With just weeks left before the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., The Humane Society of the United States is calling on industry organizers to implement five key changes that would help protect horses and restore the credibility of the walking horse industry.
The sport continues to be undermined by the illegal practice of “soring”—the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated high-stepping gait to gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. In a letter to the Celebration’s board of directors, the HSUS offered to work alongside them to curb horse abuse and ensure that the show competition could continue in a way that dramatically improved the public transparency and the welfare of horses.
“The Celebration’s board has the authority to set appropriately high standards and policies to protect the welfare of the horses and turn the Tennessee walking horse competition into something worth celebrating,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the HSUS. “The Humane Society of the United States stands ready and willing to monitor and support the Celebration if the board implements changes. The public will not accept rampant cruelty to show horses, and it’s time for the show’s organizers and community to kick out the scofflaws and adopt meaningful reforms.”
The need for change, and for the Celebration to take an unequivocal stand against soring, has never been more urgent. The HSUS’ undercover investigation earlier this year of well-known trainer Jackie McConnell revealed that trainers can continue to sore horses and enter them into shows undetected, even though McConnell has been issued a federal disqualification. The HSUS investigator documented McConnell soring Moody Star, the winner of the 2010 Celebration Reserve World Grand Champion. The investigation drew national attention and led to public outrage over the continued practice of soring despite the practice being outlawed for more than 40 years by the federal Horse Protection Act.
In its letter, the HSUS called for the following five reforms which would return the reputation of this magnificent animal and this sport to one of reverence and respect:
- FOR THE HORSE: Eliminate horses from competition, and from any property owned, leased or used by Celebration, Inc. if there is evidence of the application of one of several common soring techniques, including the use of all stacks, action devices or bands; the use of shoes weighing more than two pounds; the use of tail braces which require the tail to be cut; and the riding of two year olds under saddle.
- FOR THE INTEGRITY OF THE PROCESS: Exclude any show officials from participation (including judges, DQPs, veterinarians, farriers) who have personally been cited for an HPA violation within the past five years.
- FOR THE HONOR OF THE SPORT: Rescind the title, prizes and other awards of any entry that has been found to be in violation of the HPA (including the use of prohibited foreign substances) following his/her performance.
- FOR THE CONFIDENCE OF THE PUBLIC: In addition to the inspection procedures required by USDA regulations, randomly pull the shoes of at least 20 percent of all entries throughout the show, and of the top two placing horses in every championship class, examine the horses’ hooves for evidence of intentional soring. This examination should be overseen by a licensed veterinarian recommended by AAEP and a farrier recommended by the American Farriers Association, neither of whom have any ties to the Tennessee walking horse industry nor any history of HPA violations. In any case in which soring of the hoof is suspected, disqualify the horse, rider and trainer until such time as a final determination is made as to whether the HPA has been violated.
- FOR TRANSPARENCY of CHANGE: Prohibit the use of all stall drapes, or other materials designed to prevent visual inspection of property owned, leased or used by Celebration, Inc. on which horses or other personal property are held or kept during the event.
The HSUS sent the list of key needed reforms in a letter to the Celebration’s board of directors nearly one month ago, and the Board has not yet responded. Read the full letter here (PDF).
- Media Relations