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November 2, 2012

The HSUS Applauds University of Tennessee for Showcasing Only Sound Horses at Annual Homecoming Game

The University has chosen a flat shod Tennessee walking horse to take the spotlight off of the mistreated “Big Lick” horse

The Humane Society of the United States commends the University of Tennessee for choosing to allow only sound horses to participate at this year’s annual homecoming game. In recognition of the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which funds the protection of natural habitat, the University has partnered with the state of Tennessee 4-H organization to celebrate the Tennessee walking horse. Although a Tennessee walking horse demonstration is one of Tennessee’s homecoming traditions, this year the University has decided to showcase a sound, flat shod horse in lieu of their customary “Big Lick” demonstration – following exposes and law enforcement actions against the cruel practice of soring these competitive horses.

“The Humane Society of the United States applauds the University of Tennessee for choosing compassion over tradition by showcasing only sound horses at this year’s homecoming game,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS. “This sends a clear message that the University will not promote or support the abusive practice of soring, which has long been associated with the unnatural, exaggerated high-stepping gait.”

While the “Big Lick” gait of the Tennessee walking horse has entertained equestrians in the South, it comes at an unacceptable price in animal abuse. This spring, The Humane Society of the United States released undercover video footage revealing the cruel treatment of horses in the Tennessee walking horse industry. The subject of the investigation, nationally known trainer Jackie McConnell, and three accomplices, was filmed abusing horses by using painful chemicals on the horses’ front legs to force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait for show competitions. This cruel practice, known as “soring,” has been illegal for more than 40 years under the federal Horse Protection Act.

Attendees of this year’s University of Tennessee homecoming game will have the pleasure of viewing the natural grace and beauty of the Tennessee walking horse. Once again The HSUS applauds the University for promoting and celebrating the natural athletic ability and beauty of the horse that bears the state’s name.

Background:

  • The HSUS undercover investigation led to a 52-count indictment of Jackie McConnell, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, and three of his associates. In September, a federal court sentenced him to three years of probation and a $75,000 fine.  McConnell also faces prosecution for violations of the Tennessee animal cruelty statute.

  • 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 prohibited 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.

  • H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., will end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of certain devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this cruel practice. The HSUS urges Congress to pass this bill, which now has 46 co-sponsors in the House. 

Media Contact: Kaitlin Sanderson: 301-721-6463; ksanderson@humanesociety.org  

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