Should we celebrate the high-stepping gaits of Tennessee Walking Horses if trainers have to subject the animals to years of abuse? For the second time in four years an undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States has revealed that trainers and grooms of top training stables are intentionally injuring their horses in order to get that “big lick” exaggerated walk.
Undercover agents of HSUS investigated ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, a highly regarded farm and focused on several horses slated to compete in this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. The investigation found the horses have been illegally sored, which could give them an advantage at the industry’s high-profile showcase event starting Wednesday in Shelbyville, Tennessee.
More than 60 wrapping samples were taken directly from horses and revealed the legs had been slathered with caustic chemicals and wrapped tightly to cook the chemicals into their flesh and cause extreme pain. All samples tested positive for substances that have been banned from use in the show ring by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.
Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “This investigation proves that the practice of soring is alive and well in the heart of Tennessee Walking horse country, and that some top trainers and owners in the industry are complicit in the abuse. The pain and suffering our investigator documented inside ThorSport Farm is nauseating, and unfortunately continues unabated despite the industry’s persistent, false claims that it has cleaned up its act. Congress must recognize the need to pass legislation that will finally protect these majestic, gentle animals and give them a fighting chance.”
ThorSport Farm’s trainers Chad Williams, Aaron Self and Robert Cortner have histories of being cited for violating the law by presenting sored horses at shows. Allison Thorson, daughter of ThorSport Farm owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson, also has past Horse Protection Act citations, and during the investigation, wrapping samples from her horses tested positive for several prohibited substances.
Wrapping samples taken from two former Grand Champions trained at ThorSport and expected to be exhibited at the Celebration—He’s Vida Blue and The Golden Sovereign—also tested positive for numerous illegal substances. All evidence collected in the investigation was turned over to Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. The HSUS has offered to provide assistance with the collection of evidence and handling of horses during the execution of a search warrant, and to provide transportation and care for any horses seized.
The HSUS is urging Congress to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 3268/S. 1121), which would bolster the Horse Protection Act by finally putting an end to the corrupt, ineffective system of industry self-regulation, banning the tall stacks and chains that are an integral part of the soring process, and strengthening penalties for violations of the law.
According to the New Channel 5 report, ThorSport Farm released a statement denying the allegations: “ThorSport Farm has a well-earned reputation for operating ethically and legally, and we emphatically reject the HSUS’s charges of soring,” said owner Duke Thorson. “This farm operates within the rules. Our intolerance for unethical and illegal training is widely known to the point that people who want such an advantage no longer approach us. ThorSport Farm continues to work vigorously to end abuse and clean up the industry.”
HSUS allegations are currently under investigation by the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. No charges have been filed at this time.