The Humane Society of the United States applauds the United States Equine Federation for passing a new rule prohibiting participants in its licensed competitions from using certain devices that have long been associated with the abusive practice of “soring” show horses to make them perform the artificially high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick.”
The rule bans the use of action devices and stacks for use on any member of the Tennessee walking horse, spotted saddle horse or racking horse breeds, in all classes at any USEF-licensed competitions. Under the rule, only humanely trained flat-shod horses in these breeds will be allowed to compete in non-recognized divisions at USEF competitions.
“Soring” involves the application of painful chemicals to horses’ front legs and the use of chains and heavy stacks instead of regular horse shoes. The Tennessee walking horse breed was formerly included as a recognized horse show division by USEF’s predecessor, the American Horse Shows Association, but was removed from its rule book in the 1980s in the wake of persistent abuses of walking show horses. However, Big Lick horses have continued to be exhibited at USEF-licensed shows in non-recognized divisions. The Big Lick has been popular in the South but is falling out of favor after investigations and law enforcement actions have revealed the abuses these beautiful, gentle horses endure. Undercover video footage released by The HSUS in 2012 showed a nationally known Tennessee horse trainer and his accomplices chemically soring show horses and brutally beating or “stewarding” them to teach them not to react to pain during inspection—practices that have been illegal for decades under the federal Horse Protection Act and Tennessee state law.
“The Humane Society of the United States is continually impressed by the United States Equestrian Federation’s commitment to the promotion of humane horsemanship,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS. “Spectators at USEF shows will be able to experience the natural grace and beauty of sound, flat-shod walking horses without supporting or being exposed to any of the abusive practices long-associated with the Big Lick.”
The HSUS encourages other horse show venues to take similar steps in support of humane, responsible horsemanship and not provide a showcase for a horse show discipline commonly associated with these abusive, illegal training methods.
- The HSUS undercover investigation 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.
- USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has for years conducted random testing at various Tennessee walking horse competitions, and the results indicate that a shocking 97.6 percent of the samples tested positive for prohibited foreign substances in 2011. In 2010, 86 percent of samples tested positive. These prohibited substances included numbing agents and drugs that mask evidence of abuse.
- 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.
- In the last session of Congress, Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., introduced the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, which would end the failed system of 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 expects the bill to be reintroduced with broad support in the coming weeks.
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