Walking horse trainers expected to put injured, tortured horses on display at major event in Tennessee this weekend

By on August 24, 2017 with 25 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

As in previous years, the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration will be tainted with organized criminal activity – animal cruelty, to be specific – as the major event for this industry heads into its first weekend in Shelbyville, Tennessee. After a long show season of torture and abuse, many Tennessee walking horse trainers double down on cruelty to win championship prizes by performing the “Big Lick,” a manufactured, pain-based gait these abusers practice and applaud. It’s all done for a two-dollar blue ribbon and the fading applause generated by a shrinking base of followers within this small, corrupt slice of the horse show world.

This time last year, when I wrote about the Celebration, I expressed hope for a transformed event – a clean show that puts the natural talents of horses and riders together in fair competition, without the taint or tarnish of cheating and abuse. But that day has been indefinitely delayed because of a fumble in the final days of the Obama administration when bureaucrats didn’t properly finalize a rule to reform the industry. The Trump administration then froze all Obama rules in motion, including the anti-soring proposal, and that, at least for the time being, has maintained the status quo – where soring is illegal, but the law against it is nearly half a century old and full of holes that lawbreakers exploit.

The Obama rule contained game-changing reforms – banning the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and eliminating an industry self-regulation program – which promised to end the 50-year-long battle against the soring of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses, and related breeds. This cruel practice – where trainers put flesh-burning chemicals such as mustard oil and diesel fuel on the horse’s feet, or place sharp foreign objects between the shoe and the hoof — has continued because of the scofflaw conduct of a few hundred owners and trainers who want to get a leg up on their competitors.

For years they fought off reforms, but the Obama rule would have been their undoing. Yet, even with that rule in abeyance, they are still pleading for the attention of their small but influential cadre of allies on Capitol Hill to carry their false narrative. But these lawmakers have an uphill climb, given the immense bipartisan support for legislation that is even stronger than the anti-soring rule that was sidetracked. The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, H.R. 1847, introduced by U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., has 252 cosponsors in the House – well more than a House majority, and heading toward the 300 mark. Both Yoho and Schrader are veterinarians, and their bill has the support of the American Horse Council, American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and the National Sheriffs’ Association, to name just a few.

Two years ago this week, I wrote about our undercover investigation of ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. 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. 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, as with a prior investigation in 2011 exposing trainer Jackie McConnell’s misdeeds, it has helped educate the public about the persistence of soring and cement our case before Congress.

Last year, even using the existing weak federal law, USDA inspectors found 160 padded horses to be noncompliant with the HPA, out of 529 of the padded horses they examined at the 2016 Celebration — that is an astounding 30.25 percent of “big lick” horses in violation of federal law. 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. The numbers vary slightly from year to year, but we see mass lawbreaking at the Celebration every year.

This abuse of horses is an appalling form of cruelty and a crime – different, but just as brazen as cockfighting. These abusers have had decades to get their house in order and they’ve proven that they’re little more than organized criminals. Leaders in Congress must step up and show their support for the PAST Act, and bring it to the House floor for a vote. And the president should direct the USDA to revive the anti-soring rule, so that the federal government speaks with a clear voice that this intentional cruelty won’t be tolerated in the United States.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. J Weeks says:

    How can citizens help? Can we go picket the show? Can we get the media there to shine more light on the abuse? How is it that this abuse is happening right out in the public spotlight, and it is not stopped? In fact, people still cheer it on! The Big Lick isn’t even attractive. It’s gross.

  2. Laura Gennity says:

    Why with all the petitions out ther, some with great success, have I never found one relating to this issue I had a walker when I was a teenager and barely green-broke when I got her she had an amazing gate naturally… Do something NOW…

  3. Christine says:

    this is animal torture-caustic chemicals used on their hooves to make it painful to walk

  4. Karyn B Chapman says:

    I agree the horrible ABUSE needs to STOP!!! Trump would make a LOT more supporters if he would STEP UP AND STOP THIS ABUSE NOW!!

  5. Diane says:

    This is a pathetic way to win a championship!
    These poor horses go through agonizing pain! This should be outlawed.
    Unfair to participating in such events should be illegal this is like cheating! The same as a car driver that would add something to his car enhanced to win. This is not showing how good your horse performs in an event ! It’s cheating you painfully do something to your horse to try to win the championship ! This entire event should be stopped immediately all trainers disqualified for tampering with their horses to win! Then the trainers should be arrested for animal abuse. People are going beyond humane treatment to these horses! No one should pay to see horses suffer in agonizing pain just to have someone think they are great at winning a trophy! You aren’t! You are a nobody! You cheated you are cruel to the horse! Lock him up, you just won handcuffs and a ride to jail!

  6. Lisa Larsen says:


  7. Mary says:

    Cruelty and abuse of any animal, including horses, should not be legal.

  8. Kathryn Kut says:

    I rode in a show horse that uses a weighted shoes. The equine trainers, are (some) are brutal, and will find a way around this. Or find a way to make this not happen.

    I believe that if we can get video, of this. The public therefore there constituents and see how inhuman it is, possible a TN Walker before trainer, and this horrific devices, then what it does to same horse.

    My thoughts, I hope I’ve helped!!

  9. Janet Shettle says:

    Please!!! Stop this torturous practice of scoring horses!!!!!

  10. Kristi Stearns says:

    These are greedy, disgusting humans who put their money before the well being of beautiful animals. I decpise all of you!!!!

  11. Mary Ann cummings says:

    We are supposed to have dominion over the animals. This is a stewardship responsibility. If humans want to create a sport which hurts another living thing that sport should be among consenting adult humans. Horses do not want to participate

  12. Elaine M Lang says:

    The only way to get rid of this disgusting and un American abuse of our horses is to BAN ALL BIG LICK SHOWS and put into place a law stating all gaited horses to be shown NATURAL (no shoes or lite shod only). Also, the way these trainers have forced such a totally aberrant and ugly gait on a horse that is born with beautiful natural gaits is in itself abhorrent. The judges should be ashamed of themselves. And they call themselves HORSEMEN!? I DON’T THINK SO……….

  13. Mrs jocelyn m Jenkins says:

    Absolute and basic cruelty to animals. The USA should be ashamed to condone this, going back to the Middle Ages . Words are inadequate to describe what is being done

  14. Ileana Rivera says:

    If this is ur horse n u say u love him. What kind of love is this? He’s in pain. Care for him n stop torturing him. Poor dear, he’s probably in excruciating pain. Have some compassion. God loves animal n when u mistreat them or abuse them, eventually ur gonna have to deal w God. I pity u. God wrath is not to take likely.

  15. Anita Sturms says:

    This is awefull. ..I owe walking horses that are beautiful animals..I couldn’t imagine doing anything like this to cause them harm just to make some money ..clearly these people are selfish and don’t think about the animals just themselves and don’t care about the animals just about making money

  16. Betty Everett says:

    I showed Walking horses in the 60’s and they were flat shod. We did no soring. This must be stopped at all cost. These are God’s Creatures and they demanded to be treated as such. God is not going to be very forgiving for those who are in a position to do something but stand by and do NOTHING.

  17. Jane says:

    Please treat those that practice this cruelty with the same torture!!! End this horrific and painful practice now!

  18. Fred Crum says:

    It is very interesting to watch old videos of great horses before all the pads, action devices etc. started. Strolling Jim, Midnight Sun and many others. It just boggles my mind to think what we might have today if these inhumane practces had been outlawed when introduced in late 50’s. After the soring started many breeders produced super pacy colts that could win championships with pads and musterd oil and these same horses were not capable of any decent gait if taken off pads. Don’t. get me wrong. A lot of the padded horses today would make good flat shod pleasure horses if given the chance, but there would be a heck of a lot more good horses if soring had never started.

  19. Jacquelyn Gualtieri says:

    Anyone who is interested in helping the cause can support “WE, The People” – CCABLAC (Citizens Campaign Against “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty) – represents ‘The Horses’ Who Cannot Speak For Themselves. They have done amazing things. Check them out, they need all the support they can get to stop the Big Lick: https://www.change.org/f/the-celebration-campaign-to-take-down-big-lick-animal-cruelty?source_location=petition_show

  20. Susan says:

    Here we are several years later. Little has really changed. I think the approach has been wrong. You aren’t going to install sensitivity into the trainers,owners and farriers. Yes. I said farriers. Who builds the stacks? Who puts the sharps in the stacks? TWH is money driven first and foremost Dry up the money and the Big Luck stops. Tell the owners of businesses that advertise and it work TWH shows that they have lost your business and mean it. All horses participating in a show must be physically examined to include an ultrasound. If just one horse doesn’t pass the exam, the entire stable is thrown out, for fitting all entry and stable fees.

  21. taylor says:

    y’all know that soreing is illegal and if any scar, heat or pressure is found in the hoof by DQP then they don’t pass inspection and they can’t show their horse and they also get in big trouble. most big lick trainers don’t sore anymore because not only does it cause the horse to not perform at its best but it lessens their years of showing. no hate just stating facts.

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