Call for reforms in walking horse industry

Thermographic image showing excessive warmth (seen as red and orange colors), which may be caused by inflammation from soring. The pattern seen is consistent with soring using a chemical agent.
Thermographic image showing excessive warmth (seen as red and orange colors), which may be caused by inflammation from soring. The pattern seen is consistent with soring using a chemical agent. © USDA

Organisers of this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration are being urged by the Humane Society of the United States to bring in five reforms the charity says will protect horses.

The society says it proposals would also help to restore the credibility of the walking horse industry, saying the sport continued to be undermined by the illegal practice of soring.

Soring is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves by mechanical or chemical means to encourage the high-stepping gait so desirable in the industry.

In a letter to the Celebration’s board of directors, the society offered to work alongside the board to curb horse abuse and ensure that the show competition could continue in a way that dramatically improved the public transparency and the welfare of horses.

“The Celebration’s board has the authority to set appropriately high standards and policies to protect the welfare of the horses and turn the Tennessee walking horse competition into something worth celebrating,” the society’s director of equine protection, Keith Dane, said.

Dane said it was time for the show’s organizers and community to adopt meaningful reforms.

The society said the need for change, and for the Celebration to take an unequivocal stand against soring, has never been more urgent.

The society’s undercover investigation earlier this year of well-known trainer Jackie McConnell revealed that horses continued to be sored and entered into shows undetected, even though McConnell had been issued a federal disqualification.

The investigator documented McConnell soring Moody Star, the winner of the 2010 Celebration Reserve World Grand Championship.

The investigation drew national attention and led to public outrage over the continued practice of soring despite the practice being outlawed for more than 40 years by the federal Horse Protection Act.

In its letter, the society sought five reforms:

  • Eliminate horses from competition, and from any property owned, leased or used by Celebration, Inc. if there is evidence of the application of one of several common soring techniques, including the use of all stacks, action devices or bands; the use of shoes weighing more than two pounds; the use of tail braces which require the tail to be cut; and the riding of two year olds under saddle.
  • Exclude any show officials from participation (including judges, DQPs, veterinarians, farriers) who have personally been cited for a Horse Protection Act  (HPA) violation within the past five years.
  • Rescind the title, prizes and other awards of any entry that has been found to be in violation of the HPA (including the use of prohibited foreign substances) following his/her performance.
  • In addition to the inspection procedures required by US Department of Agriculture regulations, randomly pull the shoes of at least 20 percent of all entries throughout the show, and of the top two placing horses in every championship class, examine the horses’ hooves for evidence of intentional soring. This examination should be overseen by a licensed veterinarian recommended by AAEP and a farrier recommended by the American Farriers Association, neither of whom have any ties to the Tennessee walking horse industry nor any history of HPA violations. In any case in which soring of the hoof is suspected, disqualify the horse, rider and trainer until such time as a final determination is made as to whether the HPA has been violated.
  • Prohibit the use of all stall drapes, or other materials designed to prevent visual inspection of property owned, leased or used by Celebration, Inc. on which horses or other personal property are held or kept during the event.

The society sent the list  to the Celebration’s board of directors in a letter nearly one month ago. It said the board has not yet responded.


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