Annual ‘celebration’ highlights the need to stop cruelty to horses

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on September 6, 2023 with 14 Comments

Last week, members of the Humane Society of the United States’ Equine Protection team traveled to Tennessee to evaluate the condition of the horses at the 85th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. In the weeks leading up to the show, we posted billboards in town to expose the cruelty of horse soring, painful methods that create an artificial, exaggerated high-stepping gait, which is celebrated at this annual event.

What our team witnessed at this spectacle was further evidence of the need for drastic reform in enforcement of the federal Horse Protection Act. Horses, some of them so obviously lame that a judge in any other equestrian discipline would have disqualified them from competition, struggled in the show ring, flailing their legs in the air in the performance of the pain-based “Big Lick” gait produced by soring.

John Allan Callaway, who served an eight-month federal disqualification ending in 2018 for alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act, won the Celebration’s grand championship.

The overriding question that our staff left Tennessee with was: Can this be the last Walking Horse Celebration where animal cruelty is displayed and even handsomely rewarded?

Protect horses from the cruel practice of soring!

We believed we had that answer six years ago, when in 2017 under the Obama/Biden Administration’s Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a rule to upgrade its regulations to end horse soring. But that rule was frozen by the incoming administration.

To end horse soring, we and our supporters are urging the federal government to implement a new, strong rule against the practice under the Horse Protection Act. The HSUS

We sued the USDA for failing to follow the legal procedures to withdraw a final rule, and when Vilsack returned as secretary of agriculture under the Biden/Harris administration, we hoped the agency would restore it. However, this July, the USDA announced that it would withdraw the rule legally.

We and more than 92,000 supporters objected to this during a comment period and urged the USDA to work swiftly to implement a new, strong rule to end soring.

Thankfully, the USDA has proposed such a rule that holds the promise of finally bringing relief to the victims of this cruelty.

The proposed rule does much of what the 2017 one did: It eliminates the use on Tennessee walking and racking horses of “action devices” to sore their ankles and pads nailed to their hooves that cause pain, conceal sharp or hard objects jammed into their tender soles, and hide other damage intentionally inflicted on the hooves.

But we believe that the rule should include spotted saddle horses, too, as they are also victims of soring, and ban the use on all three breeds of heavy shoes that are known to cause pain to and even tear off part of horses’ hooves. The USDA says it plans to delay the ban on hoof pads until 270 days after the rule’s finalization, claiming that horses need six to eight months to come down off the tall platform shoes (a claim rejected by the veterinary community), even though the agency says soring continues through their use. That’s not acceptable.

While the new rule replaces the failed existing industry-run self-policing scheme with one administered solely by the USDA, it appears to allow event managers to choose which USDA-approved inspectors to hire to diagnose horses for soring at their events. This leaves open the potential for inspectors to turn a blind eye to soring in order to secure more inspection jobs, as has been the case with industry inspectors in the current system.

Since USDA officials will likely only attend a fraction of events covered by the Horse Protection Act to observe and supervise approved inspectors, we contend that the agency should be the one to assign them to shows.

The comment period for the proposed new rule closes on Oct. 20. This rule, if implemented and enforced properly, has the potential to end the decades-long torment of horses in the Walking horse industry. So, it’s imperative that we all raise our voices to tell the USDA to implement the rule (with amendments needed to strengthen it) as soon as possible. That would truly finally be a cause for celebration.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Marilyn J says:

    Thank you, HSUS, for staying the course on this barbaric, should-be-illegal, animal cruelty. That old term, “follow the money” seems to be the driving force. I’m wondering if lawsuits, initiatives, or other legal action would end it–since over 30 years of effort haven’t worked.
    Lawsuit: A person’s witnessing the cruel, unnatural, artificially inflicted pain the horse(s) is(are) going through results in an injurious “traumatizing” experience to that person; or
    Initiative or Proposition: A state-by-state ballot measure to make soring (or any such intentional pain) an enforceable felony with hefty fines and incarceration penalties.
    Other: An Injunction or a Restraining Order to stop the shows and all processes or steps that inflict pain to attain the Big Lick.

  2. Holly Yates says:

    As a previous owner of a twh who wore regular horseshoes and was never sored or hurt in any way I applaud this new rule. These poor horses need our support and their owners and riders who do this need to be held accountable.

  3. Alan Alejandro Maldonado Ortiz says:

    No es justo tanta inhumanidad y crueldad no podemos permitir más abusos, crueldad e inhumanidad

  4. Beth Nordmeyer says:

    The elites that sore these horses are a politically involved group that BUYS CRUELTY! Taxpayers have had enough of this corruption. Shelbyville is a hot spot for Big Lick supporters. Vilsack is a disgrace, he has willingly allowed these monsters to continue this heinous cruelty all for a trophy. IT IS TIME TAXPAYERS ARE HEARD AND BIG LICK DISMANTLED ONCE AND FOR ALL!

  5. Leigh Ann Ciesielski says:

    It’s completely unbelieveable to me that this is allowed!!!!!!!!! How do the participants sleep at night!!!!???? My heart is breaking and l pray this stops.

  6. Gale nmn David says:

    I quit showing my TWH horses and fired my trainer and instructed him to bring MY horses to MY Barn w/in 24 hours. Why did I do this? I gave my trainer EXPLICIT direction prohibiting soring my horses in any way. When I arrived at the show, my champion (without soring) gelding was in his stall in the “standing in the bucket posture,” to with all four feet were together under the middle of his body which is one way a horse tried to minimize his pain. I told him to “sound up” my horse before bringing him to my barn TODAY! He tried to talk me into showing because I would b forfeiting, entry fees, show barn/stabling fees, his costs of transporting mu horse and “training him on site,” etc. to the tune of several thousand dollars. I informed him I will gladly forfeit as no stinking piece of satin is worth my horse suffering.
    I did show my horses again under my training in pleasure divisions and still won lots of satin and trophies with my SOUND horses.

  7. Marian Cox says:

    I remember this because I have signed up to have all of this stop because we will win for all the animals and wildlife I have been working for a long time to get the word out to the Animal Rights group to help to pass the law to have all animal abuser to be put in jail that is what we are working on let’s go in and put them in jail for the animal abuse yes it is so sad to see how people done care about animals and wildlife my last word is God Bless America and our country sending prayers.memer of the United States of America Human Society of Missouri Animals Rights member

  8. Pam Wilmoth says:

    If your feet hurt you complain these are living breathing graces animals they have a heart a mind and all the love to give and you treat them like this you will answer for this abuse this is unacceptable. Stop this HORRIBLE ABUSE.

  9. Ellen Thrasher says:

    I read the article about the Obama administration failing to get the law passed , before he left office of 8 years banning horse Soaring . As any New President coming into office, the new President stops any and all laws pending from the outgoing President . The Humane society is blaming President Trump for not getting the law passed, but The Humane Society has had 30 YEARS and many presidents to stop this horrific practice! President Trump may not be aware of this law. This horrific practice is enjoyed and funded by Elites and most likely Democrats !

    • Susan Trout says:

      Thank you Ellen for pointing this very important fact out to the American people. It was NOT the fault of former President Trump that thisi abominable practice was not banned. You’re so right in saying that our governing bodies had 30-plus years to end this horrific cruelty to horses. It makes me wonder about members of the human race that could stubbornly defend and endorse “big lick.” It it beyond grotesque and not even in one’s wildest imagination could it resemble horsemanship.

  10. Anna Helms says:

    There is no reasoning with evil corrupt people..ya have to hit ’em where it hurts, their pocketbooks….massive boycotts of such cruelty based practices may make them change…but if it’s not outlawed or starved out of practice, only God knows when it may end…l pray for such soon

  11. Kristie Lutz says:

    The audacity of humans to think that animals are here for our entertainment. It’s unbelievable that people don’t possess empathy to realize that these animals are being tormented. I will never understand how any enjoyment can be derived from the suffering of other beings.

  12. Susan Trout says:

    While I laud your determination in the past several years to get this horrific practice ended, it should have happened DECADES ago. No true horseman or horsewoman could EVER defend the “big lick”. These beautiful, gentle and intelligent horses have wonderful, natural gaits and how this ridiculous, outlandish “gait” was ever created just baffles me. It hurts to watch them. It is so unnatural and frequently results in horses becoming crippled as they age. I pray that those people still involved in this cruelty come to their senses and stop exploiting and causing unnecessary pain and suffering to their horses. And I especially pray that people who attend these shows STOP going. Without an audience, there is no one to watch! END BIG LICK NOW!!!!

  13. Anne Lindahl says:

    Oh my goodness! What next? I did not know about the practice of “soring” before reading this article. It must stop and human beings who do this to innocent horses should be punished. Cruelty to animals is a crime against our loving partners on this earth. End it.

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