Tennessee District Attorneys General Urged To Investigate Possible Horse Abuse

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Humane Society of the United States has asked 11 Tennessee District Attorneys General to acquire and test all “foreign substance swab samples” collected from Tennessee walking show horses during 2012 and to prosecute violations of state animal cruelty laws. The samples are used to detect the presence of painful caustic chemicals that trainers apply to horses’ legs, in addition to other cruel training methods – collectively referred to as “soring” – to obtain the prized high-stepping gait of the walking horse.

“By prosecuting any violations that come to light through these samples under the new felony animal cruelty law, Tennessee will improve the chances that violators in the walking horse industry will think twice before abusing horses to cheat in show competitions,” said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS. “We encourage Tennessee District Attorneys General to demonstrate that illegal abuse and cruelty will not be tolerated, and that horse soring allegations will be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted.”

Foreign substance swab samples have been taken from the pasterns of walking horses at horse shows in Tennessee by the Walking Horse Trainers Association, and other groups throughout the year. The HSUS also asked the District Attorneys General to request the test results of swab samples taken by the U.S. Department of Agriculture at walking horse shows for possible enforcement action.

Since July 1, Tennessee’s new felony aggravated cruelty to livestock law has been in effect, making it a Class E felony for any person to apply “acid or other caustic substance or chemical to any exposed area of an animal or forcing the animal to ingest the substance,” if such activity is carried out in a “depraved and sadistic manner.”  According to The HSUS’s letter, any samples taken after that date that test positive for the presence of caustic chemicals could therefore indicate a possible violation of this law and be grounds for enforcement.

Under other Tennessee laws, the intentional infliction of any injury or pain to a horse for the purpose of competition is a class A misdemeanor.

To read the full letter from The HSUS, click here.


  •  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.
  • USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service 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. In addition to soring chemicals, 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.
  • H.R. 6388, the Horse Protection Act Amendments of 2012, sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., will 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 urges Congress to pass this bill, which now has 53 co-sponsors in the House.

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