Tell Congress To End Abuse Of Tennessee Walking Horses

Horse industry inspectors are simply not doing their job.
A Tennessee Walking Horse lies in pain after being sored with caustic chemicals.
A Tennessee Walking Horse lies in pain after being sored with caustic chemicals.

Tennessee Walking Horses are beautiful creatures that are routinely tortured in order to perform an exaggerated, high-stepping gait known in competition as the “big lick.”

Back in 1970, Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to make the practice of “soring” illegal. Soring is an inhumane practice. Caustic acid is applied to the horse’s legs and then covered with plastic wrap so it seeps into the skin for days. Metal chains are attached to the horse’s legs while he’s ridden, which strike the inflamed area to create immense pain. Hard objects such as screws are inserted into the tender area of the hooves. When it is time to compete, salicylic acid is use to burn off the scar tissue in order to disguise the sored areas. Without soring, the horses can’t achieve the “big lick,” which is highly prized in shows in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

The problem with the HPA is that it relies on the industry to regulate itself by training its own inspectors to look for signs of soring. These inspectors are often also exhibitors of Tennessee Walking Horses and have no desire to stop soring, so the widespread abuse goes unpunished.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was reintroduced in the 115th Congress this week. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, along with the American Horse Council, all endorse this legislation, which will put an end to soring and punish those who continue the practice through fines and banning them from competition.

Reforms include ending the industry’s practice of self-policing, which has failed; banning the use of all devices connected with soring; and increasing penalties, including 3 years of jail time and fines up to $5,000 per violation. After the third violation, owners of Tennessee Walking Horses may be barred from competing in any horse show.

In a joint statement, these important veterinary groups state: 

“For decades we’ve watched irresponsible individuals become more creative about finding ways to sore horses and circumvent the inspection process, and have lost faith in an industry that seems unwilling and/or unable to police itself.”

And important in budget-conscious Washington, all of this can be accomplished without increasing spending as it will enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture to redirect its enforcement efforts and resources in a more efficient, effective way.

To those who think that regulating the show horse industry is not the job of the government, HSUS offers video, shot during an undercover investigation, of champion Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell and his associates routinely painting caustic chemicals on horses’ legs. The video also depicts horses being whipped, kicked, shocked in the face and violently cracked across their skulls and legs with heavy wooden sticks.

It is difficult to prosecute someone like Jackie McConnell because of the weak penalties in the current law. Horse industry inspectors are simply not doing their job. They claimed that there was a 98 percent compliance rate at the 2013 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, but the USDA found that 67 percent of the horses examined at this competition tested positive for prohibited substances that could mask soring.

The PAST Act had 50 Senate co-sponsors and 273 House co-sponsors in the last Congress, and was reintroduced with over 200 original House cosponsors in this Congress. Yet there are powerful lobbying organizations that don’t want any restrictions on Tennessee Walking Horses, and members of Congress who are happy to do their bidding – so passage of PAST will be an uphill battle.

We need Congress to step up and stop the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses. Please contact your Representative and urge them to cosponsor PAST and do all they can to get it enacted.