Tennessee Walking performance show horses are prized for their high-stepping gait. But at what cost?
Behind that gait are years of abuse by trainers who employ a practice called "soring" to give the horse a higher gait in competition.
According to a column by Roy Exum in The Chattanoogan, "vile people slather a defenseless animal's front legs with caustic chemicals and then wrap the forelegs in tight Saran Wrap in a way that 'cooks' for days, leaving oozing sores and a beautiful Walker barely able to stand."
All of this is done to achieve what Exum calls "a grotesque and unnatural gait called the 'Big Lick.'" Exum has been honored by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) for shining a light on the corruption and abuse of many in the Tennessee walking horse show industry.
Soring is now a felony in Tennessee. But the practice still continues largely for the enjoyment of a small group of people who show these horses in August in a tiny town called Shelbyville at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
HSUS exposed the actions of Jackie McConnell, a trainer and member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Hall of Fame, with an undercover investigation video of McConnell soring his horses that was seen all over the world. The evidence collected during the investigation was used to convict him of felony level crimes.
The fun in Shelbyville may soon end if Congress can pass the PAST (Prevent All Soring Tactics) Act, which was introduced in the House in April, with a companion bill introduced in the Senate in August. If passed, the bill would amend the Horse Protection Act to end the Tennessee Walking Horse industry system of self-policing, which has been a dismal failure. It will also abolish the use of devices implicated in the practice of soring, strengthen penalties and institute reforms to end this torture of horses.
A hearing on the bill will be held this Wednesday, November 13, by the House Energy & Commerce Committee. What is needed now is prompt action on the House floor and the support of more Senators.
Now is the time to contact your federal legislators and ask them to cosponsor the PAST Act (H.R. 1518/S. 1406).
A civilized society cannot condone the torture of horses for the enjoyment of a small group of people in Tennessee, or anywhere else for that matter. Passing and enforcing new laws will save the Tennessee Walking Horse from years of future abuse.