(Oct. 13, 2015)— Despite claims by the performance or “big lick” segment of the Tennessee walking horse industry that the cruel and illegal practice of soring is limited to a few bad actors.
At the 77th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration – the top event of the performance walking horse show circuit—inspectors identified a total of 261 violations of the Horse Protection Act, a law passed in 1970 to eliminate the cruel practice of “soring” in which trainers use caustic chemicals and invasive shoeing practices to cause pain to the horses’ lower limbs, forcing them to perform the exaggerated, high stepping big lick gait. USDA inspectors found more than six times the number of violations at this year’s Celebration than did the industry-retained inspectors, and disqualified 181 of the 525 (over 34 percent) horses they inspected—a figure that is congruous with the results at nine other shows the agency attended this year.
Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “The systematic and ingrained cruelty involved in the big lick continues unabated despite the industry’s persistent, false claims that it has cleaned up its act. Congress must recognize the need to pass legislation that will finally protect these majestic, gentle animals and restore the integrity of the walking horse breed.”
The following is a summary of the 2015 Celebration inspection results:
- 1,392 horse inspections were conducted
- USDA inspectors identified 226 violations; industry inspectors found only 35
- USDA inspectors disqualified 181 horses; industry inspectors disqualified only 30
- 196 horses in total were disqualified (14%) – compared to 15.4% in 2014
- 552 horses were scratched: 28%
- 748 of 1944 initial entries were either scratched or disqualified: 38%
These figures do not include results of foreign substance testing conducted by USDA, which have yet to be released by the agency. At the 2014 Celebration, 52 percent of horses tested were found positive for illegal foreign substances, and 67 percent in 2013.
A complete copy of the APHIS 2015 Celebration Results can be found here.
Eight horses who were sored during The Humane Society of the United States’ undercover investigation of ThorSport Farm— including He’s Vida Blue, Lord Stanley and Play Something Country — were entered in the show and placed in their respective classes, proving that owners and trainers continue to be rewarded for using (and covering up) their abusive methods. Another horse sored during the investigation, He’s Unleashed, was shown but pulled from competition in the World Grand Championship class and yet another, The Golden Sovereign, was entered but ultimately scratched before competing, for unknown reasons.
The data from the USDA report of the 2015 Celebration underscores the need for passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.3268/S. 1121, federal legislation that will bolster the existing law and end the industry’s failed system of self-regulation, ban the use of devices integral to the practice of soring, strengthen penalties, and make other reforms needed to finally end soring once and for all.