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December 12, 2012

New Poll Shows Voters in Tennessee and Kentucky Overwhelmingly Support Bill to Strengthen the Horse Protection Act

Legislation would address the widespread abuse in Tennessee walking horse industry

A new poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research reveals statewide voters, by a more than 5-to-1 margin in Tennessee and a more than 3-to-1 margin in Kentucky, overwhelmingly support stronger legislation to prevent the cruel practice of horse “soring,” the painful application of chemicals or other training methods to force the animals to perform an artificially high-stepping gait—known as the “Big Lick”—for show competitions.

Members of Congress from Kentucky and Tennessee recently introduced H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, which would end the current, failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of chains and stacks (devices implicated in the soring process) on horses at shows, and increase penalties for violating the law. The legislation has the support of The Humane Society of the United States, other national animal protection and horse industry organizations, as well as the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The poll found that 75 percent of Tennessee voters and 69 percent of Kentucky voters support the federal legislation to strengthen the Horse Protection Act, with only 14 percent in Tennessee and 19 percent in Kentucky opposing the bill. Large majorities in all demographic groups and party affiliations support the legislation. In addition, voters polled in Tennessee (62 percent to 26 percent) and in Kentucky (45 percent to 36 percent) support legislation at the state level making the act of soring a felony offense.

“These poll results clearly indicate that in the heart of Tennessee walking horse country, the public strongly supports legislation to crack down on the corrupt ‘Big Lick’ industry and its widespread practice of horse soring,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS. “Abusing horses for the sake of a blue ribbon is cruel, and the majority of voters have expressed their disdain for this industry by saying they would avoid ‘Big Lick’ events altogether.”

The poll results also show that Tennessee and Kentucky voters, by about a 3-to-1 margin, would avoid buying from companies providing financial sponsorship to horse shows that promote “Big Lick” horses. And by a more than 2-to-1 margin, voters in both states said they would avoid attending a competition where they knew horses would be wearing chains and tall, heavy stacks or pads.

The survey of 625 registered Tennessee voters and 625 registered Kentucky voters interviewed statewide was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, Inc., from Dec. 3 through Dec. 5, 2012. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percent. The full survey results from both states are below.

TENNESSEE RESULTS

QUESTION:

Tennessee Walking Horses are known for their high-stepping gait, called the “Big Lick.” To make the horses lift their legs high in the air, trainers often use a practice called “soring” which means burning a horse’s forelegs with caustic chemicals, cutting the horse’s hoof painfully short, or using bolts, blocks or other devices to inflict pain to the sole of the horse’s foot.

Were you aware or not aware of the details of this practice known as “soring”?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
YES 59% 61% 56% 56% 56% 63%
NO 41% 39% 44% 44% 44% 37%

QUESTION:

Chains and chemicals are often used in soring horses’ legs. Instead of wearing regular horseshoes, the feet of "Big Lick" horses are fitted with tall, heavy stacks of pads to accentuate their gait. These "stacks" force the horses to stand at an unnatural angle, much like wearing high heel platform shoes all day, every day – even when not performing.

If you were aware that horses were wearing this equipment to perform at an event, would you avoid attending it, or not?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
YES 62% 59% 64% 57% 59% 68%
NO 24% 24% 24% 32% 26% 15%
NOT SURE 14% 17% 12% 11% 15% 17%

QUESTION:

A bill recently introduced in Congress, H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, would strengthen the law against horse soring. It would end the system of industry self-policing, ban the use of chains and stacks which have been implicated in soring, increase penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this practice.

Would you support or oppose this federal legislation?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
SUPPORT 75% 70% 80% 74% 74% 77%
OPPOSE 14% 14% 14% 17% 18% 8%
UNDECIDED 11% 16% 6% 9% 8% 15%

QUESTION:

Would you support or oppose state legislation that would make the act of soring a felony?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
SUPPORT 62% 56% 67% 70% 53% 64%
OPPOSE 26% 31% 21% 19% 36% 19%
UNDECIDED 12% 13% 12% 11% 11% 17%

QUESTION:

Horse shows that promote “Big Lick” events rely on corporate sponsorship to make a profit. Some major corporations, including Pepsi and Ford, have already withdrawn their sponsorship from major Tennessee Walking Horse events due to evidence that cruel methods are used to produce the exaggerated “Big Lick” gait.

Would you buy from companies or avoid buying from companies that provide financial sponsorship to horse shows that promote “Big Lick” horses?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
BUY FROM 18% 28% 7% 10% 23% 18%
AVOID 62% 49% 76% 75% 57% 58%
NOT SURE 20% 23% 17% 15% 20% 24%


KENTUCKY RESULTS

QUESTION:

Tennessee Walking Horses are known for their high-stepping gait, called the “Big Lick.” To make the horses lift their legs high in the air, trainers often use a practice called “soring” which means burning a horse’s forelegs with caustic chemicals, cutting the horse’s hoof painfully short, or using bolts, blocks or other devices to inflict pain to the sole of the horse’s foot.

Were you aware or not aware of the details of this practice known as “soring”?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
YES 29% 39% 18% 28% 30% 20%
NO 71% 61% 82% 72% 70% 80%

QUESTION:

Chains and chemicals are often used in soring horses’ legs. Instead of wearing regular horseshoes, the feet of "Big Lick" horses are fitted with tall, heavy stacks of pads to accentuate their gait. These "stacks" force the horses to stand at an unnatural angle, much like wearing high heel platform shoes all day, every day – even when not performing.

If you were aware that horses were wearing this equipment to perform at an event, would you avoid attending it, or not?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
YES 58% 49% 68% 56% 58% 78%
NO 26% 36% 15% 27% 25% 20%
NOT SURE 16% 15% 17% 16% 17% 2%

QUESTION:

A bill recently introduced in Congress, H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, would strengthen the law against horse soring. It would end the system of industry self-policing, ban the use of chains and stacks which have been implicated in soring, increase penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this practice.

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
SUPPORT 69% 55% 83% 73% 61% 80%
OPPOSE 19% 35% 4% 18% 21% 20%
UNDECIDED 12% 10% 14% 9% 18% ---

QUESTION:

Would you support or oppose state legislation that would make the act of soring a felony?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
SUPPORT 45% 38% 52% 46% 44% 47%
OPPOSE 36% 50% 22% 35% 37% 33%
UNDECIDED 19% 12% 26% 19% 19% 20%

QUESTION:

Horse shows that promote “Big Lick” events rely on corporate sponsorship to make a profit. Some major corporations, including Pepsi and Ford, have already withdrawn their sponsorship from major Tennessee Walking Horse events due to evidence that cruel methods are used to produce the exaggerated “Big Lick” gait.

Would you buy from companies or avoid buying from companies that provide financial sponsorship to horse shows that promote “Big Lick” horses?

  STATE MEN WOMEN DEMS REPS INDS
BUY FROM 23% 38% 9% 22% 24% 29%
AVOID 63% 54% 71% 65% 59% 69%
NOT SURE 14% 8% 20% 13% 17% 2%

 

Background:

  • Last week, The HSUS asked 11 Tennessee District Attorneys General to acquire and test all “foreign substance swab samples” collected from Tennessee walking show horses during 2012 and to prosecute violations of state animal cruelty laws.
  • An HSUS undercover investigation led to a 52-count indictment of notorious Tennessee Walking Horse Hall of Fame trainer 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.
  • 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 53 co-sponsors in the House. 

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

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