The Humane Society of the United States conducted an on-camera interview with Barney Davis, a former Tennessee horse trainer who pleaded guilty to various violations of the Horse Protection Act last November. Davis served most of his one-year sentence in prison and was also ordered by the court to cooperate in the production of an educational video describing pervasiveness of the abusive practice of horse "soring." The practice causes intentional pain to the feet or legs of horses through the application of caustic chemicals to burn their skin, or by inserting foreign objects to the sensitive areas of their hooves. In reaction to the pain, horses lift their front legs high off the ground, producing the exaggerated "Big Lick" gait rewarded in the show ring.
At his sentencing hearing in February, Davis admitted to routinely soring horses during their training, and explained that this illegal activity is so rampant as to be commonplace throughout the Tennessee walking horse industry. In the HSUS' exclusive interview, Davis described common horse soring methods and their effects. He flatly stated that trainers must make their horses suffer to be competitive at "Big Lick" events, including the biggest of them all, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration currently underway in Shelbyville, Tenn. And he demonstrated how inspectors can better detect sored horses.
- Have you seen someone soring a horse? Call 855-NO-SORING or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
"The only way to win at the Celebration is to sore," Davis said. "I've shown at the Celebration three, maybe four, times. I trained them myself and they were sore. I'm not going to lie."
"Barney Davis' testimonial underscores that soring is now a regrettable, and illegal, norm throughout the Tennessee walking horse industry. And industry self-policing is failing the horses miserably," said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the HSUS. "The Humane Society of the United States urges the leaders in this industry to abandon their denial and finally institute real, meaningful reforms that will rid the Celebration and other performance horse shows in the industry of this despicable horse abuse."
Earlier this year, The HSUS paid a $10,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of Davis, who has competed for the title of World Grand Champion, the industry's highest prize. As awareness spreads about the abusive treatment of Tennessee walking horses in the top levels of show competition, The HSUS is continuing its commitment to help bring violators to justice through the offering of this reward to crack down on abuse of these animals. Anyone with information on this cruel practice should call 855-NO-SORING or email email@example.com. The HSUS will protect the identity of all callers.
- In April 2011, a federal grand jury in Chattanooga, Tenn., returned a four-count indictment and later filed a superseding indictment against Barney Davis, 38, of Lewisburg, Tenn.; Paul Blackburn, 35, of Shelbyville, Tenn., Christen Altman, 25, of Shelbyville, Tenn.; and Jeffery Bradford, 33, of Lewisburg. Davis, Altman, and Bradford were all charged with various violations of the federal Horse Protection Act and related financial crimes. The USDA-Office of Inspector General investigation into the alleged crimes began in August 2010.
- In January 2012, Blackburn was sentenced to probation, fined, and ordered by the judge to write an article describing horse soring methods used in the gaited horse community, their effects on horses, and the scope of soring in the industry in which Blackburn was involved.
- The HSUS' undercover investigation of well-known trainer Jackie McConnell revealed that trainers can continue to sore horses and enter them into shows undetected, despite serving a five-year federal disqualification. The investigation drew national attention and led to public outrage over the practice of soring. McConnell has since pleaded guilty to a felony conviction for charges related to conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, and three of his associates pleaded guilty to related charges.
- Although Congress passed the Horse Protection Act more than 40 years ago to criminalize soring and other horse abuse, these illegal activities continue unabated throughout the Tennessee walking horse industry. At last year's Celebration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducted random testing for the use of prohibited foreign substances on horses and found that a shocking 100 percent of those horses tested positive.
- A recent analysis of the violation history of the top 20 trainers in the industry's Riders Cup high point program found that every trainer on that list in the past two years was cited for violations of the Horse Protection Act, with a total 164 violations among them. A mere 7 percent actually served suspension penalties―and of those, all but a handful were for a mere two-week period. Many of the trainers and judges participating in the Celebration have records of soring violations.
- A 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General audit exposed how those in the walking horse industry work to evade detection, rather than comply with federal law and train horses humanely. The audit stated that the USDA needs more funding for full enforcement of the Act.
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