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The HSUS Applauds the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the USDA for Enforcing the Horse Protection Act

Tennessee man sentenced for "soring" horses

  • In cases of "soring," horses are deliberately wounded so that they will walk with an exaggerated gait. USDA

Paul Blackburn, 36, of Shelbyville, Tenn., was sentenced on January 23 for conspiracy to violate the federal Horse Protection Act, which prohibits the practice known as horse “soring,” the deliberate infliction of pain to the feet and legs of show horses to create an exaggerated gait.

Blackburn was sentenced to probation as well as fined, and he was also ordered by the judge to write an article describing horse soring methods used in the gaited horse community, their effects on horses, and the scope of soring in the industry in which Blackburn was involved.


The successful investigation and indictment under the federal law results from a joint effort by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General, which led the investigation, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Tenn. in Knoxville. Their efforts have earned high praise from The Humane Society of the United States for their work in bringing criminal horse abusers to justice and sending a zero-tolerance message to violators of the HPA.

Find out what veterinarians think of soring

A clear message

“The Humane Society of the United States applauds the government for seeking justice in this case and for working hard to hold violators of the soring laws responsible for their crimes against horses,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS. "This case sends a clear message to anyone who illegally sores a gaited show horse that the federal government takes violations of the Horse Protection Act seriously."

The HSUS takes on soring

The HSUS is fighting the cruel practice of horse soring—the crime at the heart of the indictments—on a number of fronts. The HSUS filed a legal petition with the USDA in August 2010 to strengthen enforcement of the HPA, and we are urging Congress to allocate more funds to USDA to improve enforcement on the ground.

Soring explained

Soring is perpetrated by inserting hard foreign objects (such as metal bolts or screws) into the soles of horses’ tender hooves or by applying caustic chemicals to their pasterns (ankles) to produce severe pain that alters the horse’s gait. Because of the pain, horses raise their front legs immediately after touching the ground, producing the exaggerated gait rewarded in show rings of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and other gaited breeds. Sored horses often live in constant and extreme pain throughout their show ring careers.

Background on the case

  • In April 2011, a federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment against Blackburn—as well as Barney Davis, and Jeffery Bradford of Lewisburg, Tenn., and Christen Altman, of Shelbyville, Tenn.—charging them with violations of the federal HPA and related financial crimes. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven Neff and Kent Anderson represented the United States.
  • Congress enacted the HPA in 1970, making it a federal offense to show, sell, auction, exhibit, or transport a sored horse. However, alleged violators of the HPA are rarely indicted on charges or even penalized. The USDA needs additional funding in order to carry out its mission of enforcement, as mandated by the HPA.
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