HSUS/HSLF video lays bare the terrible practice of soring, as industry prepares for annual walking horse ‘Celebration’

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on July 16, 2020 with 27 Comments

Trainers who paint horses’ legs with harsh acids and chemicals that burn through the skin, causing unspeakable pain to the animals, then add heavy shoes and tie chains on top of those wounds to intensify their suffering. Trainers who hit horses with sticks and shove electric prods in their faces to get them to do what they want. Trainers who drag and force horses to stand when they are hurting too much to do so.

A video we are releasing today presents some shocking scenes from the Humane Society of the United States’ undercover investigations of the Tennessee walking horse industry. Above all, it shows the abject cruelty visited upon the animals to get them to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait called the “big lick” at competitions by “soring” the animals.

It is some of the worst animal abuse you will see, but here’s the kicker: it has been allowed to continue for half a century with very little to no accountability for those who break the law.

Even now, as the nation reels under a pandemic, the big lick segment of the industry, after several months of forced shutdowns, is returning to business as usual. Preparations for the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration at an arena in Shelbyville, Tennessee, to be held between August 26 and September 5, appear to be on in full swing, despite a reported increase in coronavirus cases in Bedford County, which is home to Shelbyville.

The only acknowledgement of the coronavirus threat was the organizers noted in their press release that they felt it “prudent to select two alternates for this year’s show in case any of the five initial selections were to fall ill and be forced to quarantine.”

Such callousness is not surprising in an industry that has always put winning ribbons above animal welfare. The Celebration has, in recent years, been little more than a showcase for some of the industry’s worst offenders, and there’s little reason to think that it will be any different this year. In our video, a former big lick trainer says that “without some type of soring, they’re not going to do the big lick.” What that means, essentially, is that a horse who is not sored would not have a chance of winning at the Celebration or any big lick walking horse event.

What has made it easier for these animal abusers to get away with their misdeeds is the increasingly lax enforcement of the Horse Protection Act by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Trump administration. The USDA is charged by Congress with the job of inspecting horses at shows to ensure they have not been sored. But as we have been reporting, the number of citations and enforcement under the law has plummeted in recent years. The USDA has also repeatedly stated that the industry’s self-run inspection programs should be the primary line for enforcing the HPA.

Not surprisingly, those industry groups—riddled with conflicts of interest—rarely, if ever, cite violations or issue penalties, and even allow participants to keep their prizes and titles if they’re found in violation after their wins. Making matters worse, the rider/trainers of the top three placing horses in the Celebration’s World Grand Championship class last year were all slated to begin federal disqualifications after they were allowed to compete. One doesn’t even begin his USDA-set disqualification until after this year’s Celebration, and another, after the 2022 show.

The administration has taken other steps to facilitate the scofflaws. In 2017, the Trump administration withdrew a federal rule that had broad bipartisan support and was finalized in the last week of the Obama administration. That rule would have ended walking horse industry self-regulation and banned the use of the torture devices that are integral to the soring process. The HSUS and Humane Society Legislative Fund are suing the agency for withdrawing the rule.

Congress remains our only hope now if we are to stop this abuse swiftly, and a sweeping majority there, cutting across party lines, is eager to end soring.

Last year, in a historic vote, the House voted to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act by an overwhelming margin of 333 to 96. The bill would ban the use of devices integral to the soring process, end the industry’s failed system of self-policing, and significantly increase penalties for violators. Recently, the House Appropriations Committee also voted to double funding for HPA enforcement in FY2021.

The PAST Act has a bipartisan majority of 52 cosponsors in the Senate but it has languished in the upper chamber for months now because some senators, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, are co-sponsoring competing legislation, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and supported by those engaged in horse soring, which allows the industry to continue policing itself with no accountability and no restriction on the use of soring devices or tougher penalties.

The HSUS and HSLF have long shined the spotlight on soring, and we won’t stop until it’s stamped out for good. As the cruelty on display in our video shows, it is high time for our elected leaders to stop giving cover to those who break the law and bring the PAST Act to a vote on the Senate floor. Please contact your senators to urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act, S. 1007, and do all they can to help secure swift passage of this crucial bill. It’s the only solution now before us to end the gruesome and archaic practice of soring that has caused so much unnecessary suffering for so many horses, all in the name of “entertainment” and for the sake of a ribbon.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Sukura Begum says:

    This makes me sick, I’m so angry. Put these poor excuses for human beings in jail and rescue these horses. Ban these shows and end the torture and cruelty. What sort of sicko does this and goes to watch it. This is allowed in the name of ENTERTAINMENT and to make MONEY!

  2. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    No podemos permitir este tipo de cosas esto no puede seguir pasando no es posible que sigan abusando de los animalitos sólo por diversión

  3. Theresa Braun says:

    Animals should not be tortured for our “entertainment “. And we call them animals? We seem to be the animal

  4. Naila Khalaf says:

    Please stop animal cruelty in all forms!

  5. Nigel Berridge says:

    Why not educate these so called horse breeders how to breed and train horses correctly. In europe horses are bred first and formost then trained with patience and utter care for their welfare and I have personally seen the results that make Tennessee walking horses look like a cheap roadside attraction!

  6. Lesa west says:

    I am so sick and tired of all the people in this world mistreating animals !
    What ever happen to compassion and love ? Protecting them from harm? You know if the laws were Really being changed and people prosecuted every single time for something, then things would start to change !
    Horses used to roam free and Just be happy pets, Or pull people for travel if needed and help on a farm. Now their Using chemicals on their feet and legs so their forced to entertain and walk a certain way Or race that’s inhumane And sickening .
    All kinds of animals are being mistreated and yet it goes on and on,
    for years and years. It will continue unless authority figures change this !
    Lab animals we all know are treated terrible ! And don’t forget roosters and dogs trained to fight. Penalties and investigation need to be harder !
    A lot of pets in the world being abused or kept outside with no food or water or shade,or hurt and no one Cares ! No one !
    Circus animals beat and caged and treated bad .
    Now horses.? Whyyyyyyyyy?
    And what about farm /meat and dairy cows , pigs,chickens etc… we all know how their killed just like all farming animals that put big money on the table are all inhumanely being used for human purposes and killed painfully and their young torn away from them at birth !
    What about freakin China and other countries that still kill Animal? Dogs the main one you hear about used for food and boiled alive ! Omg!
    Now that has gone on forever, and no one will stop it Why?? Alot of the wild gaming animals being hunted for profit and our president Trump supports that ? It’s sickening !
    You hear of new laws but we all know things are never gonna change .Why is their no help for these animals? Why isn’t anyone stopping this that has the power and authority to do so ?
    It doesn’t make sense ! Very very sad to think my grandkids will grow up in a horrible world like ours 🙁

    • Mariann says:

      I could not have said it better about the extent that humans torture animals for their own pleasure in one form or another. And am blaming Mitch McConnell especially regarding the horse soring bill because the buck stops right there and he holds a lot of power as to whether these bills get put on the floor for a vote. And he is on the wrong side of the law with this one.

      • Sue Hemingway says:

        I’ve come to the conclusion that McConnell isn’t the one to blame. It’s the people voting for him. People who neither know or care that the person they wish to represent them has his pockets lined with the ‘Good Ol’ Boyz’ blood money. Who believes in this ‘proud American tradition’ of majority, hugely over weight folk sitting on the weakest part of their horses back, their long spurs scraping their horses stifles, pitched forward, hunched back, hauling on 12 inch shank elevator bits as their horses heave and blow just to pick up their obscenely tortured, weighted hooves, pain shooting up their legs as their fetlocks and sensitive coronet bands are bashed with every stride.
        Anyone who voted for such a man and believes in God should fear your punishment for supporting the life long torture of one of his creations.

    • Lisa says:

      😥😥😥 Ms. West,
      I agree with everything You have posted. If the world was filled with people like You, we would have peace, compassion and healthy, happy children. The water and air would be clean, the world’s ecosystems would have more balance instead of species going extinct. But many of our world leaders, (political, religious, business) want only money and power for their egos and luxury. Caring for animals and the earth will not be their priority until the people of all countries stop supporting businesses and city council members that do not respect our children’s future. All ecosystems must be honored and left intact. The flora and fauna of healthy ecosystems will produce oxygen and cleanse the water.
      We people are very powerful. We can all “vote” with every purchase we make, everyday. Never attend a circus, horse race, dog race, bull fight, dog or cock fight. Do not buy cosmetics without the “no animal testing” mark on them. Decrease some of the dairy and meat in your weekly diet. Do not buy anything with fur or leather for example, purses, billfolds and belts made of ostrich or crocodile, some leather from products made in China or Korea may be dog leather. Check the ingredients label for palm oil. Do not buy products with palm oil because it drives the Brazil rain forests to be burned down to make room for palm oil plantations.
      We must do this ourselves. We must change the products and eliminate the animal entertainment industry by boycotting the animal products and entertainment.
      We can all make our daily purchases more animal friendly. If we stop buying the animal product, the industry that makes the product will go out of business.
      Teach our children, we must show our children how to make good choices when they buy clothes and explain why. Explain why the circus and animal races are pure evil for money.
      We cannot depend on our world leaders to make the changes. And even if there are laws, people are better to obey the laws when they understand why and how the laws protect their children.

    • Sharon nash says:

      Very well said
      Stop all cruelty, it is evil and sadistic.

  7. Deborah C Anderson says:

    Only the vilest of humans would treat an animal like this.

  8. Ewa Urbanski says:

    In welcher Welt leben wir.Diese Praktiken gehören bestraft .Es muss endlich aufhören diese grausame Umgang mit den Tieren im 21 Jahrhundert egal um welche Tiere es sich handelt.

  9. Yvette Rubery says:

    Why are people so heinous and vile!? There needs to be stricter laws to protect all animals!

  10. Lorraine says:

    Why is thus even allowed. This is terrible animal abuse. Unacceptable period not to say bloody shocking and brutal in every way.

  11. Karen Frederick says:

    When is this going to be stopped? I have signed petitions for a few years now. I would think this falls under the animal cruelty law.

  12. Elaine v. Gentry says:

    WTH! The people who do this should be charged with animal cruely. Put humans in the horses place and the world would be outraged. Inhumane treatment. Breaks my heart.

  13. Patricia Carlin says:

    Inhumane is not an adequate word to describe this practice of soring. Torturing the horses is the word. Nothing will change in the US unless the fines are heavy and it is a felony or more severe legal punishment. This practice sickens me and many horses in the South are suffering. In the North there is another terrible practice to get horses to jump over higher rails. The ankles are burned and wrapped tight with leg wraps. The horse jumps higher trying to elimate the pressure under the leg wraps to get relief from the pain. I run a boarding facility with a trainer. Over the years I have had many horses here and I make it perfectly clear that any abuse in any form will not be tolerated. I live on the premises and I see everything that goes on. If you see something, say something and report it to any and everyone who will listen.

  14. Patricia Carlin says:


  15. Miranda says:

    This has to stop how on earth someone approves this

  16. Judy says:

    What really will stop this… its like barbaric watching those poor horses walk like some robot to please some of the public who see nothing wrong with this… its animal abuse and they have encourage it by have contests and who suffers the poor horse who has had acid etc brushed on their ankles and then heavy weights put on them what kind of civilized human does this! Is Tennessee such a mental challenged state that they allow this kind of entertainment for a ribbon … what next legal dog fights or is that OK to..!

  17. Monica Drexler Bergman says:

    Dear HSUS put out another petition to stop this please! I made one some years ago but it didn’t help. I also wrote the Tennessee walking horse celebration arragours almost on a daily basis to let them know the world is watching in discust on their show of torture. But that didn’t help either.
    Put your video in the petition and make it catch viral fire on social media worldwide. Please!
    Bless you for your work.

  18. Marie Adams says:

    Why is this allowed to go on. Don’t understand what people get out of this barbaric act of cruelty

  19. Kathleen Moore says:

    Please stop this insanity!!!

  20. Wendy Symons says:

    The horses don,t look natural using that gait,they are in pain,not relaxed and it is INHUMAN to do this,poor horses.

  21. Bev says:

    Just the look on that horse’s face is horrifying. How can they think that tortured horses look “pretty”?

  22. Joanne Alderman says:

    Soring Horses is totally INHUMANE, now they are TRIPPING the horses and DRAGING them while the audience just laughs at the Kentucky Race Tracts- we MUST stop this cruelty, NOW-PLEASE!!!!!!!

  23. Heather Johnson says:

    If you believe in this practice of soring or racing a injured animal your not a good person, for a .25 cent blue ribbon. These folks should be fined thousands and jail time. 😢😡😠

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