What a Difference a Day Makes, 24 Little Hours

It's been a long time since anything has been added to this blog page.  The disappointing failure of the USDA proposed Rule to become part of the amendment of the HPA and the subsequent reorganizing to continue to fight the good fight has kept fingers from the keyboard, but then, out came the newest USDA Suspension List for violations of the HPA. It's time, once again, to make some observations.

Time really is, as philosophers say, of the essence and in three important Horse Protection Act Decisions recently published by the USDA, time was a fickle force.  In the first instance, time was not an owner’s friend; in a second instance, running the clock allowed owners to delay a reckoning; in the third, time, or shall we say the suspension of it, was the gift that allowed a trainer to go all the way through the 2017 Celebration, all part of a Consent Order and Decision that the trainer himself described as a great deal from the government, while at the same time brazenly criticizing the inspection procedure as subjective, seemingly taking no responsibility for having violated a federal law.  


Although the end result in cases involving Charles Gleghorn, a former president of the TWHBEA who currently sits on its board, Robert Keith McSwain and Daniel McSwain, the owners of 2016 WGC Honors, and Bill Callaway, the rider and trainer of 2017 WGC Gen’s Black Maverick, and his brother John Allen Callaway, produced results, the time it took to arrive there reminds us of an observation made by William Gladstone (1809-1898), “ Justice delayed is justice denied.” 

Why? Because each of the parties involved in these cases profited from the length of time and the delays involved in bringing them before the bench on charges of animal abuse, specifically for entering sored horses, as the term is defined by the HPA, in competitions. In two of the cases the time delays   resulted in World Grand Champion titles being awarded to horses with which they were associated, titles that cannot be denied.


The case against Charles Gleghorn was decided on the basis of a Decision and Order by Reason of Default.  The complaint asserted that he, as the owner, had allowed the entry of two horses, The Sportster and Generating the Command,  in a horse show while the horses were alleged to be  sore and in one case also bearing a prohibited substance. The violations took place during the 2016 Celebration when Generating the Command was presented for inspection on August 27th in Class 81, found to be sore and bearing a prohibited substance, and on August 28th, when another Gleghorn entry, The Sportster, was found to be sore in an inspection for Class 85.  This all took place within a 24 hour window with USDA/APHIS VMOs taking information for a possible federal case which was then noticed up with a time period in which Mr. Gleghorn was to respond by filing an answer to the complaint as is required by law.


Interestingly, he failed to do so, although it was clear from postal records that Gleghorn had received the appropriate notifications from the USDA, meaning he was aware of the time frame involved and apparently chose to ignore it.  Thus, the USDA Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a Decision and Order by Reason of Default to Mr. Gleghorn, placing him on three years of disqualification and requiring him to pay a $6,600 civil penalty for violation of the HPA.   “ The material facts alleged in the complaint are all admitted by the respondent’s failure to file a timely answer, or any answer at all, “ wrote the ALJ in the case. 


The judge also made it clear that this was not Mr. Gleghorn’s first time at the notification rodeo which made it more egregious that he failed to respond to the complaint, considering that he had previously received Official (courtesy) Letters of Warning from the USDA regarding violations of the HPA, on six separate occasions, beginning in 2009 and continuing through 2016.  These were  letters that would have caused a thinking person, one would presume, to take a look at what was going on with his horses and  to  cease and desist in being involved in actions that could at any time have resulted in a formal federal complaint for violation of the HPA.  That didn’t happen.  The Decision listed the Letters of Warning as follows:


TN10097 Loose N Busty   prohibited substances including decamethylcycolopentasiloxane, benzocaine, lidocaine, and sulfur


NC130084 Unforgettable Pusher, found sore by USDA VMOs


TN 130384 Knee Deep in Cash, prohibited substance o-aminoazotoluene


TN 140094 Unforgettable Pusher, found sore by USDA VMOs 


TN 150037 Knee Deep in Cash, found sore by USDA VMOs 


TN 160122 Pusher’s General, found sore by USDA VMOs and prohibited substance


Mr. Gleghorn’s suspension began on March 16, 2017 and continues through March 15, 2020.  Now, lest you be confused by the horse shows all through the summer of 2017  that featured Mr. Gleghorn’s grandchildren riding horses  owned by their grandfather during his suspension period, there was plenty of time to transfer ownership of them to other family members as can be determined through an IPEDs search, so that the horses could continue to be shown.  There’s nothing like a successful family shell game to teach the importance of respect for the law to young people and to the other TWHBEA members that Mr. Gleghorn represents.


While it was a failure to meet the deadline that put Mr. Gleghorn in the soup, the USDA’s version of when to start the clock was much kinder to Bill and John Allen Callaway, both of Shelbyville, Tenn.; in fact, had it not been for a surprising  and  much welcomed   article appearing in the Sunday edition of the Shelbyville Times Gazette just after the Celebration, informing the public that, trainer and rider   Bill Callaway was put on federal suspension less than 24 hours after he won the title of 2017 WGC with Gen’s Black Maverick, owned by Keith and Lorraine Rosbury of Bell Buckle, Tenn., ( and that his brother John Allen was put on a similar suspension)   no one in town would have been the wiser. 


Although the controlling document in the Callaway’s Consent Decision and Order was March 29, 2017, for some reason, the 8-month suspensions and $1,100 fines for both men did not go into effect until September 4, 2017.  This means that both Callaways sailed through the Celebration and Bill left with the ultimate title.

What put Bill Callaway in the sights of the USDA was an allegation of violation of the HPA at the 2016 Celebration. It has been reported that the horse involved was Gen’s Black Maverick, the same horse with which he won the Celebration title in 2017.


Showing no remorse, Bill Callaway told the local paper that he didn’t fight the complaint because he couldn’t afford a lawyer, that the inspections were subjective, and that he got a great deal from the government. At least one of those three statements was true.  He didn’t mention the rest of the sweetheart deal that under the term of his consent decree that “ the respondent neither admits nor denies the remaining allegations, waives oral hearings and further procedures, and consents and agrees to the entry of this decision for the purpose of settling all issues between the parties and any alleged violations of the Act up to and including March 15, 2017.  This statement wiped the slate clean for any other violations that the Callaways may have had on tap.


So, both Callaways will settle down for a long winter’s nap and will serve their suspensions in the off -season horse show months. They should be back in the saddle shortly after the Trainer’s Show in March 2018, but if you should drive by the Callaway training facility in Shelbyville, almost any day of the week, you will be able to see big lick horses pounding away, up and down the gravel hard-pack driveway, except when they are standing around having chains exchanged.  Having a little extra time on your hands to train, rather than having to haul to the late season shows, could actually be a benefit on getting a jump start for next year.


Lastly, there was the Consent and Decision Order filed in complaints surrounding Honors, the 2016 World Grand Champion, and his owners Robert Keith McSwain and Daniel McSwain, both of Georgia.  The stallion was trained by the Edwards Brothers, also of Georgia, and had been the subject of much drama regarding the scar rule and soring under the HPA before a court order made it impossible for USDA VMOs to deny the stallion entry to a class, even if he was alleged to be in violation during   pre-show inspections, for six shows culminating in the 2016 Celebration. 


Under Docket Numbers 16-0139, 17-0183 for Robert Keith McSwain and 17-0182 for Daniel McSwain, the purported owner of Honors during the 2016 Celebration, the McSwains agreed to “jointly and severally” a payment of a $19,800 penalty for violations with Honors payable by November 1, 2017, and an 18 month suspension for Robert Keith McSwain and an 8 month suspension for Daniel McSwain.


 It appears that the lengthier suspension was given because Keith McSwain was listed as the owner during the majority of the shows where Honors was alleged to be in violation, while Daniel McSwain was listed as the owner only for two classes during the 2016 Celebration. 


The Consent Decision listed the dates and times that Honors was found to be in violation from 2013 through 2016 as follows:


August 24, 2013, Class 82 B Celebration (owner Keith McSwain)

July 26, 2014, Class 29, Red Carpet Show of the South, Pulaski, TN (Keith McSwain)

August 23, 2014 Class 82A Stallion Qualifier Celebration, (Keith McSwain)

August 29, 2015 Class 83 Celebration (Keith McSwain)

July 1, 2016 Class 40, Shelbyville Horse show (Keith McSwain)

August 27, 2016, Class 84B Celebration, (Daniel  McSwain)

September 3, 2016 Class 190 Celebration ( Daniel McSwain)


Yes, you read that correctly. USDA VMOs were of the opinion,  based on inspections,   that Honors was in violation of the HPA in both the qualifying class and the stake class, which he won, at the 2016 Celebration.   


There was also a sweetheart provision in the McSwain Consent Decision and Order. Although Robert Keith McSwain will be on suspension through April 30, 2019 and Daniel McSwain will be on suspension through June 30, 2018, both men will be protected from any further prosecutions for any and all violations that may have taken place but have not yet been charged through October 18, 2017.  The controlling document in this decision was dated October 20, 2017.


The McSwains ,  through their court strategy, asserting  that the inspection process which kept them from showing their horse after he had been allegedly found in violation of the HPA by USDA VMOs the evening of a horse show  was a violation of their due process rights, and finding a judge in Georgia  to agree with them, were able to turn back the clock and stop time in its tracks.  The judge ruled  that no matter what the USDA VMOs found, unless a hearing could be held contemporaneously  with the inspection,  Honors could not be kept out of the ring for a six-show period; that this ruling was specific to Honors and did not effect any other horse being shown under the HPA.  It was a one horse only, get- out of- jail card, but eventually there was a reckoning, coming a little over  a year after his victory pass under the spotlight, when time finally ran out on the Honors parade.


So, did the law win or did the McSwains? 


The amount of the fine, $19,800,  shows that the USDA was serious about the case, but,  for wealthy owners, it is more  of a nuisance than a punishment,  the suspensions , an irritation  and  nothing that can’t be worked around. 


But the long term  pay-off, that accrues to the McSwains. Their horse has the 2016 title of Celebration World Grand Champion, which they believed had long been denied to them.  The title  will translate into stud fees.  They had the satisfaction  of winning in the courts prior to the 2016 Celebration,   having that victory published and praised in the walking horse community, and thumbing their nose at the USDA/APHIS in the process. 

All of their other potential  HPA transgressions through October 17, 2017 were washed clean through their acceptance of the Consent Order and Decision. They did not have to admit any guilt in the matter of the seven instances where Honors was alleged to have been sore under the definition of the HPA. The  2016 Celebration title goes down in the history books. It cannot be retracted. 


It’s up to you to decide if justice has been done or denied in these three cases.  One thing is apparent: although the general public may never know  the full facts,  both the 2016 and 2017 Celebration World Grand Champion titles have enough questions swirling around them that it will take some time to determine exactly how tainted by controversy the riders, the owners, and the horses will be, and the TWHBEA should be asking some questions about what sort of people they want representing the organization  as board members. 


The bright side of this story is that time is running out for acknowledging that animal abuse is not acceptable as more and more people  discover just what goes into producing that spotlight ride and wearing  those blue ribbons and floral horseshoes.   


As  a postscript, the former president of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association, Mickey McCormick, Mickey McCormick Stables, and Mane Motion Stables, LLC, also  showed up on the recent USDA suspension listing.  Their Consent Order and Decision resulted in a $2,200 fine, and an 8 month suspension beginning  on September 4, 2017, just after the 2017  Celebration concluded, and will end on May 3rd, 2018, just in time to be hitting those horse shows at peak show season, along  with fellow violators  Bill and John Allen Callaway and Daniel McSwain. 

Keith McSwain and Charles Gleghorn will have to warm the bench a bit longer.  


Tick , tock, tick,  tock.  ( Don't think that people aren't continuing to watch the clock.)


Tennessee Walking Horses

Tell Congress To End Abuse Of Tennessee Walking Horses

Horse industry inspectors are simply not doing their job.

03/30/2017 05:25 pm ET 


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.


Scores of federal lawmakers say no to keeping horses sore

March 30, 2017

Today, in a show of legislative horsepower, U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, HR 1847, with nearly half the lawmakers in the U.S. House joining them in a quest to close loopholes in the almost 50-year-old Horse Protection Act that have enabled the cruelty of horse soring to persist. They were joined by a strong leadership team of Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and a whopping combined 209 original cosponsors – a level of support for bill introduction that is very rare in Congress.

Identical to the bill of the same name introduced two years ago, the PAST Act contains the reforms that are so urgently needed to crack down on soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to create the exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.” It will end the corrupt and failed system of industry self-policing and ban the devices used in, and integral to, the soring process. Reps. Yoho and Schrader are both veterinarians with experience treating horses, and they spoke compellingly about soring at a recent briefing on Capitol Hill.

The nationwide campaign to end the cruel practice of horse soring came so close within the last year, and we’re still reeling from the failure of Federal Register personnel to properly publish a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule to crack down on the activity. Last July, the USDA announced a proposed rule that was years in the making, to ban the use of stacks and chains on the horses’ feet and legs and to eliminate the industry self-regulation program that has enabled corrupt practices to persist on such a widespread basis.

Although Congress passed and President Nixon signed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to stop soring, the practice has continued to infect shows for Tennessee walking horses in Tennessee and other states where these exhibitions occur, due to weak regulations and underenforcement. The agency’s proposed rule received more than 100,000 supportive public comments and was endorsed by numerous equine industry groups, key veterinary organizations, and 224 Representatives and Senators who called on the USDA to finalize it swiftly. But in a tragic one-two punch, the Obama administration fell literally one day short of publishing the final rule before leaving office, and it then got caught up in the Trump administration’s blanket regulation freeze. Thankfully for the horses, the bill introduced today provides a potential source of relief.

The PAST Act goes beyond the pending USDA regulations in that it will create stronger penalties for violators, to more effectively deter this criminal activity. PAST has overwhelming support, with endorsements by the American Horse Council, the United States Equestrian Federation, more than 60 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, all 50 state veterinary medical associations, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the hotbeds of soring), among hundreds of groups and key individuals.

The pro-soring coalition has its own bill that masquerades as reform. Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ “Horse Protection Amendments Act” is nothing more than a smokescreen for big lick torturers, and shamefully, 10 Representatives (from Tennessee, Kentucky, and one from Mississippi) have cosponsored this sham bill. These legislators represent the very region where the horses need the reforms of PAST the most. Rep. Cohen of Tennessee, on the other hand, has been an unwavering champion for animal welfare and continues to help lead the PAST Act, while Rep. John Yarmuth, D–Ky., is a PAST Act cosponsor again.

While the provisions in the USDA rule that’s on hold are critical, we also knew that we’d have to go to Congress to increase penalties. So now we have two pathways for reform — unfreezing the rule and getting the PAST Act over the finish line. With more than 200 lawmakers joining together to introduce this legislation, we welcome a vote on the issue and call on House leaders to take up the PAST Act within a reasonable time frame. Our nation should no longer tolerate trainers and owners intentionally and maliciously injuring horses in order for them to win ribbons at shows. The ribbons mean nothing to the horses, and this human blend of vanity and cruelty should be stamped out by national lawmakers and by President Trump.


Petitioners Ask Trump to Lift UDSA Anti-Soring Rule Freeze

Tennessee Walking Horse advocates visited the White House on Wednesday hoping to present a petition asking President Donald Trump to implement a USDA rule that would ban the use action devices sometimes used on some gaited horse breeds, which was one of several regulations frozen after the administration change in January.

Before Trump took office earlier this year, the USDA approved the rule, which prohibits the use of action devices on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. It also forbids the use of boots other than soft rubber or leather bell boots and quarter boots used as protective devices as well as pads and wedges, except for those with a therapeutic purpose.

The ban on action devices was slated to take effect in February, while the other rule provisions were scheduled to become effective Jan. 1. 2018.

The rule was among many frozen by executive order when Trump took office on Jan. 20. Such freezes are frequently imposed so new administrations can review new regulations, policy-related statement, budgets, and relevant legislation.

When the freeze took place, Mike Inman, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, said the Walking Horse industry will use the suspension period to talk with prospective incoming USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue about the “important facts regarding proposed rule-making.”

It is uncertain whether Perdue, who is expected to be confirmed shortly, will implement the rule once he takes office.

On March 29, members of the Tennessee Walking Horse advocacy group Citizens Campaign Against "Big Lick" Animal Cruelty sought to deliver a petition—started when the freeze took place—asking that the rule be published in the Federal Record and implemented, said the group's spokesman Clant Seay. He said more than 100,000 people from across the country had signed the petition.

“This petition is not going to a Congressman,” he said. “We'll get it in the White House one way or another.”

Meanwhile, Inman said he was not surprised about the petition effort, saying it is expected that the anti-soring “faction would continue their opposition to the Tennessee Walking Horse.”

A decision about the rule remains pending.

Which Path Will the USDA Choose: Transparency or a Cover-Up and Collusion?

by Wayne Pacelle, HSUS

The coalition of groups demanding that the U.S. Department of Agriculture restore inspection reports and violation notices called for under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act is growing at a rapid pace and strengthening its reach. Last week New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, a Republican, weighed in and called on the USDA to restore the documents. They join 120 federal lawmakers, editorial boards throughout the nation, and an enormous number of animal welfare groups and even animal industry groups who are pressing the USDA to turn this situation around quickly.

Indeed, it’s becoming a common view that the USDA took a radical and unwarranted action when it wiped vital animal welfare records from its website – preventing the public from readily accessing enforcement records for thousands of laboratory facilities that use animals for cosmetic testing and biomedical research, roadside zoos that often inhumanely confine and exploit wildlife, puppy mills that are serial violators of animal care standards, and trainers and owners who intentionally inflict pain on Tennessee walking horses to win blue ribbons.

Immediately upon learning that the documents had been taken down, The HSUS served notice on the U.S. Department of Justice that the USDA’s data blackout violated a 2009 court-ordered settlement agreement regarding annual reports of animal research facilities, which contain details of the number of animals used in experiments that cause pain or distress without anesthetic or painkillers. On Friday, the USDA said it would post annual reports on the use of animals in research – an action that appears to be partly responsive to the original settlement we struck with the agency in 2009.

But while our lawsuit originally pulled the USDA in the right direction – ultimately leading the agency to post not only the animal research annual reports and inspection reports but all inspection and violator notices under the AWA and HPA starting in 2011 – a much more recent lawsuit by two individuals in Texas cited for horse soring appears to have been tugging the agency in the opposite direction. These alleged horse-soring violators are acting as proxies for the larger class of soring lawbreakers who don’t want their names published on the USDA website at all.

Under the Trump administration – with USDA transition team leader Brian Klippenstein, who has long worked as a paid operative for a group dedicated to action on behalf of the horse soring crowd, puppy mills, roadside zoos, and others inspected by the agency – the USDA has used the Texas case as an apparent pretext for its massive document takedown.

Given that the USDA is trying to explain a massive dump of documents through a pretty narrow case dealing only with horse soring, we decided to intervene in this Texas lawsuit. Something about the case smells rotten – almost as if it were a coordinated set-up between the plaintiffs and the new people calling the shots at the USDA. You can be sure that we didn’t want the new faces at the USDA and the DOJ cooking up a deal with the horse soring crowd that locks down information not only mandated under the HPA but also under the AWA.

It’s clear there’s a tug of war going on. We represent the forces of transparency demanding vigorous enforcement of our nation’s animal protection laws. And the horse soring crowd, the puppy mills, and the others that routinely violate the law, well, they want a get-out-of-jail-free card. What’s more, they don’t want anybody knowing about their questionable or illegal conduct.

Let’s be clear that the USDA in 2011 did not go out on a limb by posting these records and providing transparency when it comes to inspections that may reveal violations of certain laws, regulations, or standards. What the agency did is consistent with how other enforcement agencies handle violations they uncover. Many states and localities also post reports of code violations found during inspections of nursing homes, schools and child care centers, school buses, and restaurants, that have not been fully adjudicated. It’s customary for police reports on traffic violations, arrests, or other alleged criminal activity (sex offenders, for example) to be posted prior to a court date/hearing. In terms of the federal government’s position on such matters, there are plenty of examples that show that the privacy explanation is absurd.

Here’s the latest surprise though. Late last week, the plaintiffs in the Texas lawsuit – the owners charged with injuring the feet and legs of their horses to force them to perform the pain-based “big lick” gait – abruptly threw in the towel and consented to dismiss that case. We’re not sure if they cut a secret deal with the USDA behind the judge’s and the public’s back, or if they just realized that they had a very difficult path to prevail in court, given The HSUS’s intervention.

Either way, we won’t stand for the data takedown; we’re going to stand up for animals and for the bright light of public scrutiny and oversight to which we are all rightly accustomed. There’s not only a rising chorus of objections from animal protection advocates and lawmakers — the USDA has also heard from some of the regulated industries (e.g., PetlandAssociation of Zoos and Aquariums, and Speaking of Research) encouraging the agency to repost the documents. New Jersey lawmakers called on the agency to do so, given that the state’s own restriction on the sale of dogs from mills with poor USDA inspection records is now unworkable. Other states are expected to chime in with similar demands.

We won’t relent in our national campaign to enforce our federal laws whose purpose is to protect animals. The question for the USDA is simple: does it stand with a broad coalition that calls for more transparency and the rule of law, or does it stand with the worst violators of the law and plan on colluding with them in an ongoing cover-up of their transgressions?

I Heard It on NPR (and it wasn’t a song about the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius)

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions…
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind’s true liberation…
Let the sun shine in!... the sun shine in!

— The 5th Dimension

This morning on NPR’s national newsfeed, Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, made a clear and concise statement   concerning the recent scrubbing of all animal enforcement actions under both the Animal Welfare Act(AWA) and the Horse Protection Act ( HPA)  from the USDA’s website. His clear comment    about the danger that removing information that serves the public interest   represents , was countered by the comment   made by   Mindy Patterson of the Cavalry Group, a privately held lobbying     firm based in Missouri.  Ms. Patterson told NPR     that the reason groups like the HSUS wanted this information available was because they wrongly used data from   federal    records   in order    to keep anyone interested in breeding animals from being able to make a living . 


Missouri, as you may recall, was home to a number of horrendous puppy mills.  An orchestrated attempt by groups like Cavalry and financed by groups like Protect the Harvest to protect puppy mill   operators   from having to meet even minimal standards of humane care and maintenance for its canine  production workers was put into play.

Ultimately, the will of the voters in the state of Missouri prevailed in Prop B and it also   survived a repeal effort;  it wasn’t because of the Cavalry Group and Protect the Harvest but despite them.


Does this all   tie together? You can go back to previous blog posts on this site for some background on related issues, but for a fast refresher:   Ms. Patterson served on the board of directors of Heart of American Walking Horse   Association whose HIO, serving the walking horse show world in both Missouri and in other nearby states, was once  under consideration for having its certification pulled by the USDA for failure to fully enforce the HPA.   Her Cavalry Group was actively involved in efforts made by the Walking Horse show business to push back the PAST Act and donations were collected to fund  her efforts.


 The executive director of Protect the Harvest, Brian Klippenstein,   is now the head of the transition team at the USDA.


Forrest Lucas, an oil executive with a boutique beef business, is  the founder of    Protect the Harvest, a non-profit which unabashedly declares that it was founded as an anti-HSUS organization, determined to fund initiatives and activities to counter HSUS animal welfare proposed legislation and efforts.  Lucas, who it is reported was responsible for the ultimate selection of Sonny Perdue, former governor of Georgia and a veterinarian by training, to bethe new   Secretary of Agriculture ( USDA) , also happens to be a  friend of Duke Thorson.  


Thorson, who has Protect the Harvest as a sponsor of one of his   truck racing teams, is also the Thorson of  Thorsport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the subject of a recent, months long,   HSUS undercover investigation.  The investigation produced allegations and evidence  of inhumane training practices occurring at the facility that were presented   to local law enforcement in Rutherford County.  There, for reasons   never determined, the district attorney   declined to act on this   evidence and the book was closed or, more precisely,  slammed shut.  There would be no Jackie McConnell type revelations presented to   a jury in the ‘Boro.

Jackie, also the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation,  had the misfortune to run afoul of a federal judge while serving a federal suspension for violation of the HPA. The book   already open in his case, was reviewed,  and then was thrown at him, although   some thought, at the time,   not hard enough. Importantly, what happened with McConnell , all happened in the light of day.


No matter your political inclinations, across the country the majority of Americans call out for transparency and openness in the operation of the federal government.    Tea Party types, libertarians,  mainline conservatives  and liberals have all been able to  find common ground in the  belief that when transparency and openness, including electronic access to government records, is not a priority of the federal government , that resultant corruption and governance by   special interest   groups is the behind- closed- doors result and these results do not serve the common good.


The methods for how to best get to transparency, openness, and electronic access to federal records may be up for discussion;     shutting down all  access, except through the cumbersome and outdated FOIA process, and scrubbing the records clean of all transgressions   on sites like the USDA’s,  has a chilling effect on the public’s need to know and its right to know.  Wiping the books clean   does nothing but   shield   lawbreakers from public exposure   while disenfranchising   the public of   the   right to know   how the federal government not only enforces laws existing on the books but also  spends  funds that come from the taxpayers of the United States of America, all the taxpayers, not just the few driving a government blackout. 


This blackout,  "surely"  coincidentally,  also protects the interests of campaign donors whose elected officials of choice have derived great financial benefit over the years.  They have worked on the behalf of their donor “friends” to keep the PAST Act from coming to the floor of the Congress for a vote or from full enforcement of the HPA, despite a 2010 independent report by a federal Inspector General that found   the HPA was being enforced selectively and that the HIO system, pushed down the throat of the USDA years ago,  by these same special interests through their favorite politicians, was at best ineffective ( some would say corrupt).


  In the case of the missing    HPA data, some of those well -heeled friends saw their names disappear from public view, not only    through  this sweeping     erasure of the past at the USDA,  but in a process begun with     recent litigation against the USDA by their ilk.  Using some very fancy footwork that postulated that only violations of the HPA that proceeded to a federal case and resulted in a judgment against individuals could be considered to be violations of the law;  hence , all suspensions levied by the HIOs ( supposedly a partner in helping the USDA enforce the law)   for what those inspectors deemed violations of the HPA, could not be considered to actually be violations and should not be part of the public record.  How's that for amazing logic?   The USDA took down the data set  before the case,   dubbed McGartland 2 by    industry insiders,      has been   decided and before the current scrubbing.  The USDA   press release says that the removal   is the result of a year long review of how to deal with these sorts of records.

Now,  7060s, letters of warning for the presence of foreign substances found on horses   through random swabbings, are out the door, as is the ability to find initial decisions and orders, default decisions and consent decisions for violation of the Horse Protection Act on the USDA pages. 


Electronic Access forms, such as this one, are gone, like the dodo, from the USDA site.

 USDA Horse Protection Act Disqualification and Civil Penalty List (as of December 1, 2016)

The following list identifies individuals and/or companies that have been assessed a Federal Disqualification under the Horse Protection Act. While under Federal Disqualification, a person is prohibited from showing, exhibiting or entering any horse, directly or indirectly through any agent, employee, or other device, and from judging, managing or otherwise participating in any horse show, horse exhibition or horse sale or auction. Please note that while the list below identifies the disqualification periods for the individuals and companies, the list is not controlling. The controlling documents setting forth the terms and dates of the Federal Disqualification are the signed Decisions and Orders, hyperlinked below.
Docket Number

These listings   helped the general public make links to other news stories. As an example,  William Brock Tillman, listed on the Dec. 2016 USDA disqualification form    for violation of the HPA, was once a trainer at Thorsport Farm during the period of the HSUS undercover investigation. 

His wife    posted on Facebook, after a trainer pointed his truck at a protestor at a horse show in Columbia , Tennessee, ( later found guilty of the act in a Columbia courtroom), that she was “sorry he missed. Let ‘em Walk On.”  

Tillman, through a consent decision, received a fine of $2,200 and a 16 month suspension that runs from 6/6/2016 through 10/6/2017.  That    USDA document, listing not only the results but linking to the Consent Decision itself, is    no longer available for research, although perhaps the OALJ site that was referenced to search these cases may eventually return to service. 

 Lacking    the ability to connect the dots   through public disclosure, if you were a horse owner you   would    never know anything about the enforcement history of a   trainer and might unwittingly place a horse in his care . 

That’s why Wayne Pacelle was   speaking out  on NPR this morning.  Yesterday he wrote a blog about this same subject, outlining   the reasons the public should be concerned,  how they are impacted,  and   setting out  what the HSUS intends to do about the current situation.


   HSUS, it turns out, has standing    on this issue because of a 2009    decision and agreement entered into by the USDA to provide electronic access and transparency about enforcement records. By these recent actions, that agreement has been violated. While the HSUS works its way through the legal steps available to “let the sun shine in” once more at the USDA, there is also a petition you can sign that will add your name to the lists of people who believe that government functions best when its actions are open and    transparent,  when the public interest is protected rather than thwarted.   Mr. Pacelle’s blog and information about   the petition   follows:


The HSUS challenges USDA over mass removal of animal welfare records

By Wayne Pacelle on February 6, 2017


"There’s an outpouring of anger and mistrust about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s abrupt decision late last week to delete from its website inspection reports on thousands of commercial dog breeding operators, Tennessee walking horse show participants, roadside zoos, animal research labs, and other facilities regulated under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA). Today, The HSUS took the first step to initiate legal action to challenge this outrageous action that undermines longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrates state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them.

The HSUS sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to AWA reports concerning animal use in university and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals. The agency’s precipitous decision to purge virtually all AWA and HPA enforcement documentation – just two weeks after President Trump assumed office — violates the plain terms of the settlement and a federal court order. It also runs contrary to Congressional provisions in 1996 and 2016 designed to increase transparency and electronic access to information.

Under the order, once we file a notice of a violation, the parties must consult for 30 days to try to resolve the dispute. If that is not successful, the agency can be ordered to comply or be held in contempt. The prior lawsuit only covers some of the vast corpus of important enforcement data the USDA has scrubbed from its website. We hope this mandatory consultation period will give the USDA a chance to reconsider this ill-advised and precipitous maneuver across the board.

There is more than just a principle of transparency and good government at stake here. These documents are essential to a wide range of matters of direct interest to The HSUS, dozens of other animal welfare groups, state and federal lawmakers and regulators, regulated businesses, and many other stakeholders who rely upon the records of a public agency. Like every federal agency, the USDA operates thanks to the generosity of taxpayers, and it must be accountable to them. The USDA is changing the equation for the worse for animals and the public with this action. Let me break that down in very practical terms.

Puppy mills:

In a piece published last month in Rolling Stone titled “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills,” writer Paul Solotaroff described horrific violations at puppy mills, many of which are licensed and inspected by the USDA, but still violate the Animal Welfare Act repeatedly. One Iowa breeder threw a bag containing dead puppies at his USDA inspector. Another Iowa breeder threatened to stab his inspector with a syringe, after the inspector cited him for shooting and killing one of his dogs. These violations only came to light due to the USDA’s online database of puppy mill inspection reports.

Last year, the USDA revoked the licenses of nine horrific puppy mills, most of which The HSUS had identified repeatedly in our annual Horrible Hundred reports. They include Jinson Kennels in Missouri (owned by Wilma Jinson), which was repeatedly found with dead dogs or puppies on its property; Rabbit Ridge Kennel in Missouri (owned by Donald Schrage), which failed to get proper care for more than 90 dogs and puppies over a period of many years; and the facility of Dwayne Hurliman in Oklahoma, one of the largest puppy mills in the country, which once had more than 1,000 dogs. Without the availability of public inspection records, The HSUS would have had great difficulty obtaining the information we needed to press the agency on these cases.

Thanks to The HSUS’s efforts, and the work of thousands of grassroots advocates, seven states bar the sale of puppies from mills with a history of gross violations of the Act. The USDA’s decision to wipe its website clean of inspection reports leaves regulated dog sellers in those states with no practical way to comply with those laws, and state and local law enforcement with almost no ability to enforce them. Without ready access to information, it will be nearly impossible for consumers, law enforcement agencies, policymakers, and pet stores to know which breeders had violations.

Animal research:

Tens of millions of animals are used in research, testing, and education every year in the United States. The public will no longer have ready access to information about hundreds of animal research institutions, including universities, pharmaceutical companies, and federal laboratories using animals regulated under the AWA. This includes information on the number and type of animals (such as dogs, cats, primates, and other species) used as well as how many are subjected to unrelieved pain and distress and the corresponding justification -– information that each facility is required to report annually. Instead, The USDA says the information must be obtained via submission of written FOIA requests which usually take many months or even years to process, and often at a substantial cost to the requester.

Horse soring:

This is a second punch in the gut by the Trump administration to horse protection advocates fighting the criminal behavior of the pain-based Big Lick segment of the walking horse industry. The new administration earlier froze a near-finalized USDA rule to crack down on the abusers (there’s a major movement in Congress to turn that around). The denial of real-time access to information about offenses committed under the HPA will frustrate efforts to show the extraordinary violation rates for horse show participants – a data set that has made it clear that this segment of the industry is openly, routinely defying federal law. What’s more, the wiping away of these records from the Internet will hurt the effort by legitimate horse owners to shun the abusers. Many walking horse enthusiasts and newcomers who do not sore their horses or approve of soring use this information as a resource to see who they should select or not select as a trainer, as a breeder, or as a co-owner of a horse, or while purchasing a horse. During The HSUS’s investigation into soring at Thorsport stables in Murfreesboro, Tenn., we discovered that Vida Blue -– one of the horses trained and sored at Thorsport – was owned by Gayle Holcomb, who had a minimum of 10 HPA violations from 2010 to 2015. We found Holcomb’s soring history on the publicly-available USDA database that the new administration has now made disappear.

Exotic animals and roadside zoos:

The HSUS has tracked violations from inspections of roadside zoos, and has put that information in a form that gives state and federal lawmakers and regulators a broad picture of how this industry is complying with the AWA. Officials in a Tennessee county, for example, halted plans for a new drive-thru safari park after discovering the exhibitor had many AWA violations at another location. Our petition to the USDA to prohibit public contact with bears, big cats, and primates relied on historical abuses documented by federal inspectors of exhibitors engaged in these harmful practices. This morning, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which has a rigorous accreditation program and which shares our concerns about roadside zoos, called on the USDA to restore the inspection reports on its website. “When the Department of Agriculture decided to take all animal welfare inspection reports offline, there is no doubt some APHIS licensees were very happy: Those who have no desire for the public to know about their animal welfare record,” said the Honorable Dan Ashe, President and CEO of the AZA

Brian Klippenstein, the director of Protect the Harvest – an explicitly anti-animal welfare group formed specifically to fight The HSUS – is leading the transition team at the USDA. Shielding animal abuse records from public view is a long-held ambition of that organization which defends puppy mills, roadside zoos, horse sorers, animal fighters, and others with something to hide when it comes to animal cruelty and suffering. Forrest Lucas, the founder and financier of Protect the Harvest, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight Prop B in Missouri – an anti-puppy-mill ballot measure – and worked to finance a repeal effort when Missouri voters approved it. Last year, Klippenstein was up in Massachusetts, campaigning against Question 3 in Massachusetts – to no avail, with voters approving the measure by an overwhelming 78 percent. Lucas donated a quarter million dollars to fight Question 3.

This withholding of information that the American public has a right to see appears to be an inside job at the USDA – with the head of the Trump transition team probably directing the show. You’d think that USDA would want the work of its field personnel to be examined and used by the public. But this action suggests a deliberate effort to bury its work and impede efforts to ensure the well-being of animals in numerous sectors. The HSUS will continue to pursue this matter until public access is fully restored. Please sign our petition urging the USDA to stop hiding animal welfare records and covering for abusers."

Let the sun    shine   in! Let the sun   shine in! And, at the USDA,  let it be sooner rather than later.



Final Rule is Not the End but It Sends a Signal for the Beginning of the End

Today the USDA   issued a press release telling the general public and the more than 130,000 interested people and organizations who commented on the department's proposed rule that would enhance the enforcement of the federal Horse Protection Act that the final rule will be published in the Federal Register in the next few days.  You can check out what this means on the New  section of this site and also on Full Opinions.  We aren't there yet, but we are certainly closer than we were a year ago. 

A new Congress  could weigh in, putting this rule in the "throw it out with the bathwater treatment"  it seems to envision under the newly passed Midnight Rule legislation, although that would involved giving the bum's rush to more than 300 legislators who signed on to the original PAST Act legislation,    stalled and stymied by a few southern congressmen and senators in the tank for big lick interests.  Many of the 300   signed a letter to  Secretary Vilsack in 2016  urging the rapid implementation of the rule for the good of the horse and as a necessary part of enforcing an existing federal law.  The PAST Act had tremendous bi-partisan support in both houses of Congress and the USDA rule reflects their concerns as well as the concerns of both supporters and opponents. 

If you're an optimist, you  would hope that the big lick community  , would take  a careful look at the final rule, including the timelines,  and accept  the fact that everything in life has to   evolve or die .  They could    realize that this rule throws them the lifeline they need in order  to rethink their show horse and figure out how to get it back into the realm of public approval, in the same way that other high action horses are accepted by the USEF and the horse  show  public.   Having to make the change is one last thing  they could blame on the government, but it also  gives the more progressive thinkers in the  business an opportunity to say that,  although they have been forced to make the changes, change in the long run could be good for business.  

If you're a realist, you already know  that like Custer, the band of  moneyed diehards will likely  raise sufficient funds  to file for an immediate injunction against the rule when it is implemented by the USDA.  Their lawyers will  try to tie the rule up  long enough for the big lick contingent  to continue at least for another season or two, or perhaps forever, should they have a lucky run in the courts.  If their history is any indication, that's how they will play today's news. 

But, the existence of over 130,000 comments on the rule, not 11,000 as was reported in a walking horse trade publication, tells you that change has already become part of the public dialogue about  the trained  sore horse with its ungainly and harmful shoeing and its totally unnatural way of going.  This issue isn't going away until the cause of the issue goes away and the issue of the sore horse is very bad for business ( and for business as usual) , indeed.  

One person who   committed the organization he leads to ending the the practice of horse soring and unnatural gaits,  while  hoping to see the Walking and Racking horses returned to popularity and their natural way of going in both pleasure and show riding,  is HSUS CEO  Wayne Pacelle.  In his blog  A  Humane Nation he commented on today's USDA announcement, and reminded readers that almost from the beginning of the HSUS, the issue of the sore walking horse has been a high priority for   the organization's agenda. The USDA's final rule is a legitimate source of satisfaction for his organization as well as for so many others who have contributed to the results announced today.      The text of his remarks are below: 

After years-long anti-soring campaign, USDA bans torture of walking horses

"Pushed to act by a series of HSUS undercover investigations and a national campaign that attracted the support of more than 300 members of the U.S. House and Senate across the political spectrum, the U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced strict new rules to crack down on the barbaric practice of horse soring — the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of show Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, to force them to perform the artificial, pain-based “Big Lick” gait. 

An enormous coalition of animal welfare groups, horse industry organizations, veterinary organizations, law enforcement, and others backed federal action, but ultimately credit goes to President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for getting this done on their watch. This has been one of The HSUS’s top federal priorities, and I am thrilled to pass on this news to you today. We will, however, have to be vigilant that President-elect Trump and a handful of opponents in Congress do not interfere with implementation of this rule; meanwhile, we’ll continue to press for federal legislation to build on the regulatory reforms, so the battle is not entirely over.

As requested in a rulemaking petition submitted by HSUS attorneys with the assistance of the law firm Latham & Watkins, the USDA rule, which was years in the making, bans the use of stacks and chains on Tennessee walking horses and racking horses (the breeds that have been chronic victims of soring). These medieval-looking devices accentuate the pain when chemicals are burned into the horses’ legs and their feet are injured with cutting and concealed hard objects. Injuring their feet and then forcing them to walk on four-inch stacks with chains banging against their sores creates the exaggerated gait prized by judges at some of the top horse shows. 

The rule also eliminates the failed industry self-policing program, and puts the USDA squarely in charge of enforcing the rules to eliminate these abuses. No other category of horse shows, for any other breeds, have needed laws and rules aimed at them. It’s a testament to the ongoing scofflaw culture that pervades a segment of the Tennessee walking and racking horse show world.

When you consider that the first major step in this process was taken more than 45 years ago, with Congress passing the Horse Protection Act of 1970 – attempting to outlaw the practice but leaving loopholes that the horse soring crowd walked through almost every day – you may have a sense of the countless hours devoted by reformers to deliver mercy to these horses, and to outlaw a practice that is as deplorable and intentional as dogfighting or cockfighting. The HSUS has been investigating and campaigning against the cruelty of horse soring since the late 1950s; it is a concern nearly as old as The HSUS itself.

The USDA’s Office of Inspector General conducted a comprehensive two-year audit released in 2010 that exposed how trainers within the industry deviously evade detection and continue to use horrific practices to attain the Big Lick. The OIG concluded from its findings that in order to fix the continued abuse, an overhaul of the USDA’s regulations to eliminate the flawed system of industry self-policing and stiffer penalties are vital and necessary. That OIG report provided an enormously important grounding for our national anti-soring campaign.

U.S. lawmakers weighed in on the issue in a major way, with House and Senate bills introduced in the 113th and 114th Congresses, attracting enormous bipartisan support. Forty-two Senators and 182 Representatives sent letters voicing support for the USDA’s proposed rule. Special thanks goes to Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Steve Cohen D-Tenn., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., along with former Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., David Jolly, R-Fla., Michael Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., along with former Sen. Joe Tydings, D-Md., who introduced the original Horse Protection Act of 1970. They are all champions in fighting for reform, and their work positioned us for success with the USDA. We are tremendously grateful to each of them.

Congress still has work to do – protecting the rule from attacks, ensuring its acceptance by the Trump Administration and adequate funding for the USDA to enforce it, codifying the rulemaking provisions, and increasing penalties for violators. We expect to see legislation introduced soon to address these issues and build on the rulemaking.

But as with our successful efforts to strengthen the federal animal fighting law a decade ago, and our work to bring an end to the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments, this rule is a triumph for our movement. We need to be vigilant, but today, we should celebrate. "

Where Are We with the Proposed USDA Rule?

The election to end all elections is over. Now it's time to see how the old saw "elections have consequences" plays out;  but,  before inauguration day, there is at least one "consequence" of more than 40 years of flouting the federal law, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, that still has time to be addressed.

That consequence is taking affirmative   action on the    rule proposed by the USDA that would amend its regulations under   the Horse Protection Act, as is allowed by law.    When enforced it    would     finally bring about an end to abusive training and shoeing practices, as well as dodgy in-house inspection schemes, that have allowed walking, racking    and spotted saddle horses to suffer for man's insistence on showing exaggerated gaits that have no relationship to the natural movement of    horses or    even the range of motion of   highly trained horses that do   show athletic animation in their gaits rather than forced exaggeration.

So, after watching the PAST Act stall in two sessions of Congress, despite it having the most co-sponsors and bi-partisan support in both the House and the Senate of any piece of legislation introduced in these sessions, thanks to a handful of bought and paid for legislators from   a few southern states who,  playing the rules of both chambers, managed to keep the bill from ever getting   a vote, the ball now rests in the court of an outgoing administration and the Secretary of Agriculture, all   lame ducks,  to put the proposed rule into action. 

Is there time to do this   before Inauguration Day-- Yes?  Will it get done? There's the rub.  People who support a sound show horse and humane training and shoeing practices continue to work for exactly that end and continue to make the case to the general public. 

A petition now trending on Change.org posted by the Equus Society,  gave both a written   lesson in exactly what's wrong with these shoeing practices from a bio-mechanical point of view and a visual lesson with a video attached to the petition showing big lick show horses, current examples, in action.  The petition has already gathered over 53,000 supporters asking Vilsack to act.

When combined with the over 70,000 individual    pro-rule comments, building to over 100,000 affirmative    comments when including consolidated submissions from various groups,      submitted to the USDA on its official website in October, Secretary Vilsack must know    that there is widespread public support for the USDA to finally end gridlock on this issue and DO SOMETHING about the problem.  He can   even   point ( if he has a sense of irony) as a reason for action     to the road map laid out by    the new president-elect who   said in addressing a slice of our citizenry during his   recent   campaign, " What have you got to lose?"

Wayne Pacelle , CEO of the HSUS whose organization has worked tirelessly   for the past several years on the anti-soring issue, posted a blog that   asked the Secretary of Agriculture essentially that same question. His blog post   follows, in case you haven't seen it on some other site:

Obama should put a ribbon on anti-soring rule before Inauguration Day

By Wayne Pacelle on November 15, 2016


"The incoming Trump team, along with leaders from the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, have signaled to the Obama team that they want to see new rulemaking actions frozen. This is a bit of a ritual during any transfer of partisan power in the nation’s capital, but this year the rhetoric is at a particularly high pitch.

But not all rulemakings are alike, and not all of them are associated with partisan thinking. Some efforts, long in process and richly vetted and scrutinized, not only have immense support from the American electorate, but also huge bipartisan support on Capitol Hill. There’s no better case example than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s long-awaited and long-delayed plan to upgrade Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations to end the barbaric and gratuitous practice of horse soring – the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of show Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, to force them to perform the artificial, pain-based “Big Lick” gait, all for the sake of a blue ribbon.

More than six years after the agency’s own Inspector General released a scathing audit that highlighted the gross inadequacy of current enforcement efforts (which rely heavily on failed industry self-policing), and more than six years after the USDA promised to implement new regulations to fix the problem, regulatory action is still pending.

In July, the USDA announced a proposed rule to end walking horse industry self-regulation and ban the use of the torture devices that are integral to the soring process – both key components of the widely supported Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1121/H.R. 3268, which was introduced largely because the agency hadn’t acted on its own to fix these problems. The legislation is led by two veterinarians in the House, Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., in the Senate by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and it is cosponsored by 50 Senators and 266 members of Congress. The public comment period on this rule closed on October 26th and there was an overwhelming outpouring of support, with well over 100,000 commenters (including actresses Priscilla Presley and Olivia Newton-John) urging the USDA to quickly implement this proposal. Former Sens. John Warner of Virginia, a Republican, and Joe Tydings of Maryland, a Democrat and the author of the original HPA, were among the many individuals and groups who voiced their strong support.

But perhaps the most compelling evidence of the breadth of support for this action is that 41 U.S. Senators and 182 Representatives – from both sides of the aisle – sent letters to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging that the agency swiftly adopt new HPA regulations before the end of the current administration.

None of us can predict how President Trump will address animal welfare in the first 100 days of his administration or beyond. But momentum is clearly behind this much-needed rule, and it’s been delayed for years. There’s no excuse for further dilly-dallying. It’s time to close the loop on an appalling abuse, and deal with people who are abusing horses in the name of entertainment and profit. The current administration must seize this moment to fix the USDA’s deeply-flawed regulations and adopt new regulations with real teeth in them that can finally bring about the reforms needed to end soring for good – as Congress intended when it passed the law in 1970. With more than 300 lawmakers cosponsoring a bill that goes well beyond the terms of the rule, there’s no reason for partisan politics to stymie this effort as we approach the finish line. More than four decades of this continued, poorly-regulated animal suffering is far too long, and President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack have a duty to end it, now."


In New York City, starting on November 17th, the Equus Film Festival rolls into town with both films and panel discussions available to those who attend. Two of the panels concern big lick show horses: Soring? What Are They Thinking? and Performance Tennessee Walking Horses--Training and Showing and Then What? 

Animal welfare advocates with backgrounds in the breed and facts at their fingers will be available to speak out and to answer questions from the audiences who attend. One of those advocates has just begun, and had IRS certified,  a new non-profit organization    devoted solely to rescuing Tennessee Walking Horses, many of them from show backgrounds who end up in auctions and sales, most of them headed to slaughter in Canada or Mexico.   She is committed to   finding them new homes and giving them a second chance, unlike the people who threw them away, like the people who wrote on the USDA site that if the rule were to pass , their show horses would lose their value and that the slaughter trucks would be pulled up to the    door.      Her voice should be a powerful oneon the panel.  People who love horses, don't dump horses, leaving others to clean up their mess.

Just like those who are already thinking ahead to the midterm general elections, anti-soring advocates working to end soring, stacking, chaining, and inspection programs that are far too cozy with certain players, must think    ahead to what must be done because    the reality is that if the USDA implements the rule, lawyers for the opposition position will have the Department in court as soon as they can get the papers filed.

The big lick faction, with some help from their friends, has already   raised a half million dollars   towards that end and are working on the second half million that they believe it will take to keep such a rule from ever being implemented. That should not concern us, nor should it concern the USDA.

Getting the rule on the books before the Obama administration leaves office   will be a huge psychological step and an important one, putting the big lick business on notice that business isn't going to be done   as usual, no matter what they think. But what if the rule doesn't make it out of the USDA?


  If ,    under a new administration, we have to start all over again to bring this disgrace to an end, well.... after the last few years of working with the House and Senate, of bringing the issue to the attention of the public, of newspaper and television coverage showing support for change, of diminished audiences for this sort of "entertainment", the blueprint is there for keeping the issue alive and continuing the fight. Support for the PAST Act even made the policy position section of one presidential candidate, proving that   the issue of the sore horse has climbedthe ladder ofgettingpublic attention. We have to keep that attention on this problemand we have to keep it focused.

No one who ever got involved in the drive to Stop Soring in its tracks   can be kept down for long. As the current president   reminded people in his party who had suffered a major disappointment , take time to mourn and then get back to work.  That's just what we, too,  must   do if the rule is not implemented because the sore horse will   still be with us and the fight must continue.

To put this in perspective, one of the people who left   comments on this issue was   clearly a newcomer.  The writer   couldn't believe that this obvious abuse to horses in the name of a show ring ribbon was allowed to continue    and   asked:  " Why doesn't someone do something?"

That’s when another person, speaking from a position much higher up, wrote back, “ God looked down. When asked why doesn’t someone do something, he replied, “ I did. I created you!

Each one of us is someone.




It Mattered in 1998 . With 8 days to go for Comments It Matters Still.

Aware that no intention or action is ever lost, may I mindfully accept the gift of being free, in each moment, to shape my life and my world.
— Jean Smith

The USDA,   by extending the comment period concerning its proposed regulation eliminating  stacked shoes, action devices,  the   private inspection schemes called HIOs, and, after a clarification which  would also reduce      acceptable shoe sizes in three breeds, walking, racking and spotted saddle horses, to keg or “conventional” shoes,  has done   sound horse advocates and activists a favor. Those extra days   gave   more opportunity  to gather   support for the proposed rule and   by extension to encourage new supporters to go online and leave affirmative comments.  Lift every voice, both old and new,  and     remember that how we achieve something is just   as important as what we achieve.


It’s easy to forget, caught up in the moment of making things happen,  how long some of the old timers have been fighting this battle and fighting it on an ethical level.  With currents of   positive  energy surrounding the fight, being brought to the issue by new faces,  the veterans   can surely   take   satisfaction in knowing that new faces, as well as those working with established organizations,  will persist in continuing   the fight until the war   is won. It is an all- hands on deck effort and every hand is needed. 


Long  before the days of social media, back before wide- spread use of the internet,  back before there were cell phones,  the    anti-soring folks from decades ago , depended on the   communication vehicles of the time: interviews in newspapers and television stations, appearances in public gatherings,  paid anti-soring   advertisements in magazines like Equus and,  in time,  Voice, while also   buying space in smaller regional  equine related publications, even  starting their own advocacy groups--- all of this was done  to start the momentum forward to bring an     end to   the reign of the people who sored and abused horses for performance.   


Those people    are now either  senior citizens (or well on the way) and many of them are around,   still making the same anti-soring   arguments,  still  insisting on   the necessity of   changes through law that will both protect the horses and in protecting them also  promote the breed. Their adversaries, too,  are    still around and now senior citizens,  running businesses and still in the saddle, introducing their   grandchildren to a "family tradition"  that is not compatible   with modern times     and   animal welfare as we understand the term in the 21st century.   Yet, they persist.


Over the years the adversaries have shown more stick- to- it-ness than have some of the   people who    have come and gone in the    fight against the sore horse. This is because it's   been a  fairly discouraging slog to persist year after year, decade after decade, gathering evidence, getting it before the public,  focusing on being fact- based and civil,    while  pushing back against the dog whistle call of being labeled    dangerous radicals and now "computer jockeys".  


Some of those folks who are   no longer with us were “work within the system types” until they discovered that the system had no interest in working with them; some were motivated by seeing their own names in lights  once  they became identified as “ experts”; some were realists, with  good horses that they couldn’t get tied against horses trained by dubious means, thus demanding change and,  when it didn't come,  leaving the breed; some were moralists,  disgusted by what they saw as   clear cronyism   at TWHBEA   and the buying of influence in opposition to animal welfare positions   in the House and Senate,  spending time and money  tilting at the sore horse political  windmill before going home bloodied and   in disgust. 


The elected officials fighting progress and using the rules of the Senate and House to do it,  were young, once, too;  now they are senior citizens and   still in politics.   Having crawled and clawed their way to the top of the influence heap they continue to do favors for those   in support of the big lick horse, the people  who helped pay their campaign bills over the years.  


Meanwhile, another  elder statesman, the author of the original Horse Protection Act,  Senator Joseph Tydings,  no longer speaks against the abuse of walking horses from the floor of the Senate but continues to speak out with a powerful voice  as a private citizen, a necessity because the problem he hoped to stop cold in the 70s  has continued to   exist and for many years actually grew and prospered.   


One of the groups that has been around for decades , begun   specifically to address the problem of soring and to provide education and alternative experiences for people with walking horses,  is FOSH. It was  founded in Tennessee in the heart of walking horse country  because that was the epicenter of the problem.  Its intent from the beginning was to focus on the issue and not on the people involved in the issue, either in support or in opposition.  The message was that the fight against soring was a people’s fight for all horses,  not a personal crusade that would benefit one person or another, one trainer or another, one group or another.  FOSH   began as   a volunteer organization , where the volunteers paid their own expenses   and did not use the soring issue to fund raise.  Obligated to no one, FOSH’s strategy was its own. 


FOSH first tried to work within the system. When  it became apparent that trying to work  with the breed registry wasn’t going to have a good outcome  while trying to convince the opposition that modifications in shoeing and the action device should be made based not only on  issues of animal welfare but also public opinion , FOSH next  started an assertive  external public outreach as well as  its own show circuit and its own versatility program, understanding that you can't take something away without providing a viable alternative,  believing     that education is a tool in bringing about change.


Almost 20 years ago, now, FOSH   was the first organization to put up billboards in Shelbyville during Celebration time, billboards that read in part“ Show your horse in the division of your choice, but show him sound.”  It started a judging program with objective rather than subjective standards.  It started an HIO so that the sound horse voice would be heard at USDA meetings and (also to be assured   that what   was being conveyed as happening at those meetings was actually what was happening).  It started a horse show circuit with the first classes for gaited dressage ever seen in competition.  It began The North American, which,   in its first year,   was the third largest show by entries in the entire walking horse business.   FOSH   worked outside and inside to bring about positive   change.


FOSH also   took its message directly to middle Tennessee.  In May,   1998 the organization  ran a back cover essay on a widely distributed publication called    Horse Country, targeted to   this   particular   edition   because   it   featured advertising from most of the state’s   professional performance horse trainers,  ran show coverage, and  intentionally   gave a generally upbeat view of the local equine business. 


If   you haven’t been involved with the anti-soring issue since the late 90s   you may have missed  this little piece of history  paid for by  people from another century   speaking   to the issue. The text of that back cover follows.  


Read it;  think about what   the industry’s response in 1998   was; think of the time that has passed and the horses that have suffered because of determined resistance to change;  you’ll know why the USDA must implement its proposed rule and why these last 8 days matter.



May 1998 published in Horse Country, Murfreesboro, Tennessee


“ It’s not a sensitive issue anymore. It’s a Sore Subject


For more than 40 years too many people have sored Tennessee Walking Horses to produce the exaggerated gaits that win ribbons and make crowds cheer. People have profited from this sad state of affairs. The horse has not been so lucky and the reputation of the breed has suffered across the nation.


We don’t help our situation when prominent trainers tell us in the newspapers that they don’t sore horses and they don’t know anyone who does.  Anyone that has been involved with the Tennessee Walking Horse industry knows that whether   you fix horses a little or fix them a lot, that doing so is a violation of the Horse Protection Act, a federal law. If no one is fixing horses why do we have people on the NHSC suspension list and on federal suspension?   Certainly they can’t all be victims of false allegations.


We don’t need to hire public relations firms to fix our image problem. What we need to do is come clean and clean up the industry. If all we have is just a few bad apples, to quote the past president of TWHBEA,  whose own trainer just made the federal suspension list, then it shouldn’t be hard to prune those trees.


Our problem is not one of performance horse versus pleasure horse. The problem is one of sore horses versus compliant horses and an industry in a state of denial.  Blue ribbons shouldn’t come with scars and horses shouldn’t have to be treated with kerosene and diesel fuel to provide entertainment to crowds of fans. Horses shouldn’t be pressure shod to make them light on their feet. If you’re one of the people that doesn’t know what’s being done to horses in the name of “showmanship” , make it your business to know.


After years under the Horse Protection Act, it’s time to say no more soring, no more abuse. Show your horse in the division of your choice but show him sound.  It’s wonderful that horse shows contribute to charities and to the economy of the area.  We believe that people will still turn out to watch horses perform honestly and on an even playing field. But, if they won’t, that doesn’t justify abusing animals so that the money continues to roll in.  Acceptance of abuse is abuse; that’s the bottom line.


For information or to find out how you can help, contact FOSH, The Friends of the Sound Horse Society, Inc.   "


Ironically, the one change that the industry did make after years of FOSH talking about the need for a  compliant   horse, meaning a totally sound and   scar- free horse in accordance with the Horse Protection Act,  was to hijack the term  “compliant” and start using it to mean a horse that could, one way or another, pass inspection.  Compliance and compliant   derive from the same root word, but the meaning between what FOSH was promoting and what the performance folks are still trying to sell was  and is  quite a difference.


May, 1998, it was spring time, then,   and now in 2016   comes   yet   another    fall, this timewith a   26th October deadline for comments on the USDA website.  There’s still time to  use these   final days of the USDA extension to mobilize every friend, every family member, every horse person you know  and ask them to  take a moment to submit a comment to the USDA in support of the proposed rule.   Urge them to do the same with their own   family members, friends, and fellow horse people. It's the right thing to do;  pass it on.


  Make it your business in this moment   to   push the number of   those affirmative comments to new heights.  Do it now.  ( Some of the nameless veterans  of  the movement likely   don’t have another 20 years to wait to see justice   for our horses   done.)