Horse soring – a practice where unethical and remorseless trainers intentionally injure the front feet and legs of horses by mechanical or chemical means to exaggerate the animals’ gait in order to win ribbons in the show ring – is one of the most disgraceful forms of organized cruelty practiced in a highly organized way in the United States.
"It’s an appalling act, done for entertainment and profit, and I put it in the same category as dogfighting and cockfighting," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.
The horse soring crowd not only has professional lobbyists but also some key lawmakers doing their bidding in Congress – almost exclusively from the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. But they also play their tricks in the courts, and we’ve seen them engage in some pretty brazen actions as of late.
Their maneuvers in two separate legal proceedings didn’t turn out the way they’d imagined, and that’s good news for our efforts to shut down their abuses.
One of the cases stemmed from an unsuccessful prosecution in a Blount County, Tennessee circuit court against Larry Wheelon, a notorious trainer with a long history of soring horses.
The HSUS assisted with the removal and care of the horses after Wheelon’s arrest. We also obtained from the USDA (through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests) shocking, graphic video and images taken during the investigation, and made them available to the public to help expose Wheelon’s abuse.
The judge overseeing the case against Wheelon dismissed it on a technicality, and also ordered the return of the horses to the owners Wheelon worked for. These owners then filed suit against Blount County SPCA, alleging they suffered financial loss during the period of the legal proceeding, for the SPCA’s role in protecting the horses and participating in Wheelon’s prosecution.
Although not a defendant in the case, The HSUS assisted with legal fees and research for the defense of the suit. I am happy to report that a separate Blount County judge accepted the owners’ dismissal of the case, once they realized they weren’t getting anywhere. Neither the local SPCA nor The HSUS sent a dime to the owners of these animals.
And separately, in June, U.S. District Judge Samuel Mays, Jr., dismissed a lawsuit brought against The HSUS, the State of Tennessee, Fayette County, Tennessee, and other individuals, including District Attorney General Michael Dunavant, by walking horse owners Kelly and Beverly Sherman of Murchison, Texas, for damages they claimed they suffered as a result of the seizure of their horses in the investigation of horse sorer Jackie McConnell, also a very big name in the world of Tennessee walking horses.
That investigation resulted in McConnell’s conviction for conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act and Tennessee state law, and resulted in significant criminal and civil penalties.
Pacelle added: "These outcomes vindicate the Blount County SPCA, The HSUS, and state and county agencies in Tennessee involved in these attempts to seek justice for tortured horses. These trainers are the worst actors in a corrupt segment of the show world for Tennessee walking horses where soring runs wild and rampant."
See Wayne Pacelle's blog here.
Article provided by Thaisi Da Silva, PR Specialist, Public Relations
The Humane Society of the United States