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June 18, 2012

The Humane Society of the United States Offers Rewards for Tips on Horse Soring Offenders

As awareness spreads about the abusive treatment of Tennessee Walking Horses in the top levels of show competition, The Humane Society of the United States is continuing its commitment to help bring violators to justice through the offering of a reward to crack down on abuse of these animals. The standing reward of up to $10,000 will be paid for information leading to the arrest and conviction of any violator of the Horse Protection Act or any state law which prohibits horse “soring,” the deliberate infliction of pain to force horses to perform an artificially high-stepping gait for the show ring.

Tennessee’s animal cruelty statute specifically prohibits soring, and was recently amended to create a felony offense of animal cruelty for applying acid or other caustic substance or chemical to any exposed area of an animal, which is a common method for soring horses.

The HSUS is encouraging the reporting of these crimes in light of the recent guilty plea by well-known Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell for violations related to the federal Horse Protection Act. New data also indicates the prevalence of soring throughout the “Big-Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse industry despite the federal Horse Protection Act, which outlawed the practice in 1970.

“This gross abuse to horses cannot be allowed to continue unabated,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS. “It is vital that witnesses to these crimes come forward and report them so that offenders can be brought to justice and this vile practice finally ended.”

The cruel practice of soring in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry has captured national attention after a recent undercover investigation by The HSUS led to a 52-count indictment of McConnell, who has stated he intends to plead guilty to one count of felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, and three of his associates. McConnell also faces prosecution for violations of the Tennessee animal cruelty statute.

Earlier this year, The HSUS paid a $10,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of Barney Davis, a Tennessee horse trainer, for violations of the Horse Protection Act. Davis testified during his sentencing hearing that soring is a common practice. “They've got to be sored to walk,” Davis said at the Feb. 17 hearing. “I mean, that's the bottom line. It ain’t no good way to put it, but that's it.”

Anyone with information on this cruel practice should call 855-NO-SORING (855-667-6746) or email equineprotection@humanesociety.org. The HSUS will protect the identity of all callers.

Background:

  • U.S. Department of Agriculture’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 HSUS filed a legal petition asking USDA to treat the use of illegal numbing or masking chemicals on horses’ legs as a felony under the Horse Protection Act.
  • Of the top 20 trainers participating in the industry’s Riders Cup point program in 2011, 100 percent were cited by horse industry organizations for violations of the Horse Protection Act within the past two years. In total, 164 violations were cited for these trainers. Under the current penalty structure in place for the largest horse industry organizations, only 25 percent (41out of 164) of the violations called for penalties, most of which were only two-week suspensions.
  • This month, USDA announced a requirement that certified horse industry organizations impose uniform mandatory minimum penalties for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. These organizations operate under USDA oversight to enforce the Horse Protection Act by conducting inspections at Tennessee Walking Horse competitions. The agency also clarified that it can decertify a horse industry organization for any failure to comply with the regulations.

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

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