OPINIONS IN FULL

Sohn: Our Tennessee walking horses still need help

April 3rd, 2017, by Pam Sohn

You may recall that in November there was news that Tennessee Walking Horses would finally be freed from the stacks and chains that transform their graceful natural gait into a painful lurch and make our beloved horses sore.

Their delivery from pain was promised by new U.S. Department of Agriculture rules to upgrade Horse Protection Act regulations. Those new rules would have banned devices that contribute to horse soring, the practice of deliberately injuring a horse's legs and hooves to force the artificial "big lick," according to the Humane Society of the United States — an organization that has fought for reform in the walking horse industry for more than a decade.

Well, forget that.

The nationwide campaign to end horse soring came close, but the Humane Society says a failure of Federal Register personnel to properly publish the new USDA rule before President Barack Obama's term ended left the new rule vulnerable to a subsequent decision by the Trump administration to put a freeze all pending rules. The new rules went to limbo-land.

Then the USDA, with leadership in flux, withdrew the rules. Never mind that the rules had been supported by a bipartisan group of Congress members (though not ours).

Horse lovers and the Humane Society aren't giving up, however.

Last week, "in a show of legislative horsepower," a new bill to bring an end to soring with essentially the same rules was put forth, according to Humane Society officials.

U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, with nearly half of the lawmakers in the U.S. House joining them. The bill would close loopholes in the almost 50-year-old Horse Protection Act that have enabled the cruelty of horse soring to persist.

Among their supporters is Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., along with more than 200 other co-sponsors — a level of support for bill introduction that is very rare in Congress.

Of course, we've been here before. Several times, as a matter of fact. This bill is identical to the bill of the same name introduced two years ago. But that bill was bottled up in committees, thanks to industry-friendly lawmakers from Kentucky and Tennessee.

Meanwhile, the Trump USDA also removed thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection reports — which are public record — from its website, and a pro-soring coalition reintroduced its own bill that masquerades as reform.

Tennessee Rep. Scott DesJarlais' "Horse Protection Amendments Act" is a smokescreen bill that is endorsed by the Walking Horse industry. Previous Senate iterations of this bill were sponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.

Soring turns beautiful, athletic walking horses with a smooth, natural and somewhat arched gait into horses that lurch around a show ring with little resemblance to the fluid gait of our champion animals from the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.

The Chattanooga region should stand up for the newest Past Act (as we did for the last one) and make our representatives and senators know we want Tennessee walking horses protected. After all, we have had a starring role in the reform effort. Our own federal courthouse is where one-time Walking Horse Trainer of the Year Jackie McConnell and some of his stablehands pleaded guilty in 2013 on charges of abusing horses in the name of "training them" to step higher.

Industry voices claim the soring abuse has been limited to just a few "bad apples" trying to make it to the big time, but in 2012, the country was shocked by video on prime-time news showing McConnell and his hired hands soring and beating horses. Many in the walking horse industry knew McConnell's barn had been raided by federal agents during the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration event in Shelbyville. What they didn't know until the video debuted was that the Humane Society of the United States had hidden-camera footage of the abuse.

In an apology video that McConnell made as a condition of his probation, he acknowledged that soring abuse is widespread in the industry.

The horse industry and its supporters are strong and moneyed. Over the years, they have successfully thwarted reform efforts.

Let's rise up to fight them. Once and for all, let's protect these horses.


Roy Exum: Will Perdue Abide His Oath?
Wednesday, March 22, 2017 - by Roy Exum

Sonny Perdue, a licensed veterinarian who served as the governor of Georgia for eight years, is scheduled to appear for confirmation hearings tomorrow as the nation’s next Secretary of Agriculture. It has been nine weeks since he was named by President Donald Trump and horse advocates have been holding their breath for exactly that long. Will Sonny remain a devoted loyalist to defenseless animals, or will he fall prey to the “Big Lick” like almost every Republican in Washington?

The fact Perdue took a professional oath stating, in part, he would “solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health and welfare, the prevention and relief of animal suffering, the conservation of animal resources …” has some of those who have fought to eliminate the sadistic soring of Tennessee Walking Horses encouraged.

But when Perdue appears before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on Thursday, we know there is already a fat and powerful fox inside the chicken house.

The Senate committee is made up of 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats. One of the Republican members is none other than Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has accepted hundreds of thousands in “contributions” from the despicable “Big Lick” faction of the walking horse industry.

McConnell and Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander are believed to have blocked three attempts to strengthen regulations against the torture and quite visible abuse to Walkers by unscrupulous owners and trainers. The abuse is still rampant because a Walker can’t do the grotesque dance that’s called “the Big Lick” without being “schooled.” It is unnatural for the horse and all for a flimsy blue ribbon.

As a matter of fact, the Republicans in Washington are so influenced by “The Dirty Lick” that only one Republican of the 10 on the agriculture committee endorsed the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics) while eight of the 10 seated Democrats were co-sponsors of the badly-needed legislation. Just as important to note, one of the Republicans who refused to endorse amendments to the 1970 Horse Protection Act was Sonny Perdue’s first cousin, David Perdue, now a senator from the state of Georgia.

Under Barack Obama, the Department of Agriculture made an eleventh-hour rule change that would eliminate unnatural stacks under Walkers’ front hooves, action devices that are painful to the animals and would require shows to eliminate the Big Lick’s seedy judges and horse inspectors.

But during his first week in office, the new president shelved the rules change in quite a specific way, lending thought to the belief McConnell had used his influence to idle the new rules. It was a monumental move for the “Dirty Lick,” virtually assuring flagrant horse abuse that is centered in Shelbyville will continue uninterrupted. A total of 60 senators (a majority) and 308 members of the House (super majority) had co-sponsored the PAST Act but the McConnell/Alexander tag team blocked the bills which would have been immediately approved.

Not long after Trump jerked the new rules, 154 members of Congress sent him a letter in February asking that he reconsider and attached an overwhelming list of 300 organizations – such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Society of Equine Practitioners and every state veterinary group. Ted Yoho (R-FL) – a large animal veterinarian -- is leading the effort to reinstate the rules.

Shortly after the letter was delivered to Trump, the “Dirty Lick”-influenced interim USDA head Brian Klippenstein moved to take the names of those who violate the Horse Protection Act from its website but Klippenstein went it one better. He also took down a list of the violators of the Animal Welfare Act, much to the delight of scofflaws who have puppy mills, roadside zoos and all else where animals are abused.

It backfired on Klippenstein – he is now branded as an animal hater -- and one of the first big questions when Sonny Perdue is confirmed is what will he do for animal decency. Will he hold to his veterinary oath or will he let the “Dirty Lickers” continue the savagery?

* * *

It comes as little surprise that Randy Boyd, who just announced he would be running for governor in Tennessee next year, has aligned himself with the “Dirty Lick” in a big way. Boyd has named Steven B. Smith, a member of the Lick’s Executive Committee, as his financial chairman.

Steven B. has been state finance chairman for Lamar Alexander for years and has assisted every Republican member of Congress. This is why no Tennessee Republicans have endorsed the PAST Act in the last three sessions of Congress.

“Not only is Steve Smith one of Tennessee’s most outstanding leaders, but there is no one more experienced and successful in building the kind of financial support we will need to win this campaign,” Boyd said. “I am deeply grateful to Steve for his trust and leadership in serving as state finance chair for our campaign.”

And that’s all we need to know about Randy Boyd.


Congress Members Ask for Anti-Soring Rule Approval
The Horse.com, Feb. 17, 2017 - By Pat Raia

More than 150 Congress members have signed a letter asking the Trump administration to expedite its final approval of a new USDA rule banning the use of pads, chains, and other action devices sometimes used in the training of Tennessee Walking Horses.

The new rule would boost the way the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service enforces the Horse Protection Act (HPA), which forbids soring.

Approved on Jan. 13, just before the Trump administration took office, the rule prohibits the use of action devices, including chains weighing more than 6 ounces, on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. The final rule also forbids the use of boots other than soft rubber or leather bell boots and quarter boots used as protective devices and associated lubricants. It also prohibits the use of “pads and wedges on Tennessee Walking Horses and Racking Horses at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions, except for therapeutic pads and wedges.”

The ban was slated to take effect in February, but the federal Department of Engraving and Printing failed to publish it before former President Barack Obama left office. As a result, the final rule was among several regulations put on hold pending review by the Trump administration.

In a Feb. 9 letter to President Donald Trump, a bipartisan group of 154 Congress members led by Representative Ted S. Yoho, DVM (R-FL), and Representative Kurt Schrader, DVM (D-OR) asked his administration to finalize the rule.

“It is unfortunate that a clerical error led to the finalized rule having to be withdrawn,” the letter said. “We request that your administration finalize the work already performed during the previous Congress, so as not to duplicate efforts, and consider expediting its reintroduction and finalization along with publication in the Federal Register.”

The letter also asks the Trump administration to support Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. Initially introduced in 2013 and reintroduced in 2015, the act would have amended the HPA to forbid trainers from using action devices and performance packages, increased federal penalties for anyone who sores a horse, and required the USDA to assign a licensed inspector if a Tennessee Walking Horse show management indicated its intent to hire one. The legislation died in previous Congressional sessions.


Wheelon Is Still A Bum
Thursday, February 9, 2017 - by Roy Exum

In April of 2013 animal control officers, including the Humane Society and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, raided a horse barn in Blount County and were both amazed and sickened by the way a well-known rogue trainer, Larry Joe Wheelon, had been abusing Tennessee Walking Horses. The pictures were horrible to view. One horse was in such pain it bolted inside the barn, breaking the leg of a rescue worker, and 19 horses were seized, a few near death.

Again, this was in Blount County; the town of Maryville the childhood home of Senator Lamar Alexander. Alexander claims he is against soring, the systematic and sadistic method the “Dirty Lickers” use to make Walkers do a grotesque and unnatural dance.

But sound horse people know full and well Alexander and Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell have received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the seedy side of the Walking Horse industry. Why do you think President Trump dumped the USDA suggestions to curb Walking Horse abuse?

It took two years for the carefully-stalled case to come to trial and wouldn’t you know on the eve of the much-anticipated dagger to the Dirty Lick, in the summer of 2015 Blount County Circuit Judge Tammy Harrington ruled Wheelon’s Fourth Amendment rights had been violated. The physical evidence against Wheelon was astonishing and the evidence superb.

Television stations from both Nashville and Knoxville showed videos of the maimed animals. Veterinarians were prepared to testify. The pictures were too gruesome to be printed in family newspapers. But just like the Shelbyville headquarters of the Big Lick predicted from the very first day, the case never was called before a jury.

In the court of public opinion, however, everybody in Blount County knew all about Wheelon, a lout who served on the laughable Ethics Committee of the Tennessee Walking Horse Association but has one of the most contentious records of wrongdoing in USDA files. Wheelon was soon all but run out of town and the fact he is widely known for a lifetime of horse abuse has plagued the 70-year-old “premier horse show judge” across the state ever since.

Now comes word from Fentress County – some 100 miles from Maryville where Wheelon slipped the noose two years ago – that Larry is still legendary. He was arraigned last week on 25 counts of cruelty to animals after state inspectors found Tennessee Walkers starving on a plot of land Wheelon was renting. It was reported – but not confirmed – that there were dead horses found as well.

The way Wheelon got caught this time was by failing to pay rent for the property. This is not a violation of the Constitution, at least not in Jamestown. The owner of the land went to check and found the emaciated animals. The ideal body-score for a horse is a ‘5’ on a 1-to-5 scale. According to one report, there was one sorrel colt that rated ‘3’ because he is still on his very thin momma. Every other brood mare scored, 1, 1.5, and no higher than 2.

“There is no doubt he neglected the horses … the word was he had about 90 Walkers on different properties but he was cited on every horse the inspectors found. The district attorney – Phillip Kinzee – told the judge he wanted the animals seized but at Tuesday’s hearing Wheelon and another man charged, Rodney Koger, did not appear, instead being represented by their Maryville attorney, Rob White.

Neither Wheelon nor Koger were able to make bond – spending several days in jail -- and it is believed at the Jamestown courthouse that nervous Dirty Lickers arranged their release. The next court date will be March 8 and already some are saying Jamestown isn’t like Blount County – the judge is said to have once been a bronco rider and is still an avid horseman.

There is still a huge lawsuit – several million dollars involved – by the owners of the horses impounded from Wheelon’s barn wanting to punish the animal control officers. They claim through the same attorney, Rob White, their horse show losses were huge after their horses were sored by Wheelon. They couldn’t get their horses released for shows – never mind the pictures that show what Wheelon did to the horses in his care.

It is a popular belief that with Wheelon owing nearly $1,000 in land rent and unable to make a modest bond that once again the Dirty Lick is “greasing the skids.” But a court clerk said many of the abused horses do not belong to the disreputable trainer and said no provisions were made in this week’s hearing to feed or care for them.

State inspectors are currently trying to find where Wheelon has other horses and learn their condition. It is believed Wheelon has a string of almost 100 Walkers. Yet if he can’t make his own bond, every one of those horses is suffering as you read this. Remember, the Dirty Lickers could care less.


USDA Website Blackout Capitulation to Walking Horse Industry
Animal Welfare Institute
Thursday, February 9, 2017

Washington, DC—A pending lawsuit supported by a potent segment of the walking horse industry appears to be the major impetus for the US Department of Agriculture’s egregious decision to remove untold thousands of online Horse Protection Act (HPA) and Animal Welfare Act (AWA) records, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) stated today.

The case, Contender Farms v. USDA, was filed last year and focuses on the USDA’s enforcement mechanisms regarding the HPA and the department’s online listing of alleged HPA violations. Plaintiffs claimed that the USDA’s posting of these online records violated the Privacy Act of 1974, a law passed in the wake of the Nixon administration’s abuses of power. The USDA, in its February 7 clarification of its decision, stated it was acting out of an “abundance of caution.”

“The USDA claims that it purged these crucial records ‘based on [its] commitment to being transparent,’” said AWI president Cathy Liss. “This isn’t an abundance of caution. It is capitulation to industry—a longstanding pattern for this department. Additionally, the USDA removed the records, despite not yet filing a reply to the lawsuit, which is currently in mediation. We can only imagine how much further the USDA will buckle if mediation ends this litigation.”

On its website, the Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse (FAST) openly discusses the industry’s support for this suit, including almost $1 million raised in 2016 to fund various pro-industry initiatives, including this lawsuit. FAST notes accurately that when a second amended Contender Farms complaint was filed last September, the USDA stopped posting online enforcement action records, which include complaints, stipulated penalties, warning letters and consent decisions for HPA and the AWA.

The walking horse industry behind the lawsuit haslong been tainted by individuals who torment horses, using caustic chemicals in conjunction with "action devices" (such as chains and beadedrollers) and other painful procedures on their feet and legs to create an exaggerated gait. This is the same industry that also successfully prevented the finalization of regulations intended to stop the cruel manipulation of horses.

The last USDA press release announcing/posting online enforcement actions was dated August 16, 2016. The USDA’s decision to remove the data has been roundly criticized by prominent players in the industry, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Petland, and the pro-animal experimentation blog Speaking of Research, among others.

“The implications of these recent USDA actions for transparency, deterrence of animal abuse by the walking horse industry and others, and accountability to the taxpaying public are chilling. AWI will not sit idly by while this catastrophe continues,” concluded Liss. “If the USDA refuses to restore transparency, Contender Farms will not be the only lawsuit the department will be facing.”


Investments Help Promote Breed
Letter to the Editor, Shelbyville Times-Gazette

To the Editor:

Celebration board member Jeffrey Howard's recent attack against efforts to protect horses comes as no surprise given his track record, but we'd like to take a moment to dispel some patently false statements he made. While it's no secret that The Humane Society of the United States is committed to ending the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses, those entrenched in the big lick pro-soring faction would rather people not know about the investment The HSUS makes in promoting the natural talents of the breed.

Four years ago, The HSUS launched its "Now, That's a Walking Horse" program, which makes grants and funding awards to non-profit organizations and individuals involved in therapeutic riding programs or promoting alternative pursuits for this versatile breed. The HSUS has awarded more than $70,000 to those using, showing and promoting the natural ability of the walking horse.

The HSUS wants to see the breed flourish and its reputation restored, once the plague of soring is ended, and the reforms necessary to achieve this are clear.

A broad coalition of equestrian and professional horse groups, veterinary medical organizations, and concerned individuals support tougher enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was introduced largely to push USDA to fix weak regulations that undermine the 1970 Horse Protection Act. It had tremendous bipartisan support in Congress, with 323 House and Senate cosponsors in the last session. It was endorsed by the American Horse Council, United States Equestrian Federation, more than 60 other horse groups, American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, National Sheriffs' Association and many others. But the pro-soring coalition's handful of allies in Congress circumvented the will of the American people by preventing the bill from getting a vote. Instead, they simply protected the interests of their big lick campaign contributors, including many, many violators of the federal law who have made substantial donations over the decades.

When USDA proposed stronger regulations in 2016, a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators urged USDA to finalize them quickly, and more than 100,000 Americans submitted public comments in support. USDA announced these regulations as final on Jan. 13, but official publication in the Federal Register got delayed.

Now the Trump administration has the responsibility to see through implementation of the USDA rule, which was caught up in a broad regulatory freeze after the president took office.

This delay will not deter the thousands of sound horse advocates who have lent their voices to this effort.

Among them is Dr. John Hafner, DVM, who walked away from the industry in disgust and now holds a position in the equine science program at Middle Tennessee State University. He has stated that the big lick gait can only be produced through pain, and if there is no pain, horses neither learn nor perform the big lick.

Hafner knows that it is difficult for people who have grown up in this culture to acknowledge that reality. He has said "the people involved in the walking horse business...just don't see anything wrong with the way the big lick is achieved, or they don't think their trainer really sores their horse...They are blind to what they are doing and until they have a personal epiphany of what lies at the bottom of the big lick, they will be unable to see it."

Internationally acclaimed horseman Monty Roberts, recently named one of the "50 Greatest Horsemen of all Times" by Horse and Hound magazine, made this statement: "Soring is one of the most despicable training methods I have ever come across in my lifetime of protecting horses. It's incredible to me that an industry based on the intentional infliction of pain to an animal could still exist in America. Congress should finally bring an end to this blatant cruelty and pass the PAST Act without delay."

The HSUS will continue to work with all horsemen and women of good will to end the pernicious abuse of soring and to promote one of the grander breeds in the world -- the naturally gaited, humanely trained and shod Tennessee walking horse.

Marty Irby

-- Marty Irby is a senior advisor for The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund, and is a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association.


Congress should give soring regulations the force of law
The Tennessean; February 4th, 2017- by Keith Dane.

It’s been nearly five decades since Congress passed the Horse Protection Act of 1970 to end the gruesome practice of soring Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to achieve a pain-based, high-stepping gait for competitions.

In that time, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, saddled with inadequate funding and overbearing political interference, has conducted an erstwhile but ineffective enforcement effort that largely allowed the industry to self-police — a true case of the fox guarding the henhouse.

On Jan. 13, USDA at long last announced it had finalized a rule to eliminate the loopholes in its Horse Protection Act regulations that have allowed soring to continue unabated for nearly half a century. The rule would prohibit the use of devices integral to the soring of Tennessee walking horses and racking horses and eliminate the failed system of industry self-policing, replacing it with a corps of reliable veterinary professionals that would be licensed, trained and overseen by the agency.

Tragically, though the agency sent the rule to the Office of the Federal Register to be published – a necessary step in order for new regulations to be implemented – that office failed to publish the rule in the closing days of the Obama administration. An order issued by President Trump froze all pending regulations that had not yet taken effect or been published – including the USDA’s soring rule. This shelves that rule and places responsibility for moving it forward back in the lap of USDA under President Trump.

This rule has been a long time in the making, and its adoption should be given high priority in the early days of the Trump administration. USDA first put horse sorers on notice that it was considering banning the cruel devices back in 1979. A comprehensive audit by the agency’s Inspector General in 2010 highlighted the corrupt self-policing system and need to overhaul the regulations. Beginning in 2014, more than 100 federal lawmakers of both parties publicly pressed the agency to make these revisions.

The rule was well vetted. During an extended comment period, more than 100,000 public comments poured in expressing support for the rule. A bipartisan group of 42 Senators and 182 Members of the House of Representatives sent letters commending USDA and urging the agency to finalize the rule before the end of the Obama administration.

Several of them also contacted the White House to voice their support. Those federal legislators and many more — 324 Representatives and Senators altogether in the 114th Congress— cosponsored the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which contains provisions similar to the final rule and was introduced largely to force USDA to fix its flawed regulatory scheme. Given the high level of congressional and public support for this rule, the Trump administration should move swiftly to implement it as written and Congress should not attempt to block or defund it.

Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is considering a grant to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association — a group led by several individuals who have been repeatedly cited for violations of the Horse Protection Act.

This grant would purportedly be used to research new means of detecting soring in horses, but it’s unnecessary and simply more smoke and mirrors from the horse soring crowd. USDA has spent thousands of taxpayer dollars researching and implementing very effective inspection methods based on best practices in veterinary science and medicine.

The pro-soring coalition just doesn’t like the results of USDA’s inspection methods and wants to poke holes in the arsenal of tools the agency uses to expose their cruelty.

Researching new means of detecting illegal soring is not what’s needed to protect Tennessee walking horses from such torture. What’s needed is for people in this culture of abuse to stop breaking the law and trying to explain their way out of it — and for USDA to carry out its mandate to end the vile practice of soring and move forward with the finalization of these urgently needed reforms to its regulations.

Keith Dane is the senior advisor on equine protection at The Humane Society of the United States.


Don’t let horse welfare become a partisan issue
The Hill (Blog), January 27th, 2017

While the symbols of our two major political parties may be an elephant and a donkey, both sides of the aisle should agree stopping horse abuse is a nonpartisan issue. That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) have long supported policies preventing soring, which is the practice of deliberately causing pain to exaggerate the leg motion of a horse’s gait to gain an unfair advantage in show rings.

We were heartened to see the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) finalization of a rule that would crack down on this inhumane and pervasive practice. Unfortunately, the recent regulatory freeze has put this rule on hold, which may have devastating consequences for horses. Together, the AVMA and the AAEP urge President Trump’s administration to move forward with this rule.

If you’ve seen Tennessee Walking Horses in action, you’re probably familiar with their distinct gait in which they lift their legs high with each step. This movement is prized in show rings. What the casual observer may not know is that for too many Tennessee Walking Horses, this gait is exaggerated through soring to produce the “big lick” that brings home even larger prizes.

Soring comes in many forms. For instance, some trainers may apply a caustic substance – like kerosene or croton oil – to a horse's lower leg and allow it to sink into the horse’s skin. Other tactics include grinding the sole of the hoof to expose sensitive tissues or inserting hard objects between the shoe or pad and the sole to cause pain. Regardless of the method, the result is the same: horses suffer greatly for no other reason than to increase their odds of a show ribbon.

The Horse Protection Act (HPA), as amended in 1976, prohibits soring of horses that are being transported, shown/exhibited or sold. Unfortunately, this practice has been able to continue illegally through a combination of industry self-regulation, detection avoidance by trainers and owners, and budget constraints limiting the USDA’s enforcement capabilities. It’s abundantly clear that enhanced enforcement is necessary to stop soring.

On Jan. 13, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced a final rule that would do just that. This rule would have APHIS license, train and oversee independent third-party inspectors to ensure that horses are no longer overseen by inspectors who may have serious conflicts of interest. Additionally, this rule would ban pads and action devices; the latter are items such as chains and ankle rings used in conjunction with chemical irritants to create pain when horses move. An exception would be made if a horse has been prescribed therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges. The AVMA and the AAEP are proud to have collaborated with the USDA to help make this rule as fair and effective as possible.

The changes this rule would implement are simple and necessary steps to promote the welfare of horses. Our country’s going to have a lot of tough political debates in the next year – whether we should protect horses from abuse shouldn’t be one of them. We look forward to working with the USDA to make sure horses have the protection they deserve.

Dr. Thomas F. Meyer is the President of the AVMA, which was founded in 1863 and represents more than 89,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine. Dr. R. Reynolds Cowles is President of the AAEP, which was founded in Lexington, Ky in 1954 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the health and welfare of the horse.


Roy Exum: Horse Reform Threatened
Wednesday, January 25, 2017 - by Roy Exum

It is being said that “bureaucratic bungling” is what is causing the United States Department of Agriculture to withdraw some new rules for the scandalous Tennessee Walking Horse industry. That is untrue; it is being threatened by a pair of devious United State Senators. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander have taken so much in “campaign contributions” from the seedy “Big Lick” that it is alleged President Donald Trump slashed the national effort before he even danced at the Inaugural Ball.

According to one source, McConnell has pocketed over $750,000 that the despicable Shelbyville crowd has spurred his way and Alexander, whose state campaign chairman and the Dirty Lick’s top villain are one in the same – Steven B. Smith – has led every elected Republican from Tennessee in Washington to share in the dirty money.

The Lickers are desperate for the state USDA to give them a $100,000 allocation of taxpayer money “to do a study” –when insiders say it is more to stay afloat. Membership dues and contributions have plummeted since the public became aware of the sadistic savagery used to inflict pain on the animal’s forelegs. This causes the anguished animals to do a dance called “the Big Lick” that is now being increasingly banned from horse shows.

Curiously, Trump has appointed former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue as the new Secretary of Agriculture and Perdue obtained his veterinarian’s license from the University of Georgia. Every veterinary group in the United States has decried the soring of Walkers, as well as the Humane Society of the United States and animal welfare groups the world over.

The new rules, which call for the removal of action devices and the ungainly pads on the front hooves, were approved on the last day of Barack Obama’s administration but had the support of 224 Senators and members of Congress, as well as over 100,000 public comments. Efforts to eliminate the cheating have gone on for almost a century but not until recent years has the public become aware of the rampant torture by walking horse trainers. Several trainers have testified the only way to achieve the unnatural Big Lick gait is with soring.

According to the USDA’s own records, somewhere between 67 and 95 percent of horses that were shown at the Shelbyville complex tested positive for chemicals and irritants that might be used for soring. This is why the Dirty Lick wants to use its own inspectors and judges. Another reason is that between 1988 and 2014, there have been over 4,000 violations of the Federal Horse Protection Act but not one person has ever been in jail.

The USDA knows its biggest black eye is the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. For the past three years different members of Congress and the Senate have pushed for the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics) and, while the bill has enjoyed a majority of co-sponsors, the sway McConnell and Alexander hold over the two chambers is appalling.

Last fall 42 Senators and 182 members of Congress called on outgoing USDA secretary Tom Vilsac to push the rule change but since Purdue has not been approved, there is a slim hope he could revive the changes. Keith Dane, the Senior Advisor for Equine Protection in the Humane Society, told one reporter, “Our hope is that either he, once he is confirmed, or someone else in a position to move the rule forward will do that swiftly and that it will be published in the Federal Register and become final.”

The noted horseman said that the Humane Society is not giving up. “We don’t really know for sure what happened,” he said. “We know at the end of the administration, as with many administrations in the past, there is an effort to get final regulations published late in the game. Whether that was the cause of the delay that prevented the rule from getting published before Obama left office or if there was some other behind-the-scenes action is really impossible for us to know.

“What all of us do know is this is something the USDA clearly wanted to happen and I can speak for sound horse owners and riders too – We all want this to happen.”

With Perdue’s confirmation all but assured, he could revive the rules changes but, with McConnell’s position in the Senate and the fact Trump picked McConnell’s wife, the Taiwan-born Elaine Chao as his Secretary of Transportation, there is reason to believe the new rules effort could be blocked.

“Right now it is wait-and-see,” said Dane. “We need to clean this part of the horse industry up once and for all.”

Click here for video of horses abused.


The Hit Dog Hollers

Sunday, January 15, 2017 - by Roy Exum

There is a country expression a fellow might use when he knows there will be a backlash and when it comes, “It’s a hit dog that hollers” the older men will say. Boy, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander didn’t let the sun shine on his hind leg before he wailed as the USDA’s new rules to curb the soring of Tennessee Walkers became public.

Crafty ol’ Lamar, of course, said he was against soring but claimed that the USDA rules that eliminated pads for front hooves, action devices and certified judges were “over reaching” and would “ruin a Tennessee tradition.” Please, what it is going to ruin is the Senator’s skim in campaign funds from the nauseating “Dirty Lick” camp of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Lamar’s in-state campaign chairman has been Steven B. Smith, the head guy at “Dirty Lick” headquarters. The Lick has funneled thousands to Alexander and his Kentucky accomplice, Mitch McConnell. The satchel trick is so bad not one of Tennessee’s seven members in Congress dared join a majority on the nation’s lawmakers in sponsoring the PAST Act, in as blatant a show of public disregard that has ever been witnessed in the state.

Now the problem becomes a cheater’s dream. The Dirty Lick has been soring and sadistically bullying Tennessee Walkers for nearly a century. Don’t you dare think they don’t have a hidden ace. And Rep. Scott DesJarlais, that bastion of Republican integrity from South Pittsburg, has already told how the Dirty Lick is gonna’ be back in business by next week.

The “ace” is called the “Midnight Rules Relief Act” and Scott walked with a swagger all weekend because he voted for it Wednesday. It has passed the house and Alexander is getting ready to play skip-to-the-loo with the bill in the Senate.

As DesJarlais spokesperson Brendan Thomas explained to reporters, "Congress could use the Relief Act to override any regulations the Obama administration has rushed through in the past year. DesJarlais himself chortled, “ … in one fell swoop!”

"The current Administration has set new records for total pages of federal regulations," said DesJarlais in a news release, "and the President is using his last days in office to ensure his legacy is one of political and economic dysfunction. Today's bill would help our country recover more quickly from a mess of rules and regulations weighing down future progress."

Candidly, I put nothing past Alexander and the Dirty Lickers. Not long ago the seedy ones had a banquet where they swooned and fawned all over Tennessee Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton and even pranced around with a standing ovation for all the Commissioner has done for the breed.

The real reason behind the charade was because the Dirty Lick has money problems and insiders say a state grant – something in six figures -- could “develop objective, science-based testing to detect any evidence of soring of show horses.”

Get the picture: all last year the USDA held huge meetings about soring and there was enough evidence to fill a double-wide horse trailer. Everybody knew the USDA had little choice but to cut out the stacks, dirty shoes and shady inspections, right? But then the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is falling for the slime’s peanut-shell game as if oblivious to the real world. It’s all smoke-and-mirrors!

The sound horse people know the Midnight Rules Relief Act could squelch the delight the USDA just delivered but the heartening news is the Dirty Lick is in terrible financial straits. When the horses now dance the gruesome and unnatural dance known as the “Big Lick” good horsemen leave the building and the Lickers have all but ruined the great breed.

The Dirty Lickers are on the run and, while the USDA’s latest salvo may get overturned, nothing can be done to salvage the most despicable equestrian monstrosity the American horse has ever known. Yes, the Lickers will still cheat but the truth is they are dying on the vine. As the USDA just confirmed, it is only a matter of time.


Times Free Press
Opinion Times
January 14th, 2017
Pam Sohn

Sohn: Long overdue rules will restore value to Tennessee Walking horses

Finally the use of stacks and chains will be banned in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Friday announced the release of new rules to upgrade Horse Protection Act regulations — designed to protect Tennessee walking horses. The rule "should largely spell the end of the barbaric and gratuitous practice of horse soring," according to a statement from the Humane Society of the United States — an organization that has fought for reform in the walking horse industry for more than a decade.

"It's a great day in history for the horses," said Keith Dane, the Humane Society's senior adviser for equine protection.

Chattanooga had a starring role in this reform effort — an effort that actually began 46 years ago when Congress passed the Horse Protection Act of 1970. Our own federal courthouse is where one-time Walking Horse Trainer of the Year Jackie McConnell and some of his stablehands pleaded guilty in 2013 on charges of abusing horses in the name of "training them" to step ever higher and higher.

Industry voices had long said that abuse was limited to just a few "bad apples" trying to make it to the big time, but in 2012, the country was shocked by video on prime-time news showing McConnell and his hired hands soring and beating horses. Many in the walking horse industry knew McConnell's barn had been raided by federal agents during the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration event in Shelbyville. What they didn't know until the video debuted was that the Humane Society of the United States had hidden-camera footage of the abuse.

In an apology video that McConnell made as a condition of his probation, he acknowledged that soring abuse is widespread in the industry.

Soring is the practice of deliberately injuring a horse's legs and hooves to force the horse to perform the artificial, high-stepping gait known as the "big lick." Soring and the "big lick" turn beautiful, athletic walking horses with a natural and somewhat arched gait into horses that lurch around a show ring with little resemblance to the smooth, fluid magic of our champion animals from the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.

The publicity of McConnell's case and a handful of others — the first ever prosecuted under the federal provisions of the Horse Protection Act — prompted activists, including Tennessee's Priscilla Presley, to lobby Congress to pass a law ending soring for good by banning all soring devices, including stacked shoes and pads that can help hide soring. Chains and foreign substances at horse shows, exhibitions, sales and auctions also would have been banned in that law.

But the horse industry and its supporters are strong and moneyed. Their lobbying stalled the legislation in committees.

None of Tennessee's Republican leadership would support the bill, and some — including Sen. Lamar Alexander — sponsored a watered-down industry-led bill that masqueraded as reform but in reality would maintain the status-quo. In July, the Obama administration's USDA — buoyed by the support of 50 senators and 273 House members who cosponsored the stalled bill — proposed these rule changes, which mirror the provisions in the Past Act.

The stack and chain bans are expected to take effect in about 30 days.

Another portion of the rule eliminates an inspection program that placed the very people abusing horses in charge of enforcing the law. That change will take effect in January 2018. The delay will give USDA time to adequately train future inspectors. Those future inspectors will be independent contractors paid by the shows and overseen by USDA. There will be no additional cost to taxpayers, Dane said.

It's almost certain that some will cry these new rules will kill Tennessee's multimillion-dollar walking horse industry. The annual show in Shelbyville runs for 11 days. Some in the industry likely will try to thwart the rules with lawsuits or push to have the incoming administration undo them.

But this doesn't have to be a show killer. Truthfully these horses will be more valuable and more beautiful just as they are without the lurching "big lick." They were valuable and beautiful before soring and they will be again.

The majestic and graceful Tennessee walking horse has been around since plantation times in the late 18th century, when farmers used smooth-gaited horses to cover lots of land quickly and comfortably. The horses had a natural, distinctive gait that is fast like a trot, but not at all jarring. Those utility horses were flat-shod, patiently trained and carried an outstanding reputation for calmness.

The first Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was in 1939, but caustic chemicals and weighted or stacked hoof devices didn't become the short-cut training methods called soring until the 1960s and after.

The industry will suffer more (and has) thanks to the scar it gave itself with this horrible abuse — a fact made clear by continually falling walking horse show attendance.

Horse lovers will always love and pay highly for true Tennessee walking horses — the ones that walk naturally and smoothly, thanks to traditional flat-shod and patient training methods.

Trainers would do themselves and these horses a favor by embracing these new rules and returning the Tennessee Walking Horse breed to its graceful roots.


Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service
4700 River Road
Riverdale, MD 20737
Voice 301-851-4100

Web: http://www.aphis.usda.gov 

Stakeholder Announcement 

USDA Announces Changes Aimed at Ending the Inhumane Practice of Horse Soring

January 13, 2017--WASHINGTON-- The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) today announced a final rule that includes changes that will help to protect horses from the cruel and inhumane practice known as soring and eliminate the unfair competitive advantage that sore horses have over horses that are not sore.  The practice of soring is intended to produce a high stepping gait through the use of action devices, caustic chemicals, and other practices that cause horses to suffer, or reasonably be expected to suffer physical pain, distress, inflammation, or lameness while walking or moving. 

APHIS enforces the Horse Protection Act (HPA), a Federal law that makes it unlawful for any person to show, exhibit, sell, or transport sore horses, or to use any equipment, device, paraphernalia, or substance prohibited by USDA to prevent the soring of horse in such events.  APHIS works actively with the horse industry to eliminate such inhumane practices and the resulting unfair competition they create at HPA-covered events.

The final rule addresses recommendations made by the USDA’s Office of Inspector General following an audit of APHIS’ horse protection program, which found the existing industry-led inspection program to be inadequate for ensuring compliance with the HPA.  The rule also seeks to address the substantial noncompliance that continues to exist among Tennessee Walking Horses and racking horses and the relationship that continues to exist between the use of certain prohibited items and soring in horses, such as the use of permitted action devices alone or in conjunction with prohibited substances.  

Under the final regulation—

  • APHIS will license, train, and oversee independent, third party inspectors, known as Horse Protection Inspectors (HPIs), and establish the licensing eligibility requirements to reduce conflicts of interest.
  • To allow sufficient time to train and license HPIs and ensure an adequate number before the start of the 2018 show season, current Designated Qualified Person (DQP) licenses will remain valid until January 1, 2018. Beginning January 1, 2018, management of horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions that elect to use inspection services, must appoint and retain a HPI to inspect horses.
  • Beginning January 1, 2018, the regulatory provisions applicable to Horse Industry Organization and Associations are removed and are no longer effective.
  • Beginning 30 days after the publication of the final rule, all action devices, except for certain boots, are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction.  All pads and wedges are prohibited on any Tennessee Walking Horse or racking horse at any horse show, exhibition, sale, or auction on or after January 1, 2018, unless such horse has been prescribed and is receiving therapeutic, veterinary treatment using pads or wedges.  This delayed implementation allows ample time to both gradually reduce the size of pads to minimize any potential physiological stress to the horses and prepare horses to compete in other classes.
  • Beginning January 1, 2018, management of HPA-covered events must, among other things, submit certain information records to APHIS, provide HPIs with access, space, and facilities to conduct inspections, and have a farrier physically present to assist HPIs at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions that allow Tennessee Walking Horses or racking horses to participate in therapeutic pads and wedges if more than 150 horses are entered, and have a farrier on call if 150 or fewer horses are entered.

Congress passed the HPA to end the cruel and inhumane practice of soring horses and stop unfair competition. Strengthening the HPA regulations and the enforcement of alleged violations is the best way to achieve this goal.  In addition, the prohibitions on the use of action devices and pads (with certain exceptions) are consistent with recommendations made by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, and leading industry standards for equestrian sports.

This final rule will be publish in the Federal Register in the coming days.  A copy of the rule that was submitted to the Federal Register can be viewed here.  

The changes regarding the prohibitions on the use of action devices and associated lubricants for exhibitors of Tennessee Walking horses and racking horses, along with the training and licensing of inspectors will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.  The rest of the rule will be effective January 1, 2018.


Animal protection rules could be chopped by regulation ax

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

In the first days of the 115th Congress, lawmakers are poised to take up the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act, which both have the potential to undermine Presidential authority and set the stage for the elimination of popular and bipartisan rules, taking an ax to a circumstance that requires far more precision and a more merits-based analysis on rules. This potentially includes a profound impact on rules that implement animal protection laws and improve enforcement of them.

The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21, would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow en bloc disapproval of multiple regulations finalized during the last year of a President’s term. Such action would prevent due consideration of the merits of individual regulations. For animal protection rules adopted during the Obama Administration, including in the final year of his term, most have been many years in the making, have elicited overwhelming numbers of favorable public comments, and have enjoyed strong, bipartisan congressional support.

For example, a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators wrote to USDA in support of the anti-horse soring rule, which corrects deficiencies in USDA’s current regulations in ways that mirror provisions in the PAST Act, legislation that had 273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors in the 114th Congress. The PAST Act was introduced largely to force the agency to fix these very problems, many of which were identified by a damning 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General report urging regulatory changes to overhaul the existing enforcement regimen. And the agency itself warned horse sorers that it was considering some of these changes in public notices going back to 1979. So this rule is a long time in coming. But this rule, likely to be finalized within the next few days, could be characterized as a “midnight rule” and eliminated, despite the enormous number of lawmakers from both parties who have urged its adoption. It would be a terrible mistake for Congress to sweep them away and undercut these reasonable efforts—in the works for years, after getting substantial input from Congress—to ensure that animal protection laws are carried out effectively. There was nothing nefarious or undercutting about this rulemaking, and if anything, the Obama Administration has dragged its feet on it, rather than rushing it through at the last minute.

Another example is a rule made final in July that closes a loophole for the processing of downer calves—animals too sick, injured, or weak to walk—to prohibit sending them into the food supply, just as was done for downer cattle by USDA regulations in 2009. A series of undercover investigations documented that downer calves are subjected to the same heinous abuse as adult downer cows to get them on their feet for inspection, and showed the serious food safety concerns from eating calves unable to stand, as there were for downer cattle. This rule was anything but precipitously adopted—the agency had said back in 2013 that it would update its regulations to close the loophole—and a bipartisan group of 92 Representatives and 14 Senators urged USDA and OMB to finish this rulemaking in letters sent in 2014 and 2015.

One report found that rules issued during the “midnight” or presidential transition period spent even more time in the rulemaking process and received even more extensive vetting than other rules. That’s our experience with the measures we’ve encouraged final action upon. Analysis of all economically significant rulemakings finalized since 1999 showed that such rules issued during the transition period took on average 3.6 years to complete compared to 2.8 years for such rules issued at other times during a term.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017, H.R. 26, would require that both houses of Congress approve a major rule (including those issued during the 60 legislative/session days prior to adjournment of the previous session), with no alteration, within a 70-day window. If both chambers are unable to swiftly approve a major rule, it would not take effect and reconsideration during that Congress would be precluded. By doing nothing, Congress would prevent existing laws from being implemented, including common sense, non-controversial rules affecting animal welfare. The bill forces expedited floor consideration by both chambers of resolutions to approve major rules and to disapprove nonmajor rules, and it bars judicial review of any actions taken under the REINS Act.

Congress already sets the boundaries for agency rulemaking, making the REINS Act needless and redundant. It is already the case that agencies can only exercise authority that has been delegated by Congress in authorizing legislation, and if agencies overstep their authority, judicial scrutiny can be invoked and agency actions can be reversed. We urge Congress to reject both of these unwarranted bills, which take a sledgehammer approach to regulations and could negate well-considered and broadly supported rules to implement and enforce animal protection laws.

Contact your U.S. Representative TODAY and urge him or her to oppose the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21 and the REINS Act of 2017, H.R. 26.


Horse soring critics: Grant to industry group would 'perpetuate cruelty'

Supporters say the grant will help study new ways to detect soring. Anti-soring activists say a grant to a walking horse industry group will 'perpetuate cruelty.'

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture is considering giving a grant to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association for a study in what walking horse industry activists contend would amount to "state-subsidized animal cruelty."

The breeders association has proposed "an independent study to develop objective, science-based testing to detect any evidence of soring," according to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture in early December.

The potential grant comes at a time when legislators and activists have placed bipartisan pressure on the Obama administration to enact new rules to strengthen protections against soring before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month.

Soring is the practice of intentionally abusing a horse to exaggerate its gait, causing the animals pain each time they step so they lift their front legs higher. The abuse often includes the use of caustic chemicals cooked into the skin but can also involve shoving objects between the hoof and stacked shoes, among other methods. Stacks are tall weights attached to the front hooves of most performance Tennessee walking horses.

The study, known as "Project Pegasus," was initially funded by private and industry donations, according to  breeders association Executive Director Rory Williams.

Agriculture Commissioner Jai Templeton has been in talks with the breeders association since summer, although no formal agreement has been reached, according to agriculture spokeswoman Corinne Gould. She said the grant would be in keeping with the agency's mission to support and promote agriculture in the state.

"Assisting the walking horse industry to develop a solution to a challenge is no different than what we do when there are challenges within the cattle, dairy, poultry, pork or other livestock industries," Gould said.

But the state and federal departments of agriculture have different ideas about how to address the challenge of abuse the industry faces.

"The Tennessee walking horse has put Tennessee on the global equine map for two reasons: its incredibly smooth ride and wonderful personality and because it is considered the most abused breed in the world," said Teresa Bippen, president of the anti-soring group Friends of Sound Horses.

Gould said the stacks and chains are tools, not unlike those used in other show breeds. She argued the current testing methods are subjective and create conflict between federal officials and those involved with organizing and participating in horse shows.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which already uses a number of scientific tests, aims to ban the use of stacks and chains entirely and to restructure the self-policing inspection process. The USDA sets the standards for testing horses at shows, exhibits and auctions, where it is a federal offense to enter a sored horse under the Horse Protection Act.

The USDA tests include:

  • Swabbing for foreign substances, such as caustic chemicals or numbing agents. 
  • Using thermography to record the surface temperature of skin to find inflamed areas.
  • Using digital radiography to find foreign objects or imbalanced hoofs.
  • Using blood sampling to test for foreign chemicals.
  • And using palpation, in which inspectors touch the horses' ankles to look for scars, lesions, irritation or a painful reaction to physical contact.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack's reliance on palpation is based on the experience of a large number of veterinarians, many of whom have had 10 to 20 years of experience in examining several thousand horses as part of their efforts to enforce the HPA, USDA spokeswoman Pamela Mann said.

But most inspections are done by private inspectors who work for what are known as horse inspection organizations. These groups are hired by horse show, exhibition or auction management companies.

USDA inspectors visit select shows to audit private inspector performance, where they consistently find more sore horses than private inspectors do.

This year federal inspectors found almost six times as many violations as private inspectors did at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the largest Tennessee walking horse show in the nation. A total of 129 horses were disqualified, mostly for having scars, inflammation or irritation or for testing positive for the presence of an illegal foreign substance.

The proposed USDA Horse Protection Act amendment would force inspectors to become trained and licensed through the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Another major amendment would ban the stacks and chains performance horses are forced to wear. Only flatshod competitors, or walking horses without the tall stacks and chains, would be allowed at competitions or sales.

Significantly fewer flatshod horses are found sore at shows. Only two such competitors were disqualified at the Celebration last year.

A bipartisan group of 41 senators and 182 House members has written a letter to the agriculture secretary urging the agency to adopt the new regulations before the end of the current administration, saying there’s no guarantee that Trump will be committed to ending the controversial practice.

The proposed regulations are under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and a decision is expected soon.

Although the Tennessee Department of Agriculture said the study would be independent, private horse inspection organization the Walking Horse Equestrian Federation will undertake Project Pegasus, according to Williams. The project has so far been funded by private and industry donations.

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture said it was not aware the study had been commissioned.

Williams said the breeders association is excited to change "the horse world forever by taking on soring with science."

When asked what sorts of objective, scientific tests were being looked at, he said suggesting specific tests or protocols to the horse inspection organization would be presumptuous.

Clant Seay, a Tennessee walking horse anti-soring activist, presents a 6,000-signature petition to Tom Womack, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner, on Dec. 8, 2016.

Clant Seay, a Tennessee walking horse anti-soring activist, presents a 6,000-signature petition to Tom Womack, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner, on Dec. 8, 2016.

The study was launched about 10 months ago.

Bippen said objective tests are already in place and called Project Pegasus a waste of the state's money.

"A major step forward for TWHBEA should be to refuse to register any horse that is written up for soring," Bippen said.

The breeders and exhibitors organization is responsible for establishing policies and requirements and for maintaining the breed registry.

"The state of Tennessee will own this if they give them that money," said anti-soring activist Clant Seay, who has turned over a petition to Gov. Bill Haslam with more than 6,000 signatures opposing the grant to the breeders group. He said the grant would "perpetuate cruelty."

"This is badly wrong to support something the rest of the world has turned away from," Seay said. "The answer to all of this is just to let the horse go natural."


Animal-rights groups push quick action on horse 'soring' rules

Michael Collins, USA today, 3:44 p.m. EST December 19, 2016 on

USA Today

WASHINGTON — Animal-rights activists are encouraging the Obama administration to finalize new federal regulations before President-elect Donald Trump takes office next month to stop what they say is a cruel and painful practice often inflicted upon show horses.

The Department of Agriculture announced in July it is considering new rules to strengthen requirements against horse “soring," or placing chains, caustic chemical agents or other devices on the legs and hooves of Tennessee walking horses and similar breeds.

The devices are used to inflict pain so that when the animals’ hooves touch the ground, they kick up their feet higher and faster than normal, producing an exaggerated version of their natural high-stepping gait to give them an advantage in show competitions.

The proposed regulations are currently under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget.

A leading animal rights group is pushing for the regulations to be in place before Trump takes office on Jan. 20 because they say there’s no guarantee he would be committed to ending the controversial practice.

“None of us can predict how President Trump will address animal welfare in the first 100 days of his administration or beyond,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote in a blog post on the group’s website a week after the Nov. 8 election.

“But momentum is clearly behind this much needed rule, and it’s been delayed for years,” Pacelle wrote. “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.”

A bipartisan group of 41 senators and 182 House members also has written a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the agency to swiftly adopt the new regulations before the end of the current administration.

Soring already is illegal under federal law, but some trainers still use the practice on show horses before a competition.

Federal law bans the use of chemical agents but not the chains, hoof bands and other devices used to cause soring. The proposed regulations would update the Horse Protection Act to ban all soring devices.

Also, the Agriculture Department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would assume responsibility for training and licensing of horse inspectors under the proposed rules. The new trainers would be veterinarians and veterinarian educators.

Right now, the horse industry is responsible for training its own inspectors to look for evidence of soring. Critics say the self-policing system is ineffective because the inspectors are employees of horse-show organizations and often are exhibitors themselves, a conflict of interest that leaves them with no incentive to find violations.

Legislation to ban soring has stalled in Congress, so animal rights supporters see the proposed regulations as their best shot at eliminating the practice.

The proposed rules have been in the making for six years, when the Agriculture Department’s Inspector General released an audit that concluded the current self-policing system is inadequate.

“This is not a hurried, last-minute rush job,” said Keith Dane, the Humane Society’s senior adviser for equine protection.

Federal rules usually take effect 30 days after they are published in the Federal Register, so for the anti-soring regulations to be in place before Trump takes office, they would have to be published by Tuesday.

An OMB spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Even if the rules are in place before Trump takes office, the Republican-controlled Congress could overturn them under the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which speeds up the repeal process by requiring only a simple majority to undo regulations.

But given the bipartisan support for ending soring, Dane suggested Trump and the lawmakers might choose to leave them in place.

“There might be a temptation on the part of Republicans in the next Congress and in the next administration to undo some of the regulations promulgated by President Obama,” he said.

But, “this is one that isn’t a partisan issue and shouldn’t be seen as such. It should be implemented as soon as possible and retained going forward.”


This statement was obtained from the USDA APHIS site relating to the proposed regulation and is reproduced for public information. 

Re: Docket ID: APHIS-2011-0009. Horse Protection Act: Licensing of Designated Qualified Persons and
Other Amendments

Dear Ms. Juarez:

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine
Practitioners (AAEP) condemn the practice of soring to accentuate a horse’s gait for training or show
purposes, and support the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s ongoing efforts to enforce the
Horse Protection Act (HPA). We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture moving forward with this
Proposed Rule to amend the HPA regulations in ways that are necessary to protect the welfare of
horses. The AVMA and AAEP appreciate the opportunity to submit these comments to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) on the proposed
changes to the Horse Protection Act (HPA) regulations.

General Comments on the Proposed Rule

The AVMA and AAEP fully support taking action to end the soring of the Tennessee Walking Horse,
Racking Horse, and Spotted Saddle Horse breeds as quickly as possible. The AVMA and AAEP have
always opposed soring and supported the enforcement of the HPA. There is no question that soring is an
abusive practice that should not be tolerated or allowed to continue. Various efforts initiated since the
enactment of the HPA 46 years ago to stop the soring of so-called “big lick” walking horses have not
accomplished the purpose of the 1970 Act: to end soring. Improvements to the HPA enforcement
program are clearly needed and justified.

It has become increasingly obvious that a primary focus of regulatory change should be to prohibit the
use—wherever the Horse Protection Act is in force—of equipment that has been proven to be
associated with soring in the breeds most often sored: Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and
Spotted Saddle Horses. In 2012, the AVMA and AAEP called for an end to the use of “action devices”
(including chains, ankle rings, collars, rollers and bracelets of wood or aluminum beads) and
“performance packages” (also called “stacks” and “pads”). These devices, still in widespread use, can
make it possible to mask the underlying causes of soring while increasing the pain felt by these animals.
They exacerbate the pain of chemical irritants applied to the legs; facilitate concealment of other objects
that produce pain; cause the hoof to strike the ground at an abnormal angle and with excessive force;
and damage the hoof, all for the purpose of producing an unnatural, exaggerated gait.

Additionally, the AVMA and AAEP support the regulatory changes that would eliminate the horse show
industry’s failed self-policing system that is rife with conflicts of interest and unable to ensure
compliance. The current system of utilizing Designated Qualified Person (DQP) licensing programs,
sponsored by Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs), has never worked and must be replaced. The AVMA, 
1931 N Meacham Rd, Ste 100 | Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360 | p: 800.248.2862 | www.avma.org
AAEP, and the veterinary profession support creating a structure where only USDA-licensed, trained,
and supervised inspectors, held accountable by the agency, are made available for hire by show
management to inspect horses for compliance with the HPA. The USDA Inspector General concurs with
this assessment, having made a recommendation in its 2010 audit to replace the HIO/DQP model with a
system of inspectors licensed and supervised directly by the Department.

However, it is equally important that any new regulations be focused on addressing the problem of
soring and specifically the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, and Spotted Saddle Horse breeds,
which have a long history of soring abuse and violations. Soring is a problem that is recognized in a
specific segment of the horse industry.

The AVMA and AAEP do not believe that this regulation will prohibit or intends to prohibit the use of
supportive pads or shoeing practices in breeds or disciplines outside the Tennessee Walking Horse,
Racking Horse, or Spotted Saddle Horse breeds, as they do not result in, nor are they purposely used as
part of, efforts to sore horses. However, we would encourage the USDA to provide further clarification
for the horse industry regarding the use of pads, hoof bands, and foreign substances to quell fears that
the proposed changes will prohibit practices that do not have a reasonable expectation to cause soring.
The PAST Act (S. 1121/ HR 3268), which is supported by most major horse show organizations, the
American Horse Council, every state veterinary medical association in the United States and a majority
of members of Congress, includes prohibitions similar to the proposed rule. The PAST Act, however,
explicitly limits such prohibitions to the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, and Spotted Saddle
Horse breeds. We understand there may be practical limitations to enforcement of the regulation as
USDA Animal Care will need support in the form of resources and finances and trust that every effort
will be made to focus on the horses at greatest risk of being sored.

Specific Comments on the Proposed Rule

Prohibited Actions, Practices, Devices, and Substances

The AVMA and AAEP strongly support a ban on action devices (including chains), weighted shoes, stacks,
and performance packages on the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, and Spotted Saddle Horse
breeds.

The AVMA and AAEP request USDA modify 11.2 to read: “The use of the following equipment or
practices is specifically prohibited with respect to the Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, and
Spotted Saddle Horse breed.”

While the AVMA and AAEP support new paragraph (a)(3) of § 11.2, prohibiting the use of any weight on
yearling horses, excepting a keg or similar horseshoe, and also prohibiting horseshoes weighing more
than 16-ounces on yearling horses, we also recommend that the shoe for horses of all ages must be
made completely of rubber, plastic, aluminum or steel, and that the dimensions cannot exceed 1 1/2
inches by 1/2 inch and the shoe cannot obstruct the use of hoof testers on the sole and frog.
While the AVMA and AAEP appreciate the suggested changes proposed for paragraph (b)(13) of § 11.2
re-designating this paragraph as paragraph (a)(5) and amending it to remove the reference to pads, we
do not believe that permitting the use of any hoof packing for horses in the Tennessee Walking Horse,
Racking Horse, or Spotted Saddle Horse breeds within this rule is necessary, prudent, or beneficial for
these horses, especially with the inclusion of the prohibition on stacks and performance packages.
The AVMA and AAEP support the changes proposed in paragraph (b)(18) as (a)(7) of § 11.2; however, we
recommend you amend it further by adding prohibitions on excessive paring of the frog and/or sole and
1931 N Meacham Rd, Ste 100 | Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360 | p: 800.248.2862 | www.avma.org
on intentional bruising of the hoof; and by adding that horses showing any other indications of pressure
shoeing are considered sore and subject to all the prohibitions in the Act.

Scar Rule

The AVMA and AAEP support paragraphs (a) and (b) of § 11.3 regarding the scar rule; however, we
would recommend in (a) the addition of “anterior-medial” so that it reads:

(a) The anterior, anterior-medial, and anterior-lateral surfaces of the fore pasterns (extensor surface)
must be free of bilateral granulomas, other bilateral pathological evidence of inflammation, and, other
bilateral evidence of abuse indicative of soring including, but not limited to, excessive loss of hair.
In addition, we recommend the following text be included in this section of the rule:
For horses born after [TBA – a date close to the implementation of the rule], the entire surface of the
pastern, including the sulcus or “pocket,” must be free of bilateral granulomas, other bilateral
pathological evidence of inflammation, and other bilateral evidence of abuse indicative of soring
including, but not limited to, excessive loss of hair, and must be free of uniformly thickened epithelial
tissue, proliferating granuloma tissue, irritation, moisture, edema, or other evidence of inflammation.
Horses subject to this rule that do not meet the above criteria shall be considered to be “sore” and are
subject to all prohibitions of section 5 of the Act.
Horse Protection Inspectors (HPIs)

The AVMA and AAEP strongly support USDA’s decision to eliminate the current Designated Qualified
Person (DQP) program and remove Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) from having a role in
enforcement of the HPA. The AVMA and AAEP support the creation of the new Horse Protection
Inspector (HPI) program and strong safeguards to prevent conflicts of interests.

Conclusion

The AVMA and AAEP support APHIS’ efforts to strengthen enforcement of the HPA. Changes to the HPA
regulations are clearly needed and justified. We appreciate the opportunity to comment and provide
needed feedback on behalf of our organizations’ memberships.

About the AAEP

The AAEP, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky, was founded in 1954 as a non-profit organization
dedicated to the health and welfare of the horse. Currently, the AAEP reaches more than 5 million horse
owners through its nearly 9,400 members worldwide (nearly 7,900 in the United States) and is actively
involved in equine welfare and ethics issues, practice management, research, and continuing education
in the equine veterinary profession and horse industry.

About the AVMA

As one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations, with more than 88,000 member
veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and
science of veterinary medicine, the mission of the AVMA is to lead the profession by advocating for its
members and advancing the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human
health. The Association has a long-term concern for, and commitment to, the welfare and humane
treatment of animals. 

1931 N Meacham Rd, Ste 100 | Schaumburg, IL 60173-4360 | p: 800.248.2862 | www.avma.org
If you have any questions or require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Cia
Johnson, Director, AVMA Animal Welfare Division, at 847-285-6696 or via e-mail to cjohnson@avma.org
or Mr. Keith Kleine, AAEP Director of Industry Relations, at 859-233-0147 or via e-mail to
kkleine@aaep.org.

Sincerely,

Thomas Meyer, DVM
2016-2017 AVMA President

Kathleen M. Anderson, DVM
2016 AAEP President


Yoho Urges Soring Rule Approval Before Administration Change

By Pat Raia / Published Oct 27, 2016 on theHorse.com

United States Representative Ted Yoho (R-FL) and 180 of his bipartisan colleagues have asked USDA chief Tom Vilsack to finalize the latest proposed Horse Protection Act (HPA) rule change before a new president is elected in November. Yoho is the primary sponsor of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

The HPA, which prohibits soring, is enforced by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and tasks the agency with certifying horse industry organization and training designated qualified persons to carry out HPA compliance inspections.

Under the proposed change, APHIS would assume responsibility for training, screening, and licensing inspectors at horse shows, including a new contingent of veterinarians and veterinary technicians who would be required to follow APHIS rules and standards of conduct. The rule would also ban the use of all action devices, pads, and foreign substances at shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions. The USDA said the ban would align the HPA regulations with existing U.S. Equestrian Federation standards.

The public initially had until Sept. 26 to comment on the proposed rule changes. However, that deadline was extended to Oct. 26.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Vilsack, Yoho requested that the rule only be applied to Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses, all breeds which historically have been linked to soring.

“This draft rule has the potential to completely eradicate the barbaric practice known as soring,” Yoho’s Communications Director Brian Kaveney said. “However, it is vitally important that this rule does not exceed its jurisdiction, which is why the letter also requested that the USDA rule only be applied to those breeds which have been historically linked to the practice of soring.

Finally, the letter commended the USDA on proposing the change and urged the agency to “prioritize the finalization of the rule. As the agency committed in 2010 to promulgate rules to strengthen enforcement of the HPA, regulator action is long overdue and must be completed before the end of this administration.”


End blue-ribbon cruelty

Note: Senator Joseph Tydings is the author of the original Horse Protection Act.  He continues to be outspoken  about the need to eliminate abusive training and shoeing practices involved with producing exaggerated gaits for the show ring  in walking, racking and spotted saddle horses. 

By Joseph Tydings / Published in the Scranton Times-Tribune  October 13, 2016

From my early days riding to my service during World War II to even today, horses and ponies always have been a part of my life.
It was during my tenure representing Maryland in the U.S. Senate, that I first became aware of a sickening practice all too often inflicted on the stoic creature known as the Tennessee walking horse.
Soring is an inhumane process that involves intentionally injuring a horse’s hooves and legs to get him to perform a high-stepping gait known as “the big lick,” which is a big ribbon-winner at horse shows across the South.
The practice results in docile, trusting horses being tortured day after day, with many effectively crippled for life after their show days.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture could soon end this shameful tradition. I took a stab at that in 1968, when I authored the Horse Protection Act, which Congress passed in 1970, making it a crime to exhibit, sell or transport a sored horse.
What I didn’t realize was that many owners and trainers are so corrupt and so addicted to the trophies produced by an artificial, pain-based gait, that they’ll do anything to evade detection. With their political influence over powerful U.S. senators in Kentucky and Tennessee, they’ve been able to maintain the status quo.
This small subset of owners and trainers has developed a variety of gruesome tactics to inflict pain and force horses to “hit the big lick.” The methods include cooking caustic chemicals into the horses’ lower legs and then strapping on metal chains that strike the inflamed skin. Horses are forced to wear and perform in heavy, stacked shoes that conceal hard objects jammed into their tender soles.
The trainers go to great lengths to avoid detection, applying numbing agents to the horse’s legs the day of the show and using beatings to train the horse not to react to pain during inspection.
The Horse Protection Act authorizes the USDA to inspect horses at shows, but a 1976 amendment established a self-policing scheme under which the industry has been allowed to select its own inspectors. This system has been such a failure that a 2010 audit by the USDA office of the inspector general called for the USDA to resume full oversight.
In recent years, undercover investigations and media coverage have shone a tragic light on this abuse — and in the absence of USDA action, Congress once again got involved. It introduced new, tougher bipartisan horse protection legislation.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, co-sponsored by more than half of Congress, would amend the Horse Protection Act to end industry self-policing, ban the torture devices used in soring and stiffen penalties to provide a more effective deterrent.
Support for the PAST Act includes America’s entire veterinarian community, almost every major horse breed organization, animal protection groups and law enforcement associations.
Unfortunately, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, has prevented any vote on this bill. And opposition from a handful of congressman from Tennessee and Kentucky determined to protect the interests of their law-breaking campaign contributors has effectively thwarted enforcement.
The USDA has stepped forward to propose new regulations consistent with key elements of the PAST Act.
All horsemen and animal lovers should support this rule. It would end the failed industry self-policing system and replace it with a team of USDA-licensed and trained third-party, independent inspectorst. It would prohibit the use of the implements of the soring process.
These reforms will save the true, uncorrupted walking horse industry from further deterioration. Changes will allow those who are playing by the rules to finally be free of the stigma that soring brings on this beautiful breed of horses.
As the American public has learned the horrible truth about soring, they overwhelmingly have supported this reform. The USDA must move swiftly during this administration to implement these reforms. For nearly a half-century, violators have thumbed their noses at federal law in their pursuit of this blatant animal cruelty. It’s time to finally close this dark chapter in American history, once and for all.


TRIPADVISOR SAYS ‘NO’ TO ANIMAL EXPLOITATION

By Wayne Pacelle on October 12, 2016

We vote for or against cruelty with our dollars, and that includes travel spending. So it was with great excitement that we learned that TripAdvisor, an online travel company that guides millions of tourist decisions, has launched a “no touching of wild animals” policy, whereby it will no longer sell tickets to attractions where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild or endangered animals. This includes swim-with-dolphin operators, elephant rides, zoos that feature public handling and photo ops with big cats and bears, and other practices.

If people stop going to places and attractions that do terrible things to animals, those places will wither, starved of the cash that motivates their entire operation. Kudos to TripAdvisor for this forward-looking policy and for providing an additional example of the humane economy in practice.

We’ve long urged all humane advocates to avoid patronizing events that cause cruelty, and it’s having an effect. For some years, attendance at the Celebration, the major event of the Tennessee walking horse show world, has been declining because of growing public disgust with the practice of soring – where trainers injure the horses’ feet and legs by chemical or mechanical means in order to produce an exaggerated, pain-based gait known as the “Big Lick.”

But while we are urging people to stay away from “Big Lick” events in order to dry up their funding sources, we are also working on public policy goals to forbid this abuse.

To that end, I’m so pleased that so many lawmakers are stepping up. Last week, a bipartisan group of 40 U.S. senators led by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging him to swiftly implement a rule that the agency proposed in July to upgrade its regulations under the Horse Protection Act (which the USDA enforces). A similar letter that 140 representatives have already agreed to co-sign is now being circulated in the House.

The rule would be the biggest step to help end the cruel practice of horse soring since the passage of the Act itself. It contains key elements of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 1121/H.R.3268), which was introduced in the Senate by Ayotte and Warner and in the House by Reps. Ted Yoho and Kurt Schrader, both veterinarians.

The bills have enormous bipartisan support in both chambers, and the backing of just about every sector of the horse industry as well as the veterinary community. But a few well-placed legislators have thwarted the will of the majority of lawmakers and prevented a vote on the issue. Since the PAST Act was introduced largely because the USDA failed to strengthen its regulations to better enforce the law against horse soring, we’re pleased the agency is now moving forward on this vital effort.

Over the past decade, The HSUS has been diligently working to expose the rampant cruelty inflicted on Tennessee walking horses and related breeds. In 2015 we launched a second major undercover investigation into the top-winning training stable ThorSport Farms, proving once again that this terrible practice continues at the highest levels of competition.

Just this past week, further evidence of the suffering that the victims of soring endure was captured by a spectator on video when a horse collapsed during a class at the North Carolina Championship Horse Show held at the Western NC Agricultural Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Dr. Michael Blackwell, HSUS chief veterinary officer, and the former Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, viewed the video and said, “This horse is obviously uneasy and appears to be in pain. It is unconscionable that someone would intentionally inflict pain in order to force an unnatural gait. The USDA’s proposed rule will go a long way toward preventing the cruelty.”

We have for several years urged the USDA to issue new, tougher regulations to close loopholes in HPA enforcement. In 2015, with the pro bono legal support of Latham & Watkins LLP, we filed a petition seeking to eliminate the failed system of industry self-policing in the big lick faction of this industry, and the use of devices used to sore horses.

The pending rule grants several of our requests and we are urging the USDA to implement it swiftly after the close of the public comment period on October 26th. We need your help to get this done during this presidential administration. Please submit your comment in support of this vital regulation.


SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

AHC WASHINGTON UPDATE
Copyright © 2016 American Horse Council

Permission to pass on the AHC Washington Update to your members, readers, or others is granted on the condition that it is forwarded in its original form or directly linked with the AHC logo and a link to the AHC website.
AHC Statement on Proposed Horse Protection Act Regulations

AHC Statement on Proposed Horse Protection Act Regulations

Many individuals in the horse industry are aware that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has published proposed changes to the regulations governing enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The proposed rule would make several major changes to current HPA regulations with the goal of ending soring, including a new licensing program for HPA inspectors and a ban on action devices, pads, weighted shoes and foreign substances at walking horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

The American Horse Council (AHC) strongly opposes soring and believes action must be taken to stop the soring of "big lick" Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses.  However, the AHC is concerned that certain provisions of the proposed rule are too broadly written, not sufficiently defined, and could cause confusion for the horse show industry.  Like all industries, the horse show industry requires clarity in any regulatory regime that impacts its operation.  Soring is a problem that is well defined and limited to a very specific segment of the walking horse industry and any new regulations should reflect this fact.

The AHC's formal comments to USDA will strongly urge USDA to explicitly limit all new provisions to Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses, mirroring the PAST Act.  Making this change will address most concerns the horse industry has with the proposed rule and will fulfill the purpose and intent of the HPA.
The AHC wants to be clear, many of the proposed changes to the HPA regulations are needed, such as replacing the ineffective Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program with a new independent inspection program. Additionally, because of a long history of utilizing action devices, stacks, weighted shoes, and foreign substances to sore horses, a ban of these items on Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses, and Spotted Saddle Horses is justified and needed.
However, the AHC believes it is equally important that any new regulations be narrowly focused on the problem of soring and do not  inadvertently impact or unnecessarily burden other segments of the horse show industry that have no history of soring horses. 

The AHC will be submitting detailed written comments to USDA in the coming weeks.

View Article on AHC Website
 
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USDA Steps Up to Stop Cruelty to Gaited Horses

Please Note: The petition from Care2.com to the Congress on this issue referred to in the article  is now closed. It had more than 76,000 signatures. To add your thoughts in support of the proposed rule to remove pads and chains and eliminate industry self-inspection from walking, racking and spotted saddle horses, please go to the USDA comment page before the deadline,  September 26th. 

It’s heartbreaking to think about the countless horses that have needlessly suffered from the abusive techniques used to prompt an unnaturally high stepping gait, otherwise known as the “Big Lick.”

Thanks to undercover investigations and the work of animal advocates, the problem has reached a much wider audience and has drawn some major opposition from the public.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is introducing proposed legislation that could help end the ongoing torture of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses and other gaited breeds that are tortured for nothing more than a win at a show.

The abusive practices used to get the Big Lick, otherwise known as soring, include putting caustic substances on the sensitive skin around horses’ hooves at their pasterns, bulbs of their heels and coronary bands. The chemicals cause blistering, burning and irritation, which makes horses quickly lift their legs to avoid pain. Trainers often cover the treated area in plastic wrap to ensure that the substances are absorbed.

Action devices, including pads or stacks, may be used on the front hooves to raise a horse’s forehand and add even more animation, but this causes unbalanced feet, among other problems. Objects can also be hidden between the pads and hoof to cause more agony. If all that doesn’t do the trick, chains may be used as another strategy to add to the pain.

Some horse handlers use salicylic acid or other agents to cover any visible damage and train horses not to react to having their legs touched — part of standard inspections for entry to shows and competitions.

Soring in all breeds has been banned for decades under the Horse Protection Act, or HPA, but the technique is still used by unethical trainers to achieve that high step. The practice has continued to be exposed through undercover investigations and the release of evidence in cruelty cases.

This month, even more footage was released by the Humane Society of the United States:

Unfortunately, the HPA only protects horses at shows and during transport; it doesn’t cover what happens at home and allows for self-regulation when it comes to inspections.

While animal advocates have pushed Congress to end this abuse by passing the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, no action has been taken.

In response, supporters of the proposed legislation turned to the USDA to do something. Now the agency is stepping up with a proposed rule that includes some of the key provisions in the PAST Act. If finalized, the rule would make the USDA responsible for training, licensing and screening all inspectors.

This change would effectively end the self-policing of industry insiders, in addition to banning the use of the action devices and any substances that may be applied, harmful or otherwise.

The proposed rule is now being supported by lawmakers and organizations — including the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Animal Welfare Institute and HSUS, among others.

“While a handful of politicians doing the bidding of sorers have so far blocked passage of the PAST Act, horses are being tortured for competitions and the corrupt industry self-policing has lost all credibility. It’s time for all equestrians, animal lovers and humane-minded people across America to say enough is enough and support toughening the regulations,” said Keith Dane, senior advisor on equine protection for The HSUS.

How to Help

The USDA will accept public comments on the proposed rule until September 26. You can submit one in support of finalizing the rule at the Federal Register.


Make a Difference

be a horse hero

We believe that each and every one of us can make a difference in this world. That's why it's important to me that Breyer gives back every year by donating money and products to organizations that are trying to help animals and make the world a better place.

end soring now!

Right now, we are asking our friends and fans to help us end soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse and racking horse communities. Soring is the intentional harming of horses to achieve an exaggerated and unnatural gait to win ribbons. This is done in a variety of ways including applying caustic, abrasive and chemical agents to horses' legs, cruel and unnatural shoeing, extreme shoe weights and action devices.

We understand that the vast majority of horse owners love their horses and treat them kindly. Sadly, there are still a number of ignorant and unscrupulous horse trainers and owners who employ these cruel and unconscionable training methods. So much so that U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) has to monitor and regulate their horse shows for evidence of soring ... which, sadly for these poor horses, they continue to find.

how you can help!

The USDA needs our support and input. The USDA has introduced new rules that will effectively put the teeth back into their rules and help end soring. USDA's proposed changes would bring the Horse Protection Act regulations into alignment with existing standards established by the U.S. Equestrian Federation - the governing body for equestrian sports in America.  While there will likely be some language changes relating to the use of pads because several breeds have expressed some concern over banning the use of pads entirely, the rule changes that the USDA are the best proposals yet to end soring.

Specifically, these rule changes address two main areas:

  • Under the proposed rule, inspectors would be independent veterinarians or animal health technicians who are licensed by USDA and have no affiliation with any horse industry organizations. USDA would oversee this new group of independent inspectors.
  • USDA would prohibit the use of all action devices, pads and foreign substances that may be used to sore horses.

Tell the USDA that you want to end soring and that you support their rule changes. It's easy and it will make a difference! Click here to add your voice to those that support the USDA and let's take this positive step toward ending soring forever.

Act Now! The public comment period runs from July 26 - September 26, 2016.

View the entire regulatory docket and submit your comments.

Here is the link to send your comments to the USDA - please do it today!

https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=APHIS-2011-0009-0001

Thank you!

Tony Fleischmann
President and Head Animal Lover


Help end cruelty of soring horses

August 21, 2016

By Jo Ellen Hayden

The cruel practice of soring has been going on for about 60 years, has been immoral all of those years, and illegal for 45 of them but it still happens

Jo Ellen Hayden
 
Undercover video footage released in 2012 documented cruel treatment of horses in the Tennessee walking horse industry. It showed the use of painful chemicals on horses’ front legs to force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait for show competitions. This practice, known as “soring,” has been illegal for more than 40 years under the federal Horse Protection Act. Humane Society of the United States.

 

I have owned, cared for and competed on horses much of my life.

Soring is, without question, the most cruel training practice I have ever seen or heard about in the entire horse world.

Don’t know what soring is? You are not alone. It ranks right up there with dog fighting, but it requires a bit of explanation. It’s used by a hard core of trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse world, and involves putting caustic chemicals on the horse’s front legs, wrapping the legs in plastic wrap and bandages, and letting the chemicals “cook” into the flesh.

After several days, the bandages are removed and chains are fastened around the ankles of the horse, biting into the injured flesh. Extremely heavy, tall shoes (“stacks”) are then attached to the front hooves with metal straps.

The effect of this painful process is that the horse tries to remove all weight from his front legs, adopting an exaggerated sitting position when moving and flinging out the front legs in a movement that is referred to as the “Big Lick.”

Among a very entrenched group of aficionados, the Big Lick is the pinnacle of show-horse movement. Among everyone else, it is horrifying cruelty.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees enforcement of the Horse Protection Act of 1970 that was supposed to end soring forever, has finally developed a set of regulations that have (somewhat) more teeth than the original legislation proved to have.

The new regs will eliminate the tall stack shoes (but not all weights in shoes), and also address a key problem in the inspection process at shows by mandating the use of USDA-approved inspectors — up to now, the industry paid its own inspectors, with predictable results.

USDA already has a few inspectors, but they can only cover about seven percent of all shows. But when they are present, they find a lot of horses that have signs of banned substances or scarring from soring chemicals and chains. Over 85 percent of horses that USDA tested were found in violation at the industry’s biggest championship show, the National Celebration, in 2015.

Soring has been going on for about 60 years. It has been immoral all of those years, and illegal for 45 of them.

With stronger regs in the offing, the industry is claiming that economic devastation of entire areas of the country will ensue.

Ridiculous, of course.

Soring advocates talk out of both sides of their mouths. On the one hand, they have recently started insisting that soring either does not happen anymore or that only a tiny number of trainers use these methods. Out of the other hand, they insist (most recently at a public comment session held by USDA in early August) that the proposed regulations will have huge economic impact.

They can’t have it both ways. Either there is no more soring going on, in which case the proposed regulations won’t impact anyone, or soring is happening every day, and they most certainly have to change their ways.

The solution is obvious: Stop training for the Big Lick. Do what many others do — train for a natural movement, which these beautiful horses are bred for. They will start to see spectators in the stands again, instead of empty seats. Charitable sponsors will come back. And they and everyone else won’t have to see billboards about horse torture. People will come back to this breed, instead of turning away from it.

For those who love animals and hate cruelty, go to http://www.regulations.gov and add your voice in favor of the regulations. Public comment is open until Sept. 26.

Jo Ellen Hayden, a prize-winning dressage rider and horsewoman, lives in Lexington.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/opinion/op-ed/article96774877.html#storylink=cpy


LETTERS TO THE EDITOR of the Commercial Appeal

Letter: Protecting horses

Rita Roe Bartlett
Memphis, Tennessee

Kudos to Priscilla Presley for understanding and opposing the barbaric practice of the “soring” of Tennessee Walking Horses (“Soring problems/Priscilla Presley pushing to eliminate abusive practice,” Aug. 12 article).

Soring the feet of the Tennessee Walking Horse has been common practice for more than 50 years, and must end.
Priscilla Presley is encouraging the passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which would amend the Horse Protection Act and end the failed system of self-policing by the industry.

I do not understand the mentality of Tennessee Walking Horse trainers who complain that the proposed regulations would destroy their industry.

I believe that unscrupulous trainers are destroying their own industry when the public is shown the trainers’ use of gruesome techniques used to intentionally inflict pain upon helpless animals.
No horse should be made to suffer for a blue ribbon.


To the Editor of the Lebanon Democrat:
August 30, 2016

Soring Horses Must be Stopped

When I moved to Tennessee from Texas in the spring 2011, I had never heard the term “soring.” Horses in Texas are a necessity on farms and ranches where they are treated like a partner in daily chores and deep bonds of trust and friendship form.  These majestic animals become like family. 
 
My first thought at seeing a Tennessee Walking Horse “perform” was that something was horribly wrong, and I was appalled when I found out exactly how the trainers “train” these horses.  
Tennessee Walking Horses suffer brutal training methods know as soring. Soring involves the application of caustic substances and blistering agents to the pasterns of horses, which are then wrapped in plastic to cook the chemicals into their skin. Chains are then attached to the sensitized area to intensify the pain and make the horses perform an artificial, exaggerated gait known as the big lick.  
Congress tried to end soring in 1970 when it passed the Horse Protection Act, but the abuse is still widespread in the industry due to a “self-policing” arrangement.   
 
Fortunately, a new proposed rule has the potential to end this abuse by banning devices used in the soring process and bringing in independent inspectors trained and licensed by the USDA in detecting evidence of soring. 
Luckily it’s not too late to stop this barbaric cruelty.  Please visit humanesociety.org/hparule and leave a comment for the USDA, asking them to stop horse soring. 
 
Margaret Morris
Mt. Juliet, TN


in The Baltimore Sun

Walking Horse abuse must end

Maryland is well known for its equestrian roots. With such a large variety of equestrian events each year, many Maryland residents own, train and ride horses. Maryland is also home to many prestigious horse events including Preakness, Hunt Cup, Maryland Horse Expo and jousting, not to mention all of the other equestrian-related activities that many Marylanders participate in throughout the year. As a Maryland resident and horse owner, I feel it is my duty to bring to light an issue which is hidden from many equestrians because a large majority are not familiar with Gaited Horse breeds and more specifically the Tennessee Walking Horse.

There is a show division within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry known as the Performance division. In these classes, the horses wear heavy, oversized stacks on their feet, which can weigh up to ten pounds, and chains around their legs. The stacks and chains are used to exaggerate the movement of the front legs, causing the horses to lift unnaturally high in what is called the "Big Lick." Unfortunately, the stacks and chains alone do not produce the desired and award-winning Big Lick for the show ring; they are but tools to force the horse to move in the spider-crawl type gait, which is completely unnatural to the physiological makeup of the animal. The Big Lick gait is only truly achieved as a pain response achieved by the practice of soring. Soring involves the application of caustic, blistering chemicals to the horses' pasterns, including such chemicals as mustard oil, kerosene, Gojo and WD-40. Trainers then wrap the horses' legs in plastic wrap and let the solution cook into the skin, making it very raw and sensitive. The chains are then applied to the sensitive skin causing the horse to react to the pain and lift their legs.

Soring has been going on for over 60 years. In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in order to outlaw soring and made it illegal to show, transport or sell a sore horse. Unfortunately, they left the inspections and oversight in the hands of those who most benefit from these Big Lick horses, and the soring problem has not been eliminated. On the contrary, trainers have found more and more ways to sore and hide the evidence in order to make a horse be "compliant' for showing.

Sadly, the stigma of soring and the Big Lick has decimated the breed in many ways. With its natural, easy-to-ride gaits, sure footedness and stamina, the Walking Horse makes an excellent trail and endurance horse. The breed's versatility also allows them to be successfully trained in dressage, reining, jumping and many other popular equestrian activities. Its wonderful, kind temperament makes it a perfect companion and family horse.

Soring has been going on for over 60 years. In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in order to outlaw soring and made it illegal to show, transport or sell a sore horse. Unfortunately, they left the inspections and oversight in the hands of those who most benefit from these Big Lick horses, and the soring problem has not been eliminated. On the contrary, trainers have found more and more ways to sore and hide the evidence in order to make a horse be "compliant' for showing.

Fortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has stepped up and has proposed new regulations which would outlaw the stacks and chains and remove the inspection and oversight from the corrupt Tennessee Walking Horse industry and move it into the hands of trained veterinarians and USDA personnel. There is a public meeting scheduled at the USDA Headquarters in Riverdale on Sept. 6. Also, there is a public comment forum on the USDA website (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/horse-protection-amendments). I encourage all Maryland equestrians to become educated and help us to save our breed by either attending the meeting or submitting a comment in support of the new regulations. If you would like to learn more about the Tennessee Walking Horse or soring, please visit The All American Walking Horse Alliance website at www.AAWHA.net.

-Michelle Guinn, New Market


Support USDA's Effort to Put the Hurt on Horse Soring

Date: 
Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dear Humanitarian,

Great news out of the US Department of Agriculture! The department has issued a proposed rule that, if finalized, will bring us closer to ending the egregiously inhumane practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses, spotted saddle horses, racking horses, and other gaited breeds. Please let the USDA know that you support this proposal and want to see it implemented as soon as possible.

The walking horse industry has long been tainted by an element of unscrupulous individuals who torment horses, using caustic chemicals in conjunction with "action devices" (such as chains and beaded rollers) and other painful procedures on their feet and legs simply to create the exaggerated gait known as "The Big Lick." The Big Lick is nothing more than the animal's reaction to intense pain. The Horse Protection Act, passed in 1970, was supposed to put an end to soring. However, soring continues, due to poor enforcement and a reliance on industry self-policing. A 2010 report from the USDA Office of Inspector General confirmed that the current system of enforcing the law is broken and that significant reform—such as improving funding for inspections and dispensing with the system of industry self-policing—is required. In response, hundreds of members of Congress have cosponsored legislation, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, to enact such reforms. This legislation has been endorsed by animal protection groups, the veterinary community, law enforcement, and humane-minded segments of the walking horse industry. Since Congress has failed to act, a number of bill cosponsors wrote to the USDA asking it to issue a rule that would put some of these reforms in place. To its credit, the USDA heeded this request. The new rule would do the following:

End the failed system of industry self-policing. Under the current system, insiders appointed by horse industry organizations conduct inspections. Not surprisingly, these inspections rarely result in violations being reported. Under the proposed rule, the USDA would train, license, and assign third-party inspectors to horse shows. The new inspectors would be veterinarians and veterinary technicians who would be required to follow APHIS' rules and standards of conduct.  

Ban the use of devices associated with soring. The chains, weighted shoes, pads, and other devices; caustic substances; and other inhumane techniques used to cause pain to the legs and hooves of Tennessee Walking Horses, spotted saddle horses, racking horses, and other gaited breeds would be expressly prohibited at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions.

What You Can Do:
Please join AWI in urging the USDA to finalize the proposed rule. You can use AWI's online Compassion Index to submit your comments by the September 26 deadline. (Note: your name and comments will be publicly viewable on Regulations.gov. If you prefer to comment anonymously, you can do so by going directly to https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=APHIS-2011-0009-0001.)

Also, please be sure to share our "Dear Humanitarian" eAlert with family, friends and co-workers, and encourage them to send a message as well. As always, thank you very much for your help!

Sincerely,

Nancy Blaney
Senior Federal Policy Advisor


Don’t condone horse abuse

I was saddened and marveled having just read Ariana Sawyer’s article, “Humane Society: Horses still abused” (Sept. 4).

Not so much for the documented and continuing abuse of these beautiful animals, but for the denial and obfuscation of these abusers, owners and industry spokespeople.

How can these people deny direct and compelling evidence of continuing abuse to these Tennessee Walking Horses?

I think I can answer that simple question: Money. And, the thrill of winning a meaningless trophy.

As a horse owner, I believe this industry and its so-called Celebration of pain and misery should be permanently shut down.
While it doesn’t matter on the larger stage presented by Ms. Sawyer, I have personally struggled with a horse suffering from lameness and pain associated with septic cellulitis. And, tried to imagine how trainer Larry Wheelon and owners Sammy and Gayle Cogle allegedly caused this sort of misery.

I failed since my mind couldn’t conceive this sort of human being.
Suffice it to say they deserve a special place in hell, as do industry spokesman Mike Inman and even Blount County Judge Tammy Harrington, for condoning and excusing this sort of abuse.

-David McFadden, Franklin 37064


Horse soring still happens

The lead was buried in Ariana Sawyer’s piece on Tennessee Walking Horses.

Supporters of the “big lick” TWH shows insist that “it (soring) doesn’t happen anymore.”

The lead is the Aug. 30 rescue of the visibly sored horse Skywalks Magical Dream. The pictures of Skywalks is further proof that these horses are still being trained and shown in ways that create pain

I have been writing a series on the rehabilitation of a rescued “big lick” show horse.  That horse has been off weighted shoes and hoof bands for about a year. For that horse, “it” was still happening as recent as a year ago.

I attended an evening of The Celebration this year. I witnessed a horse’s rear hoof twisting as he worked to achieve the exaggerated stride in his rear trailers. I could smell liniment as he left the arena. I could see a jarring flick of legs at the pastern caused by the stacked shoes on the front hooves.

I saw a horse with rear legs wide-spread in a staggering motion when “walk on” was announced — looking like he was struggling to accomplish the exaggerated “hunkered down” look demanded by the “big lick” exhibitors.

For me, including the video cited, none of this indicates sound horses. The lead is, “it” is still happening.”

-Candace Wade, Franklin 37064


Letter: Protecting horses

Rita Roe Bartlett

Memphis

Kudos to Priscilla Presley for understanding and opposing the barbaric practice of the “soring” of Tennessee Walking Horses (“Soring problems/Priscilla Presley pushing to eliminate abusive practice,” Aug. 12 article).

Soring the feet of the Tennessee Walking Horse has been common practice for more than 50 years, and must end.

Priscilla Presley is encouraging the passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which would amend the Horse Protection Act and end the failed system of self-policing by the industry.

I do not understand the mentality of Tennessee Walking Horse trainers who complain that the proposed regulations would destroy their industry.

I believe that unscrupulous trainers are destroying their own industry when the public is shown the trainers’ use of gruesome techniques used to intentionally inflict pain upon helpless animals.

No horse should be made to suffer for a blue ribbon.


August 26, 2016

The Honorable Tom Vilsack

Secretary of Agriculture

United States Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave. SW

Washington, D.C. 20250

 

Re: Docket No. APHIS–2011–0009, Regulatory Information No. 0579–AE19; Horse Protection; Licensing of Designated Qualified Persons and Other Amendments, Proposed Rule

 

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) condemn the practice of soring to accentuate a horse’s gait for training or show purposes, and support the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s ongoing efforts to enforce the Horse Protection Act (HPA). We applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture moving forward with the Proposed Rule to amend the HPA regulations in ways that are necessary to protect the welfare of horses. However, it is our understanding that factions within the affected industries are requesting an extension to the comment period for the proposed rule. The AVMA and AAEP do not believe that there is reason to extend the comment period as it will only lead to unnecessary delays in the implementation of longoverdue changes and cause diminished welfare of more horses.

We are certain that these requests from the industry are intended only to stall implementation of the rule; a 60 day delay would ensure that the rule would not be implemented during the current Administration. Given the length of time that the current team at USDA has spent developing and proposing the rule, further delay is highly undesirable. The AVMA and AAEP are strongly committed to ending the practice of soring. After 40 plus years of effort - by us, other like-minded organizations, and the USDA - it’s past time for that to happen.

As one of the oldest and largest veterinary medical organizations, with more than 88,000 member veterinarians worldwide engaged in a wide variety of professional activities and dedicated to the art and science of veterinary medicine, the mission of the AVMA is to lead the profession by advocating for its members and advancing the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human health. The Association has a long-term concern for, and commitment to, the welfare and humane treatment of animals. If you have any questions or require additional information, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Cia Johnson, Director, AVMA Animal Welfare Division, at 847-285-6696 or via e-mail to cjohnson@avma.org.

Sincerely,


American Association of Equine Practitioners

 

The Terrible Pain Of Soring - And Response
 
Friday, August 19, 2016


Soring is a vicious training tactic inflicted on horses for money and a blue ribbon. It is cruel and deliberate.  While being “sored”, a horse can be left in their stall for days, his legs slathered in caustic chemicals and then wrapped in plastic to better “cook” chemicals deeply into the flesh.  This causes extreme pain and suffering, and forces the horses to lift their front legs unnaturally high in the show ring, performing an unnatural gait called the “Big Lick”.  If you walk through the barn, you can see the sored horses lying down in their stalls moaning in pain.


The Horse Protection Act (HPA) was enacted in 1970 to put an end to this horrific act.  However, political meddling (money under the table) has allowed the industry to continue abusing horses due to "self-policing” arrangement.
The United States Department of Agriculture has proposed a new rule that would put an end to this cruelty. Stacked horse shoes, ankle chains and other action devices would be banned from the show ring.  Inspectors would be trained and licensed by the USDA. Time for change.


Maryann Davis
Hixson


On Aug. 9th, I drove to Murfreesboro to speak at the USDA's public forum on new proposals  for rules against horse soring. Some of the comments made by the horse trainers were so shocking, I couldn't believe grown ups were making them. They deny soring exists, and/or claim it is not abuse. Horse soring is alive and well and happening this week in Murfreesboro at the Celebration. 


Tennessee is currently a haven for abusers who hide their training practices and pretend it is all in the name of benign entertainment. Horse soring, both chemically and with chains and pads, should be banned, as should the "Big Lick" style of competition. Doing so would not end anything but the torture of wonderful horses.


We have a chance to create a new, less tortured future for our namesake horse, the Tennessee Walking Horse. Their natural gait is beautiful and should not be altered. Claims that banning the Big Lick would mean an end to horse shows, or to gaited horse breeding, are not true. People already walk out of Big Lick competitions because they can't stand the tortured look on the horse's face. Let's move into a more humane future for these gentle and sensitive horses.


They are accepting public comments at: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/horse-protection-amendments


Thank you for covering this issue.


Mary Majorie Weber Marr


Chattanooga


We rid NC State Fair of Big Lick horse show – now let’s go national


It’s hard to believe that some people find entertainment in watching horses that have been intentionally harmed for the sake of achieving the pain-based, unnatural “Big Lick” gait. Unfortunately, these abusive Big Lick horse shows have been going on for years.

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is proposing rules that could stop the abuse for good, and it’s seeking comments from the public.

Tennessee Walking Horses and similar breeds are subjected to acts of torture to create the signature “Big Lick” high-stepping walk. Their abusive trainers start by slathering the horses’ legs with caustic chemicals, then wrapping the limbs in plastic to “cook” the chemicals in, causing extreme pain. Ankle chains are then strapped around the legs for the sole purpose of causing further pain and irritation. On top of that, the horses are forced to stand on tall, heavy platform shoes known as “stacks” 24/7. This abusive method is called “soring,” and it’s time to stop the Big Lick shows and soring for good.

In 2014, I introduced an online petition that successfully removed any Big Lick horse shows from the N.C. State Fair permanently with the help of 19,678 supporters. It’s clear the people of North Carolina firmly believe the intentional infliction of pain on an innocent horse to achieve an unnatural gait is cruel.

Together, we were able to make a huge change for the better in North Carolina, and today we have a new opportunity to help all the innocent horses being sored across our nation.

There are laws in place to prevent such abuse, but they are insufficient and have not been effective. In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Protection Act to end soring. However, trainers clinging to the cruel practice of the Big Lick continue to exploit loopholes in the system in order to carry on this abusive practice.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture proposal would upgrade those regulations, close loopholes and help finally bring an end to soring. The rule would abolish the use of the painful stacks, bands, chains and other devices that are part of the soring process. It would also end the industry’s failed self-policing system, replacing “insider” industry inspectors with USDA trained and licensed inspectors impartial and unaffiliated with the Big Lick community.

I strongly urge anyone who believes animals deserve a life free of misery to support these common-sense initiatives. We’ve already used our voices once to stop soring at our State Fair – now let’s stop soring nationwide!

Michelle Disneywriting in the -North Carolina Observer