Tennessee Walking horses made their way into the national spotlight last year when the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) released an undercover investigation that exposed the cruelty these horses are forced to endure to get them to achieve an unnaturally high step known as the “Big Lick.”
The practice involves 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 be used on top all of this to cause even more pain. Pads or stacks may be used to add even more animation, and can be used to hide objects like nails between the pad and the hoof to cause even more discomfort. To further the abuse, some trainers also condition horses not to react to the pain in order to evade detection.
After the investigation aired, trainer Jackie McConnell was fined $75,000 and given three years of probation after pleading guilty to a single charge of animal cruelty and more recently faced state charges and was indicted on 22 counts of animal cruelty by a Fayette County grand jury.
While soring of all horses is illegal under the Horse Protection Act (HPA), it is still done by unethical trainers and the HPA only protects horses during transportation and shows, not while they’re at home. The investigation led to calls to amend the HPA to add additional protections for horses last fall, but the bill died in committee.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, HR 1518, was just introduced with bipartisan support by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) as an amendment to the HPA and will help horses in a few different ways. It will ban the act of soring, instead of just banning showing or transporting horses who have been abused, ban the use of action devices, including chains and stacks, that cause pain on top of soring, increase civil and criminal penalties for violators and give the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) more control over inspections.
“In Tennessee, soring horses is illegal and unacceptable. Those responsible for abusing these horses should be punished severely and banned from the sport. How we treat animals is a direct reflection of our character, both as individuals and a nation. There is no ribbon, no prize nor championship worth the price of one’s humanity,” said Cohen in a statement.
The bill is also being supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners, along with organizations that support natural gaits, including Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH).
“Soring is still rampant in many segments of the industry,” Teresa Bippen, president of FOSH, told The Horse. “Without this bill, there will be continued abuse of the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Racking Horse.”
Please sign and share the petition urging your representative to support this bill and help end the cruel practice of soring.
Please also stand up for animals in Tennessee by sending a message to Governor Bill Haslam at firstname.lastname@example.org asking him to veto SB 1248, which would make it a crime to expose animal cruelty.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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