Verbal shots traded in horse soring debate

Barney Davis
Barney Davis

The Humane Society of the United States is playing hard ball in its campaign against horse soring, releasing video footage of an interview with a convicted horse abuser timed to coincide with the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

The Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization has also entered the fray, accusing the humane society of being more interested in publicity than intervening to help horses who are allegedly victims of soring.

The society this week released edited video footage of its interview with former horse trainer Barney Davis, who asserted that Tennessee Walking Horses had to be sored to be competitive.

Soring is the use of mechanical or chemical irritants on the lower legs of horses to encourage the higher gait that is desirable in the industry. It has been outlawed under the Horse Protection Act for more than 40 years.

Davis, a former Tennessee horse trainer who pleaded guilty last November to various violations of the act, served most of his one-year sentence in prison. He was also ordered by the court to co-operate in the production of an educational video about soring.

At his sentencing in February, Davis admitted routinely soring horses during their training, and claimed it was  commonplace in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

In the recorded interview, Davis claimed trainers must make their horses suffer to be competitive at walking horse events.

“I’ve shown at the Celebration three, maybe four, times. I trained them myself and they were sore. I’m not going to lie.”

The director of equine protection for humane society, Keith Dane, said the admissions by Davis pointed to the prevalence of soring, and showed that industry self-policing was “failing the horses miserably”.

“The Humane Society of the United States urges the leaders in this industry to abandon their denial and finally institute real, meaningful reforms that will rid the Celebration and other performance horse shows in the industry of this despicable horse abuse.”

Earlier this year, the  society paid a $US10,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of Davis, who has competed for the title of World Grand Champion, the industry’s highest prize.

The society has set up a hotline and offered further reward money, encouraging people to report instances of soring.

On Monday, The Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO) demanded that the society release hotline reports about horse abuse so that the proper authorities can intervene and stop the abuse immediately.

The organization noted that a  humane society spokesman reported at least eight calls, “yet they have done nothing to intervene and protect the horse”, TWSHO said in a statement.

“If the HSUS is committed to ending horse abuse as they claim, then they should stop it immediately,” TWSHO spokeswoman Jane Lynch said.

“Our actions have shown that we are fully committed to weeding out the bad apples and ending horse abuse. I implore the HSUS to turn over the reports to the Celebration immediately so that they can investigate and if needed, keep soring trainers out of the ring.”

The Celebration has a zero tolerance for horse abuse, the organisation said, adding:  “Anyone found soring or abusing a horse will be sent home, punished and turned over to the proper authorities.

“HSUS needs to do that same, not put their public relations machine ahead of horse safety.”

On the humane society’s work with Davis, TWSHO noted that he has been banned for life from The Celebration.

Meanwhile, The Tennessean reports on disputes at the Celebration with  federal inspectors.

US Department of Agriculture veterinarians at the Shelbyville event have been checking competing horses for signs of soring.

According to The Tennessean, frequently during the competition – including on at least five occasions on the morning its report was filed –  USDA veterinarians had cited horses when local inspectors and an independent veterinarian found no signs of injury.

It reported that at least two congressmen had written to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack questioning whether the inspections were fair this year. They were Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais and Kentucky Congressman Harold Rogers.


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