Following the announcement of the new board of directors of the Walking Horse Trainers Association, The Humane Society of the United States released research into the board members’ past violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. The act outlaws “soring,” the abusive methods used to force Tennessee walking show horses and other related breeds to perform an unnatural high-stepping gait for competitions. A review of records of Horse Protection Act violations turned up 116 total citations for soring and related offenses for the seven-person board. One board member had only one violation; one has been cited for violating the act 39 times. The majority of these citations never led to meaningful penalties.
Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “It’s stunning that with the eyes of the world upon them, trainers among the ‘Big Lick’ crowd continue to put perpetrators of soring into leadership positions. Their vision for the breed’s future seems to be the status quo of abuse and corruption that has plagued it for decades. We envision a sound and thriving future for these horses, but that will require Congress to act.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released results from its 2013 testing of show horses’ legs for illegal substances used to sore horses or hide the evidence of soring. More than half of the limited number of samples USDA was able to test were found positive in violation of the Horse Protection Act, a result that confirms the ongoing pattern of noncompliance within this faction of the industry. Of the 314 samples taken by the USDA at 17 shows, 195 were positive for illegal foreign substances, including soring, masking and numbing agents. The USDA regularly issues letters of warning based on these violations, which indicate that evidence exists that horses were exposed to prohibited substances, but that the case was never prosecuted by USDA. Five of the seven Walking Horse Trainers Association board members have also received warning letters.
USDA only inspects for soring violations at a small percentage of horse shows, while industry-run organizations have for decades been allowed to self-regulate–thus furthering a widespread industry tolerance for soring. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406, is advancing through Congress to amend the Horse Protection Act to end the failed self-policing scheme. The legislation would also ban the devices associated with soring, and strengthen penalties for violators.
The Walking Horse Trainers Association licenses walking horse trainers, names the “Trainer of the Year,” and names the winners of the industry’s Riders Cup award (the 2012 winner of which has a history of 47 citations for soring and related issues). Until his arrest in April on felony animal cruelty charges stemming from suspicions of soring, walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon was an active director of the group, sitting on its ethics board. Wheelon, two of his employees and a farrier were indicted last month by a Tennessee grand jury on 15 felony counts of aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy.
Summary of findings:
At least 117 known citations for violations of the Horse Protection Act have been issued to members of the 2014 Walking Horse Trainers Association board of directors, by either the USDA or Horse Industry Organization inspectors.
W.H.T.A. Board HPA Citation Tallies
Mickey McCormick: 24 known citations
David Landrum: 6 known citations
Bill Cantrell: 10 known citations
Edgar Abernathy: 9 known citations
Jeff Green: 28 known citations
Link Webb: 39 known citations
Ross Campbell: 1 known citation
Of these citations, only 40 resulted in the violator being suspended from the show circuit; 25 of these suspensions were for a mere two weeks, and there were only five one-year suspensions and five eight-month suspensions.
In 2013, USDA tested 314 samples for illegal foreign substances from 17 horse shows.
195 of the samples, or 62%, were found positive for illegal foreign substances including soring, masking, and numbing agents.
Of the samples testing positive for illegal substances, 92% were found positive for soring agents, 54% were found positive for masking agents, and 16% were found positive for numbing agents.
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s largest animal protection organization, rated the most effective by its peers. Since 1954, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. We rescue and care for tens of thousands of animals each year, but our primary mission is to prevent cruelty before it occurs. We’re there for all animals, across America and around the world. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty–on the Web at humanesociety.org.