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Cruelty Exposed in Gaited Horse World

Cruelty Exposed in Gaited Horse World

A recent undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) at a training barn for Tennessee Walking horses exposed the cruelty these horses endure to achieve an unnatural high stepping gait otherwise known as the “Big Lick.”

According to the HSUS, the investigation led to criminal charges for felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act (HPA), in addition to violations of the Tennessee Cruelty to Animals Statute against nationally recognized trainer Jackie McConnell, who has a history of horse abuse, and his associates, Jeff Dockery, John Mays and Joseph R. Abernathy after they were caught “soring” horses.

Soring of all breeds has been banned for decades under the HPA, but the technique is still used by unethical trainers to get that high step. The practice involves methods that include putting caustic substances, such as mustard oil, Croton oil mixed with kerosene or diesel oil, on the sensitive skin around their hooves at their pasterns, bulbs of their heels and coronary bands to cause blistering, burning and irritation and wrapping them in plastic wrap to make sure its absorbed, which makes them quickly lift their legs to avoid pain.

Chains may also be used to add to the pain because chemically burning the crap out of their legs apparently just doesn’t quite do the trick by itself. Some people also use Salicylic Acid to cover the visible damage that’s been done. After all of that, some are trained not to react to having their legs touched, which is what is happening to the horse in the video that is being beaten over the head.

Pads, or stacks, may also be used on the front hooves to raise a horse’s forehand to add even more animation, but this causes unbalanced feet, among other problems. Objects may also be placed between the pad and the hoof to cause even more pain and discomfort.

To help enforce regulations under the HPA, APHIS developed a program that appointed Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) to inspect horses at shows before every class and disqualify horses who show signs of soring. DQPs may be vets, farriers, trainers or other knowledgeable individuals in the industry. This leads to an incredible conflict of interest since they may be Big Lick supporters with industry friends, which leaves the Tennessee Walking horse world to essentially self-regulate. However, larger shows are usually overseen by veterinary medical officers (VMOs), inspectors or investigators.

Unfortunately, the HPA doesn’t cover what happens at home, it only protects horses during transportation and at shows.

In 2006, the World Grand Champion Class was cancelled at the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration for the first time in its 68 year history after seven of the 10 horses were disqualified because they couldn’t pass a USDA inspection. A total of 103 violations of the HPA were found at the show that year.

But even the number of violations isn’t always accurate. Some people just leave before getting caught. In 2008, one of the biggest shows in Kentucky practically shut down after USDA inspectors showed up, which left 40 horses who were shown when there were typically between 500 to 550. Talk about clearing a room.

Since the HSUS investigation was aired on CBS, at least one sponsor of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Pepsi, has withdrawn as a sponsor. McConnell is due in court on Tuesday and will reportedly be pleading guilty to one count with all other charges being dismissed. The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association board has also pulled McConnell’s credentials.

The really sad thing here is how surprised all of the industry organizations are pretending to be about soring. They may claim they don’t support it, but if they really didn’t, standards for the breed would not have developed into what they are now, abused horses wouldn’t place at shows, trainers would be getting fired left and right and Tennessee Walkers would be showing off their natural gaits, instead of being admired for hideous incredibly exaggerated, seizure-like movements that are the result of ongoing torture.

For information on how to help these horses, visit For the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Related Stories:

Five Horses Killed in Two Days at Cheltenham

Madeleine Pickens’ Wild Horse Sanctuary Moves Forward

Atlantic City Diving Horse Act Shut Down

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Photo credit: Tennessee Journalist

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464 comments

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12:30PM PDT on Aug 10, 2013

I have been an equestrian for 45 years. Starting at age three, I learned that horses, while undisputedly beautiful, had equally beautiful souls and hearts. They are SUCH trusted friends who will save you in a dangerous predicament. (Mine did!) I did have a Saddlebred once, but I never got to show him (Dressage) because he was permanently injured while being "professionally trained" by the former owners (Both back tendons were bowed, but had healed - until I started riding him). I would NEVER use "accessories" of any kind to show; it should be the skill and deep partnership with the horse, NOT abusing them for a ribbon! These poor animals live in abject misery and the video I couldn't watch to the end. END ALL SORING METHODS, EVERYWHERE! In fact, abolish all unnatural methods. These gaited horses already have a beautiful gait, naturally!

11:42PM PDT on May 19, 2013

signed & passing it along 2 everyone I know

12:01AM PDT on May 12, 2013

signed & passing it on

12:56PM PDT on May 11, 2013

i signed it too

12:55PM PDT on May 11, 2013

vain people will do cruel things among other things to feed their psycho vainity addiction

5:10AM PDT on Sep 21, 2012

This whole event should be banned, this is ridiculous, what is the purpose of this. Root to all evil again, MONEY.

8:28AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

signed. I won't watch video,

4:24AM PDT on Sep 20, 2012

Poor horses!

9:55AM PDT on Jun 8, 2012

As long as man uses animals for sport and entertainment these kind of abuses will continue.All horse races ,dog races, bull fighting, bull races(common in India , where chilli powder is thrown into the eyes of the bulls) cock fights , dolphins used for entertainment should be banned . All governments all over the world should pass a law banning these cruel practices and the law should be strictly implemented. Will this ever happen? Not in my lifetime.I will go to the grave feeling sorry for them and wishing I had done more for them.

10:46AM PDT on Jun 4, 2012

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.

"Die Größe eines Volkes und seine moralischen Fortschritte können daran gemessen werden, wie es seine Tiere behandelt."

Those who are cruel to animals cannot be righteous human beings.

Wer gegen Tiere grausam ist, kann kein guter Mensch sein.

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Julie M. Rodriguez Julie M. Rodriguez is an arts, green living, and political writer based in San Mateo, CA. Her work... more
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