FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — MAY 9, 2013 — In contrast to the two foreign substance violations reported by the Tennessee walking horse industry at the 2012 National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive.
The Humane Society of the United States has requested that Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. open an investigation into the veracity of public statements made by officials connected to the Walking Horse Trainers Association Enforcement Initiative, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization about their initiative to detect unlawful horse soring at the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.
The HSUS maintains that this discrepancy raises a serious concern that participants and spectators at the Celebration were falsely assured that horses entered were compliant with the federal Horse Protection Act, when evidence of cruelty and cheating may have been concealed by the organizers of the event. The foreign substance testing is used to detect the presence of painful caustic chemicals that trainers apply to horses’ legs. Other cruel training methods – collectively referred to as “soring” – are used to obtain the prized high-stepping gait of the walking horse.
Before the event, both the TWHNC and the TWSHO issued press releases assuring the public that every horse entered at the Celebration would be swabbed and tested for illegal foreign substances used to sore horses or to conceal that a horse was sore. They also promised to release test results promptly during the event and to immediately and severely punish any violators. However, it appears that the industry groups did not swab and test every horse, nor did they release the complete results of the testing, adding to suspicions that some positive test results may have been suppressed to protect the perpetrators.
Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “The show organizations involved with the Celebration’s swabbing program failed to deliver on promises about protecting the welfare of horses and compliance with the law. We are urging Attorney General Cooper to fully investigate the industry’s deception.”
The HSUS’ ongoing effort to protect Tennessee walking horses from abuse includes urging Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the dangerous anti-whistleblower bill, SB 1248, now on his desk. If SB 1248 is passed, it would outlaw the types of investigations that have exposed horse soring and ban one of the few ways animal abuse in stables and on farms is discovered.
The HSUS also urges AG Cooper to open an investigation into whether all horses were in fact swabbed and tested for foreign substances at the 2012 Celebration, why the industry’s findings were at such variance with USDA’s testing, and whether any positive tests for foreign substances may have been ignored or concealed by the industry.
To read the full letter from The HSUS, click here.
- The USDA’s 2012 foreign substance testing results revealed that out of 478 horses tested at 24 different horse shows, 309 horses were positive for foreign substances, or 65 percent.
- An HSUS undercover investigation documented the prevalent use of caustic chemicals to sore horses and led to a 52-count indictment of Jackie McConnell, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, and three of his associates. In September, a federal court sentenced him to three years of probation and a $75,000 fine. McConnell also faces prosecution for violations of the Tennessee animal cruelty statute.
- In April of this year, East Tennessee walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon was arrested by agents of the Blount County Sheriff’s Department on a felony animal cruelty charge for allegedly soring horses under his care. He had previously been cited at least 15 times for violations of the Horse Protection Act and at the time of his arrest he was a AAA-rated judge for the SHOW horse industry organization and a director and member of the Ethics Committee of the Walking Horse Trainers Association.
- The HSUS filed a legal petition asking USDA to treat the use of illegal numbing or masking chemicals on horses’ legs as a felony under the Horse Protection Act.
- H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics or PAST Act, sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., will end the failed system of walking horse industry self-policing, ban the use of certain devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this cruel practice. The HSUS urges Congress to pass this bill, which now has 23 co-sponsors in the House.