USDA may give us a different kind of Celebration

By on August 25, 2016 with 18 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

The annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration begins in Shelbyville, Tennessee, today — the high point of a months-long show season of torture and pain for walking horses subjected to the despicable practice of soring. The good news is, this may be the last year where abused horses are put on show with the blessing of the event’s leadership. Next year, a new Celebration may dawn.

In July, the U. S. Department of Agriculture issued a proposed rule in response to a number of requests in a February 2015 rulemaking petition filed by The HSUS, with pro bono help from the international law firm Latham & Watkins. The proposed rule contains game-changing reforms to end the half-century-long battle against the soring of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses, and related breeds. This cruel practice – where trainers put flesh-burning chemicals on the horse’s feet, or place foreign objects between the shoe and the hoof — has persisted and flourished because of a handful of scofflaw owners and trainers within a segment of the Tennessee walking horse show industry who perpetuate, cover up, and deny the rampant abuse. They’ve also fought in the political realm for decades to block real reform, so that they can continue to abuse horses at their shows. The political allies of the horse soring crowd are using every trick in the book to try to delay or block final action from the USDA.

A year ago today, I wrote about our undercover investigation of ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which 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 USDA under the Horse Protection Act. All of our findings and samples were handed over to the proper authorities in Tennessee. Unfortunately justice was not served for the animals, but this investigation has been viewed well over 500,000 times online and like our 2011 Jackie McConnell investigation, has helped educate the public about the persistence of soring.

Earlier this year, the USDA released their foreign substance results from the 2015 National Celebration and their findings were more indicative and damning of the soring industry than anyone could have expected. Of the 200 random samples taken by the USDA at the industry’s marquee competition, 175 tested positive for illegal foreign substances used to sore horses or temporarily numb them to mask their pain during inspection. This astounding 87.5 percent of samples, an increase from 52 percent at the 2014 Celebration, confirm that soring is on the rise among this class of barbaric trainers.

Prior to those results the USDA also revealed a report showing its inspectors disqualified 181 out of 525 (over 34 percent) of the horses they inspected at last year’s Celebration —a figure in line with the results at nine other shows that agency representatives attended that year. That’s clearly not the work of a few bad actors, but the hallmark of an industry hell-bent on maintaining a tradition of cruelty at all costs.

These USDA reports consistently reveal vast rates of industry noncompliance and clinch the case for federal reform to strengthen enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. The USDA first warned in the Federal Register in 1979 that their secretary would consider removing tall stacked shoes and ankle chains if soring persisted. The agency has repeatedly delivered the same message over the past four decades. In 2010, the USDA Inspector General issued a damning report about non-compliance, but also said there are defects in the law’s enforcement that must change. Last month the USDA, recognizing that more than 300 members of the U.S. House and Senate are publicly signed on to legislation to crack down on abuses, took action to correct some of the big gaps in the law by proposing regulations that would eliminate the stacked shoes and chains, and the industry’s own corrupt self-policing system.

I commend Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for proposing common sense solutions to finally help bring an end to soring and to salvage the walking horse industry, securing its place in the humane economy of the 21st century and beyond. This abuse of horses is an appalling form of cruelty – different, but just as brazen as cockfighting or bullfighting. These abusers have had decades to get their house in order. Through the years, they’ve proved that they’re little more than organized criminals, and the only way to crack down on their racket is to strengthen the law and enforce it without prejudice.

The equine community, animal lovers, and humane-minded people across America must step up and show their support for this proposed rule during the public comment period which ends September 26th. Click here to leave a comment stating your desire to end soring for the welfare of the horses. You can also attend one of the final comment sessions in Riverdale, Maryland, on September 6th, or a virtual meeting on Thursday, September 15th.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sandra Missildine says:

    Thanks HSUS!

  2. Elsie d ferrell says:

    Thank you.could u also help with the slaughter of our wild horses & cruelty of helicopter round ups who buzz & hit them knock them down !

  3. robin cooper says:

    why do they let this happen i though they by they horse show .

  4. AVIS HOLT says:

    I am so glad we are finally seeing results concerning the practice of soring. This is a despicable practice and, hopefully, we’ll finally be seeing an end to it. Thank you, Wayne Pacelle! You are a true advocate for abused animals. God bless you and your staff.

  5. Missi Trubish says:

    Soring is cruel, animal abuse!

  6. penny odell says:

    Please end this cruel and inhumane practice its disgraceful to your country

  7. penny odell says:

    You are showing yourselves to be barbaric

  8. Cheechako says:

    All this still happening despite the evidences you’ve been able to proved. Is an soaring endless battle for everyone mainly for them-horses- However in despite of all tremendous effort the extraordinary team of HSUS accomplish (hats off) Is there any way to go by the back door and demand fulfillment of Amendment 4? Best

    • Sandra Corsini says:

      Ich seh das genauso, warum dauert es jahre endlich dem Schrecken ein Ende zu setzen!! Toll das es echt super Organisationen gibt die sich dafür einsetzen!!!!! Grossen Respekt!!!

  9. Bonnie says:

    This has to stop! So cruel and VERY painful for the helpless horse. Knowledge is the key…if more people understood what was being done to the horses to make them “high step”, anyone with common sense and feelings would put a stop to this cruelty.

  10. B A Ricucci says:

    I cannot believe this barbaric practice is still going on!! I read about this when I was pretty young, as I was into horses of all manner and persuasion. I am now 63 yrs. old, and I guess had just assumed that it was done away with as society became more aware of animal mistreatment [ex.: revised film industry practices which enable film to display that disclaimer in the credits re: “No animal was harmed…”, etc.)]
    These people are sick and should be prosecuted for animal cruelty, in my opinion!
    Fight on – your cause is JUST!!!!

  11. Lisa Hutchinson says:

    This is a very slanted article that doesn’t reveal “ALL” of the facts, in fact it isn’t very factual at all.

  12. Mary W says:

    I once owned a tall, red Tennessee Walker/Quarter horse. He had never been shown or “trained” and when he pranced in our fields it was a thing of beauty. The natural gait came out and I witnessed the beauty of that gait – natural and graceful. It was like a ballerina dancing NOT the stiff and unusual, robotish gait of the show horses. Anything that can be done to stop the ridiculous shows that these owners put on with their pitiful horses should be done. If the owners don’t have a way to showoff, then the horses will win. The shows are all about the owners as I don’t recall my horse ever asking to be in a show and he really didn’t care for ribbons as much as sweet feed.

  13. Patti RaffelsonNolen says:

    Please try and stop the big lick horses…I know first hand what goes on in the show barns and can’t believe it’s still your eyes owners. Trainers will tell you anything you want to hear in order to get a win..politics is the name of the game..the horses pay..there is no reason for a big lick horse…stop!!!

  14. Laurie says:

    Laurie Kimel

    I am so dismayed to hear this brutality is still going on!! I worked in a show barn many years ago. I fell in love with a big very sweet and gentle horse in that barn of expensive show horses. The trainer found him lacking. Not fiery enough or something. So she shocked him with an electric cattle prod. The dear sweet horse got so terrified that he actually jumped into a low crotch of a tree. I believe they had to cut it to free him. P.S. I called the Humane Society and reported the trainer.

  15. judy thorpe says:

    The unimaginable torture and pain these horses are put through for a crumpled ribbon is appalling. The horses look like Nazi soldiers kicking their legs high up in a unnatural robot gait. All the politicians and big wigs can not ignore that this is a cruel sport. This so called sport now fits in the category of dog and cock fighting which is now illegal and banned in the US. No animal should be exposed to suffering for a sport event or entertainment. WE ARE NOW IN THE MODERN ERA AND ANIMAL ABUSE WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!!

  16. Lesley Jolly says:

    I first saw the Big Lick on a video nearly 40 years ago. Living in Australia, I’d never seen anything like it – and I was astounded that there was a breed with such bizarre movement.

    Then I found out what was done to the horses to produce the action (and the strange tail carriage). And I was puzzled – people screaming at shows in excitement, at horses flailing around with huge blocks strapped to their feet, chains on their pasterns, huge shanked bits in their mouths to winch in the head…How could ANYONE think this display was ‘horsemanship’?

    I thought it bizarre and ridiculous 40 years ago. Once I found out HOW it was produced, and still is (I’ve seen the secret videos of horses moaning in agony from soring, and the beatings) – I wondered how on earth it could be allowed under animal welfare laws. It is torture. Institutionalised animal torture. It must be stopped.

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