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Detailed Undercover Investigation Reveals Tennessee Walking Horse Abuse at Top Training Barn, with Big-Name, Previously Cited Trainers Continuing Their Illegal Conduct

Horses Slated to Compete in the Upcoming Celebration Subjected to Barbaric Soring Practices

  • Our investigation revealed abuse of Tennessee walking horses at ThorSport Farm in Tennessee. Photo by The HSUS

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For the second time in four years, an undercover investigator with The Humane Society of the United States has documented trainers and grooms cruelly “soring” Tennessee walking horses to create an exaggerated and unnatural gait known as the “big lick.” This time, the investigation focused on ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, which is well-known and highly regarded within the big lick show world. Our investigation documented that several horses slated to compete in this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration have been illegally sored, which could give them an advantage at the industry’s high-profile showcase event starting Wednesday in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

During the investigation, more than 60 wrapping samples were taken directly from horses whose legs had been slathered with caustic chemicals and wrapped tightly to cook the chemicals into their flesh and cause extreme pain. All samples tested positive for substances that have been banned from use in the show ring by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “This investigation proves that the practice of soring is alive and well in the heart of Tennessee walking horse country, and that some top trainers and owners in the industry are complicit in the abuse. The pain and suffering our investigator documented inside ThorSport Farm is nauseating, and unfortunately continues unabated despite the industry’s persistent, false claims that it has cleaned up its act. Congress must recognize the need to pass legislation that will finally protect these majestic, gentle animals and give them a fighting chance.”

ThorSport Farm is well-known and highly regarded within the Big Lick show world, but its trainers Chad Williams, Aaron Self and Robert Cortner, have histories of being cited for violating the law by presenting sored horses at shows. Allison Thorson, daughter of ThorSport Farm owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson, also has past Horse Protection Act citations, and during the investigation, wrapping samples from her horses tested positive for several prohibited substances.

Wrapping samples taken from two former Grand Champions trained at ThorSport and expected to be exhibited at the Celebration—He’s Vida Blue and The Golden Sovereign—also tested positive for numerous illegal substances. All evidence collected in the investigation was turned over to Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. The HSUS has offered to provide assistance with the collection of evidence and handling of horses during the execution of a search warrant, and to provide transportation and care for any horses seized.

The HSUS is urging Congress to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 3268/S. 1121), which would bolster the Horse Protection Act by finally putting an end to the corrupt, ineffective system of industry self-regulation, banning the tall stacks and chains that are an integral part of the soring process, and strengthening penalties for violations of the law.

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

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