At Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, repeat soring offenders win championship, ribbons

By on September 5, 2019 with 16 Comments

It is a scenario that would be impossible to fathom anywhere other than within the bizarre world of walking horse competitions. Last Saturday, at the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, the event’s top honor of World Grand Champion went to a horse, I’m Mayhem, trained by a man named Rodney Dick. But here’s the twist: in a month’s time, Dick – who has been previously disqualified for soring animals in his care – begins another 18-month federal disqualification for violating the Horse Protection Act.

If it sounds incredible that someone known to hurt horses should be winning ribbons for their performance, consider this: Dick is not the only scofflaw that the Celebration judges honored this year. In fact, almost all of this year’s winners have been disqualified previously for abusing horses, and/or are waiting to serve a disqualification.

Herbert Derickson, whose horse won second place, will commence a five-year federal disqualification beginning in September 2020, stemming from no less than 26 alleged violations. Gary Edwards, who rode the horse who won third place, has his own history of violations and serving long disqualifications; he will start serving a three-year disqualification in 2022.

Also competing for top honors at the Celebration this year were John Allen Callaway (who, with his brother Bill, served an eight-month federal disqualification in 2018 for alleged violations involving the 2017 World Grand Champion), and Chad Williams, who was a trainer at ThorSport Farm where we conducted an undercover investigation in 2015 and found evidence that the legs of every horse in the training barn had been “treated” with foreign substances prohibited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Jamie Lawrence, who rode in the final class and placed seventh, was convicted in 2016 for a failed attempt to run over an advocate protesting soring at a Columbia, Tenneessee, horse show.

Soring is a terrible practice in which violators intentionally inflict pain on a horse’s legs or hooves, forcing the animal to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.” And while federal law prohibits soring, inadequate regulations as well as the USDA’s soft approach to enforcing the Horse Protection Act has allowed this cruelty to persist for decades. Those who break the law face minimal repercussions, get deferred disqualifications, and are typically allowed to continue carrying out the abuses that got them disqualified in the first place.

A big part of the reason why this culture persists, despite organizations like ours and the media turning a sharp eye on it, is because the industry now largely polices itself – a situation that the USDA itself recognized was inappropriate when it finalized new regulations in early 2017 but later withdrew after President Trump took office. We are suing over that withdrawal and we are also trying to remedy the problem through Congress. Those who are breaking the laws also have supporters of their actions in high places, including the Tennessee state legislature and Congress, or are themselves in positions of authority within the industry.

Both Dick and Derickson serve on the board of the Walking Horse Trainers Association. And there are a few members of Congress, like Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., who have continually tried to block reforms to the industry. For instance, in July, DesJarlais led the small, failed effort to block the landslide House passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693. He likes to claim that there are only a “few bad apples” that continue to sore horses in this industry and once even came to Derickson’s defense in a very public rebuke of the USDA’s efforts to enforce the Horse Protection Act.

The parade of scofflaws at this year’s Celebration provides more compelling evidence than ever before that we need to act fast to reform this industry. With the USDA refusing to implement the final rule that would bring the regulations into compliance with the HPA and cutting violators sweetheart deals, we are working hard to get the Senate to pass the PAST Act. The bill would end the failed and conflict-ridden system of industry self-policing (replacing it with a cadre of third party, independent inspectors trained, licensed and assigned by USDA and accountable to the agency). It would ban devices integral to soring, strengthen penalties and hold abusers accountable.

Walking horses and other related breeds have been victims of soring for more than half a century now, and it is high time we licked this problem for good. Please contact your U.S. Senators today and urge them to cosponsor PAST and do all they can to help enact it.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Gail Yarbrough says:

    Maybe if instead of “serving” periods of disqualification these people were instead serving prison sentences and paying big financial penalties, they would be less likely to violate the law. Put these evil people behind bars where they deserve to be, and where they cannot hurt horses!

  2. Julie Balkd says:

    The jerks who practice this horrible Crim against animals who have no choice should simply have their profession shut down!

  3. Julie Balke says:

    The jerks who practice this horrible Crime against animals who have no choice should simply have their profession shut down!

  4. Michele Jankelow says:

    Absolutely abhorrent people who will do anything to an animal for a rosette and a win! Look at that horses eyes and you have to wonder where is the soul of these people, where is the dignity, respect and kindness that we should share naturally with these majestic beautiful animals. When will these atrocities ever be banned? Surely it is best to show a horse for its natural beauty, paces and know this is what we admire and love!

  5. Ewa Urbanski says:

    Die Besitzer der Pferde sind Verbrecher und sollten wie solche behandelt werden. Statt dessen ist es in diesem Land möglich sie zu ehren. Ein Hoch für die Demokratie für Halunken und gemeine Menschen!!!!!!!!

  6. Dorothy McElwain says:


  7. Mark says:

    This is a bad industry. The politicians like Blackburn,McConnell,Thomas Massey, Andy Barr,robin Webb and rand Paul are all supporters and receive money from the walking horse industry. Senator robin Webb received a suspension for soring and Her trainer has had multiple soaring suspensions. She shows padded horses also and fights to keep this industry going.

  8. Elaine says:

    These amazing horses are born with a natural ability in their gait. They don’t need any “help” from artificial means and what the owners do is cruel and unnecessary. They should be banned at the gate and never enter the ring and even sent to jail and fined. Why has this association allowed the cruel use of devices on these beautiful horses. Their gait is supposed to be natural, not forced, put on blocks and scored. Get back to what they were bred for.

  9. Doug Dahmen says:

    This report and follow up investigation and exposure ought to be visible to the entire country and beyond via 60 Minutes

  10. Barbara Taber says:

    I fully admit that I’m not an expert on legislative processes and do not understand WHY this was not finalized / enacted by the previous administration and able to be revoked?

    I have been in this fight for almost 20 years and I know people who have been in it, often at risk of their own safety, since the late 60s and 70s. This has been a failure by DECADES of governing bodies, agencies, and administrations to uphold Senator Joseph Tydings’ Horse Protection Act of 1970. Then, failure to, not only PASS, but finalize and enact (whatever the appropriate term) the PAST ACT prior to the change of administrations.

    This has been a bipartisan issue for 5 decades, to the best of my knowledge. Please don’t make it a partisan one.

  11. Ellen says:

    As a horse owner, it is my responsibility to protect my horses. These trainers wouldn’t be able to sore animals if owners stopped sending horses to them and were prosecuted …rather than slapping trainers on the wrists.

    • Anne says:

      Absolutely true! Many owners are oblivious to what their winning trainers do to their horses to win – and others turn a blind eye – all for the sake of a ribbon. This happens in all horse disciplines to one degree or another. It’s sad. I don’t allow it – and I’ve been in the horse world for over 40 years. However, I now am plugged into the breed inside talk and know who does what to win. I confess I was ignorant in my younger years and my horses suffered because of it – even though I would never knowingly hurt a horse and have always loved mine.

  12. Diane Higbee says:

    His name says it ALL! DICK,that he certainly is!!!! I will repeat myself once again. Harsher punishments results in fewer crimes!!!! Get these disqusting humans off of these majestic animals backs!!! GOVERMENT DO YOUR JOBS. so tired of paying taxes to not be heard!!! Our goverment is absurd and only is thinking of revenue!!!! These so called humans are an atrocity to life!!! These are breathing living FEELING BEINGS!!! stop the violence!!!!!

  13. Debi Rice says:

    Money talks, honesty walks. As long as there politicians with their money involved in this sport we will never see reform. The only place we have any say is in the voting booth. Do your research and vote them out.

  14. Helene Rothstein says:

    I just found out about this awful practice of soring n I am sick over it. I heard Trump signed the PAST bills which passed the House and Senate. So is the USDA just looking the other way?

    This is absolutely repulsive and must be stopped and the perps arrested and punished!


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