-known walking horse training barn, documented that eight horses who competed in the 2015 Celebration were sored at the training barn in the months leading up to the show. Wrapping samples taken directly from these horses during the investigation tested positive for substances banned from the show ring under the federal Horse Protection Act. Vitamin E acetate, isopropyl palmitate, sulfur, and cholesterol were among the substances identified in both the HSUS investigation and the USDA’s testing of horses at the Celebration – all are used in the soring process.

The purpose of the USDA testing is to prevent recidivist owners and trainers from tormenting and harming horses to win ribbons at horse shows. This year,  87.5 percent of the samples tested positive for prohibited substances – a significant jump from 52 percent in 2014 — once again underscoring the fact that soring is the norm among a class of these horsemen. It also begs the question: how can anyone credibly believe this industry is capable of self-reform? With this level of lawbreaking, the whole enterprise is something akin to an organized criminal association.

The “foreign substance results” come just months after the USDA released a report revealing its inspectors disqualified 181 out of 525 (over 34 percent) of the horses they inspected at the 2015 Celebration—a figure in line with the results at nine other shows that agency representatives attended last year.  That’s not a few bad apples, but a rotten barrel.

The USDA’s findings clinch the case for federal reform to strengthen enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 3268/S. 1121, will protect horses from horrific abuse and create a level playing field for responsible walking horse owners and trainers. This anti-cruelty legislation will prohibit soring, eliminate the corrupt system of industry self-policing, provide stronger penalties for violators, and ban the use of chains, stacked shoes, and other devices used in soring walking horses and related breeds.

The PAST Act already has the overwhelming bipartisan support of more than 300 Senate and House cosponsors and is backed by the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the National Sheriffs’ Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, among hundreds of endorsements. We call on Congress to take note of these latest USDA findings and pass the PAST Act without further delay. These cruel lawbreakers should not be coddled or tolerated, and their legislative maneuverings should not be allowed to prevail. The rule of law matters, and it is time to put that principle into practice.

Help horses by supporting the PAST Act »

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Deborah Stewart says:

    Stop abuse of these beautiful animals! They are not here for our greedy purposes.

  2. David Bernazani says:

    I’m so sick and tired of waiting for Congress to pass the PAST act. They need to get their act together and get it into law– NOW– and stop this outrageous cruelty to horses.

  3. Jamie Barnett says:

    This has to stop now!!! Put them in jail.. It’s illegal ..

  4. Cheryl Leitch says:

    This is so heartbreaking. Please find a way to discredit their illegal wins and stop this practice and stop them from entering any events

  5. Regina Jordan says:

    All this is well and good and I support ending soring in horses but it must end in all breeds. Not all walking horses are sore. Bad trainers should be addressed instead of the walking horse breed. There is other breeds subject to abusive methods. This includes the American saddlebred. They aren’t born stepping high. They are sored but you never hear about them being checked and a target of a campaign to stop them from showing. If you are going to end animal cruelty then go to all breeds. Rodeo horses are subject to abuse. Due from broken backs and other horrors. Calfs necks broke from ropes. Race horses die every day on the track. Jumpers made to jump excessive high jumps and injuries result. Stop attacking one breed when you could care less about the cruelty across the board. Horses dying from starvation and sent to kill pens. If you care about horses step up to all not just a few you want to attack and take the focus off of all horses in competition.

    • Betty Byrd says:

      American Saddlebreds are not sored! They trot, and would show up lame if they were sored. Most of the top show horses are born with a natural high stepping gait. They are shown in a heavy shoe, and a little pad in some classes, but nothing compared to big lick walking horses. I know this first hand, because I showed ASB’s for 25 yrs., never saw any abuse. I love walking horses, I currently own one that is keg shod that I trail ride, but at sometime in his life he was sored and shown in stacks, his pasterns bear the scars from this treatment, and one hoof is damaged from a band from wearing heavy stacks and shoes. One thing for sure, he will never have to suffer that treatment anymore. The PAST act needs to be passed, because the Big Lick faction will never change their ways. Shame on Lamar Alexander for not supporting this act, Big Lick is the shame of the state of TN.

    • Robynne Catheron says:

      Regina, I admire your compassion and appreciate your frustration. In HSUS’s defense, investigations into cruelty to ALL animals is constantly ongoing, including Saddlebreds and Quarter Horses (abuse in the western pleasure community is rampant). This particular blog post just happens to be about the TWH soring issue.

    • Lindsay Bunter says:

      You are completely off base whem you point a finger about ASB s not being born with a high , elevated way of trotting and no trainer in the ASB industry that has the respect of their peers would be associated with soring.If I could post some photos I would show you what a elevant Saddlebred foal looks like trotting in the pasture, but there s re plenty to find if you care to look.

    • Linda H says:

      Quit lumping American Saddlebreds in with Tennessee Walking horses. Most ARE born stepping high. Go to and see all the pictures of the baby horses trotting level next to their moms. American Saddlebred horses are not sored. They must trot in every class and any lameness would show up. Lame horses are excused from the class. Saddlebreds may use light chains in their training but they are never ever allowed to show in them.
      Also, they are members of the USA Equestrian organization which looks out for the welfare of the horses and does random drug testing at all USA Eq rated shows. The Tennessee a Walking Horse breed was kicked out of the organization ( then called the American Horse Show Association) decades ago for their constant abuse of their Tennessee Walking Horses.

    • kathy saunders says:

      no,saddlebreds are not sored,they could not trot if they were,remember ,theyare part of USEF and subjected to testing, so no you are dead wrong on that part,but correct with the rest.

  6. Karen says:

    One of our 4-H members used this topic for her public speaking topic. It was a terrific way for her to get the message out! Way to go Ashley!

  7. Robynne Catheron says:

    The PAST Act desperately needs co-sponsors, and that’s where we come in. We all need to ensure our own legislators have signed on as co-sponsors. If they haven’t, KEEP CALLING AND/OR VISITING THEIR OFFICES UNTIL THEY DO. They work for us, remember? We pay their salaries!

    The PAST Act also needs additional Congressional supporters who aren’t afraid to push this bill through. If enough committee members insist, the bill might at least get to the floor for a vote this time. And, God willing, the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader won’t prevent its passage, like last year.

    HSUS, you have a big and powerful voice. The horses need you to fight for them at the highest level. Get your day in court- speak for them in the Senate and the House!

    In the meantime, HSUS, I hope you will urge the local law enforcement agencies to earn their pay by prosecuting EVERY SINGLE violation of the Horse Protection Act. Put the hammer down. Fine them heavily, and award them lengthy jail time.

    HSUS, I have every confidence that you will back up your words with action. Your blogs on this issue do well to get your readers fired up, but we expect you to do the same. Get fired up and finally take action against these evil cretins. Actions speak louder than words, remember. We’re tired of waiting.

  8. Robin Gassler says:

    The Tennessee Walking Horse association must STOP big lick classes completely!! Until they eliminate the prizes and awards completely the horrifying mutilation of big lick horses feet will NEVER stop!! Maybe it’s time for a different organization to take over the registration of Tennessee Walking horses!!!

  9. Evelyn says:

    All that pain and suffering for a stupid ribon what’s wrong with those people making animal suffer the government has to get of its high horse and ban cruelty to horses and all animals !they should be punished like every other criminal that’s what they are cruiel evik greedy and selfish

  10. PD Ehrenberg says:

    Look to big supporters of TN Walking Horses ie: Senator Lamar Alexander, Rep. Marshall Blackburn & many of the alleged Christian conservatives in the TN legislature. I wonder where @GovBill Haslam goes on this issue?
    Does the UT vet school teach soring practices in their large animal
    specialty curriculum?

  11. WonkyGirl says:

    Please don’t call these trainers “horsemen”. Call them what they truly are… abusers, evil, greedy, anything but horsemen.

  12. Denise H Hearn says:

    As a young girl who was horse crazy I participated in showing TN walking horses from age 10. Had I been more aware of what was done to the animals to create the exaggerated gait, and had I neen able to tell my elders what I thought, I would have quit at age 12. But I wasn’t and I didn’t. I feel ashamed of what the industry has become and I am 100%fl for stopping this cruelty.
    Please push the law through to prosecute and impose more severe penalties, completely shut down stables and impose prison time and fines for those who continue this practice of soring and other methods. It should include all stable personnel who continued to follow instruction of the trainer to perform such cruelties. At present, when you shut down one such offender, the owners move the horse to another trainer. These owners, if found to have perpetuated the cruelty by moving their horse to snothervabusive stable, should also face penalties. Dig up the truth and prosecute.
    Horses are the most majestic of God’s creations in my opinion. We humans, the alleged more intelligent and compassionate, we’re put on earth to care for and oversee the animals. In the case of the Tennessee walking horse we have failed miserably.

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