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March 21, 2012

The Humane Society of the United States Petitions USDA to Prosecute Illegal Doping in the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry as a Felony

New USDA Data Indicate Widespread Drugging of Horses

The Humane Society of the United States filed a legal petition asking the United States Department of Agriculture to treat the use of illegal numbing or masking chemicals on horses’ legs as a felony under the Horse Protection Act. These banned substances are used to hide evidence of illegal abuse of horses through the application of painful caustic substances on the horses’ front legs to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait for show competitions. 

The petition comes after USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conducted random testing at various Tennessee Walking Horse competitions, and the results indicate that a shocking 97.6 percent of the samples tested positive for prohibited foreign substances in 2011. In 2010, 86 percent of samples tested positive. These substances included numbing agents and drugs that mask evidence of abuse. Most troubling, of the 52 horses tested at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the largest and most prominent walking horse show in the country, every single horse tested positive for illegal agents. 

“The horse doping data released by USDA is staggering, and shows that animal abuse continues to be a huge problem in the walking horse industry,” said Jonathan R. Lovvorn, senior vice president & chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “The use of prohibited substances to hide the intentional infliction of pain is a felony, plain and simple, and those responsible should be prosecuted immediately.”

Under the Horse Protection Act, any attempt to interfere with an official’s inspections to determine whether a horse has been sored – the industry term for applying caustic substances – constitutes a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, in addition to significant financial penalties.

The HSUS is calling on the USDA to issue a new rule or policy establishing that any use of banned substances to avoid detection of underlying soring will be treated as a felony, and to refer all such cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

USDA Testing Results from Tennessee Walking Horse Events

2011

  • At the 2011 Celebration, 100 percent tested positive (52 tested, 52 positive)
  • At the 2011 Fun Show, 95 percent tested positive (20 tested, 19 positive)
  • At the 2011 National Trainers Show, 92 percent tested positive (13 tested, 12 positive)
    Total for 2011 - 97.6 percent tested positive (85 tested, 83 positive)

2010

  • At the 2010 National Trainers Show, 90 percent tested positive (20 tested, 18 positive)
  • At the 2010 ETWHTA, White Pine, TN, 95 percent tested positive (19 tested, 18 positive)
  • At the 2010 Baileyton Horse Show, 100 percent  tested positive (6 tested, 6 positive)
  • At the 2010 SSHBEA Mid Season Classic, 50 percent tested positive (10 tested, 5 positive)
  • At the 2010 Celebration, 86 percent tested positive (302 tested, 261 positive)
    Total for 2010 – 86 percent tested positive (357 tested, 308 positive)

Background:

  • Following an extensive investigation into the walking horse industry by The HSUS, nationally known Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell and several of his associates were indicted this month on 52 counts of violating the federal Horse Protection Act, including 18 felony counts, and also charged with numerous violations of the Tennessee Cruelty to Animals Statute. The HSUS rescued and continues to care for eight horses from McConnell’s training operation.
  • In 2011, a federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment against Tennessee horse trainer Barney Davis and three others, charging them with violations of the Horse Protection Act and related financial crimes. Davis was further charged with fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. He pleaded guilty to several counts last November, and a federal judge sentenced him in February to serve more than a year in prison.
  • A 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit exposed how those in the walking horse industry work to evade detection, rather than comply with federal law and train horses humanely. The audit stated that the USDA needs more funding for full enforcement of the Act.
  • In 2010, The HSUS filed a legal petition with USDA that asked the agency to take steps to improve its enforcement of the Act. In a positive move, Congress passed a 2012 agriculture appropriations bill that increased funding for HPA enforcement by nearly 40 percent.

Media Contact: Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org

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