As annual walking horse event begins in Tennessee, country music star Tanya Tucker calls for an end to soring

By on August 27, 2018 with 10 Comments

This week, a few hundred industry participants have gathered in Shelbyville, Tennessee, for the 80th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration: an event that has over the years seen many cruelly treated horses — victims of a practice known as horse soring — exhibited and their owners rewarded with world championships. Horse lovers from around the nation have worked to end soring, the intentional infliction of pain on the horses’ legs and hooves to produce an artificial gait known as the “big lick.” Despite the increased awareness and scrutiny of soring, it continues to plague this beautiful and noble breed. For the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, bringing an end to this torment remains one of our top priorities.

We continue to build broad public support for the passage of the federal Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.1847/S. 2957. Recently, we enlisted country music star Tanya Tucker to produce a video in which the singer, an outspoken advocate for animals, proclaims her revulsion to soring. We released the video last week to coincide with the Celebration, and in it Tucker expresses her support for the PAST Act. This urgently needed legislation will fix serious weaknesses in the 1970 Horse Protection Act and finally bring an end to the cruelty of soring by eliminating the failed system of industry self-policing, prohibiting the use of “stacks” and chains that are integral to the soring of Tennessee walking, racking and spotted saddle horse breeds, and strengthening penalties from a misdemeanor to felony level.

Several lead House and Senate sponsors of the PAST Act last week sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, urging that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service fully enforce the law at the event using all the inspection tools available to the agency, and swiftly prosecute any violators cited at the show. In past years, winners at the event have included horses trained by ThorSport Farm, which, a 2015 investigation by the Humane Society of the United States found, was deeply implicated in soring horses trained at the barn.

APHIS recently released the year-to-date results of inspections conducted at 2018 shows. Not surprisingly, the results reveal fewer or no violations were found at shows at which no USDA staff were present to oversee industry inspectors, compared to shows where USDA inspectors were in attendance. Clearly, self-policing is not working.

Last month, we heard of a 16-year-old Tennessee walking horse, Mel, who was seized along with a mare and colt and turned over to the Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue in West Virginia. The rescue learned that Mel, who had been found knee-deep in feces, was a former world champion who had been painfully sored. Photo by Heart of Phoenix Equine Rescue

Even when industry inspectors do find violations, those industry organizations very seldom impose any penalties whatsoever for those cited, so unless the USDA initiates federal enforcement proceedings, violators get off scot-free.

In an instance that further highlights just how brazen this renegade crowd of lawbreakers involved in soring is, the Celebration recently sold naming rights to its main exhibition arena (now “Maverick Arena”) to Keith and Lorraine Rosbury, owners of the 2017 Celebration World Grand Champion walking horse, Gen’s Black Maverick, for the reported sum of $150,000. The Rosburys and their trainer, Bill Callaway, were cited for Horse Protection Act violations with that very horse at the 2016 Celebration, and were placed on federal disqualification related to that violation shortly after the horse’s win last year.

In recent years, the Humane Society of the United States has submitted several petitions to the USDA, urging the agency to upgrade its regulations to close loopholes, strengthen enforcement and finally, fully crack down on the scofflaw abusers. Although the USDA proposed to implement a final rule that would have addressed many of the persistent problems and a bipartisan group of 154 legislators urged the Trump administration to publish this rule, it stalled when President Trump froze all pending rules upon taking office. To date, the agency has failed to take adequate meaningful action against soring, so earlier this year, we sent a letter demanding satisfactory resolution. Their response was underwhelming and promised no new improvements or initiatives.

The administration’s inaction means that Congress must finally bring the PAST Act to a vote. Tell your senators and representative you want them to co-sponsor PAST if they haven’t already, and do all they can to secure its swift passage so no horse has to ever endure the unnecessary abuse of soring.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Raven Robinson says:

    The fact that the HSUS continuously fails to support the TN Walking Horse trainers and owners who do not participate in soring their horses is appalling. Your organization just loves to point the finger but fails to actually help the breed. Your article persuades the public to believe that every TN walking horse is sored and that is just not true! I own several active and retired performance TN walking horses and I assure you I do everything in my power to ensure that these animals live a happy and healthy life. Not all retired show horses end up in knee deep feces. For instance their are 10 TN walking horses on my farm, 6 retired show horses and 4 pleasure horses, and not a single one of my horses would “pass inspection” as they stand. This is not because of any soring but rather the lack of the immaculate foot care the show horses maintain in order to pass through inspection. TN Walking horses can be turned down for having any “Foreign substance” yes this includes gasoline but it also includes VASELINE!!! Vaseline is used on babies but yet it is too intense for a horses feet? Granted, I am grateful that only healthy horses are showing now but just because a TN walking horse has 6 ounce action device, “Chains”, on his feet doesn’t mean he is being tortured. The horses weigh anywhere between 900-1200 lbs and it is at most 6 ounces on each front foot. Personally, I would much rather see the HSUS use their influence to work with the owners and trainers instead of continuing to spread hate and animosity.

    • Mari says:

      I have had 3 TWHs in my long life. They are loyal, affectionate and anxious to please. What are you trying to say in defense of soring these stoic creatures? That TWHs have immaculate foot care by trainers who beat them into submission and then wrap their feet in acids? All for the sake of an audience more delighted to see the “big lick” than concerned about the physical pain these horses endure to produce this performance. There’s nothing you can say that will erase my memory of videos showing McDonald beating these Walkers or the groans they emit when lying with their feet wrapped in painful substances they must endure until in the show ring. Had any of us, who own horses, treated them in this manner, we would have been arrested for the abuse of animals.

    • Keith Dane says:

      Hi – I’m the senior adviser on equine protection at The HSUS – which does support those who train and use their sound Tennessee Walking Horses through its Now, That’s a Walking Horse! program – and has for several years. We have in the past attempted to work with the big lick HIOs and the Celebration to achieve reforms that would end soring, but those efforts were met with an ill-intended, disingenuous response. This faction of the industry has shown us that it has no desire or intention to clean up its act and end soring – it likes the end result too much – so we have concluded that the action devices and platform shoes (stacks) that are part of the soring process must be outlawed. Many former industry participants have publicly stated that the only way to produce a big lick gait that is competitive is to sore the horse – and this has been borne out in both of our undercover investigations of top, winning training stables, in which every horse in the barn had been sored. These poor victims are far from being “healthy” – and USDA inspectors continue to find sore big lick horses at nearly every show they attend. However, thankfully, they find no or very few Horse Protection Act violations (scar rule or otherwise) on flat shod horses at those shows. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act is needed to protect horses, establish a level, honest playing field for all exhibitors, and restore the badly tarnished reputation of the wonderful Tennessee Walking Horse breed. We invite all those who share our respect and admiration for this horse to join us in our campaign to end soring.

  2. Jamie says:

    Please give us links so we can contact our representatives. Many more people will respond!

  3. Gail Outen says:

    Any cruelty to any animal for any purpose is heinous and needs to be stopped immediately.

    • Trudi says:

      soring is pure animal abuse and that is what people need to know not that you take care of your horses .thank you but don’t act like soring is not what is mostly being seen at these horse shows today

  4. Kathy Goss says:

    I posted this on all of Tanya Tucker’s fan sites on face book and I’m sure they will help. Anyone who loves horses should help with this cause.

  5. Kathy says:

    I posted this on Tanya Tucker’s fans sites and I’m sure they will help. Anyone, who loves horses, should help with this cause

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