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July 30, 2013

Step by Step Progress for Walking Horses

We are making steady progress in our campaign to crack down on trainers and owners who injure the feet and legs of Tennessee walking horses to induce an unnatural, high-stepping gait in the show ring. Yesterday, a federal court in Texas rejected a legal claim by SHOW, a supposed industry enforcement organization, challenging the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s authority to set minimum penalties for soring violations under the federal Horse Protection Act. The regulations were implemented by the USDA following The HSUS’ legal petition in 2011 asking the agency to enact a number of regulatory reforms to better protect horses from this cruel practice. HSUS lawyers also filed a brief in defense of the USDA’s new rules.

Heavy Stacks
Kathy Milani/The HSUS
"Big Lick" show horses are fitted with tall, heavy stacks like
these, forcing them to stand at a painful, unnatural angle.

The entire case is a sad statement on the status of self-regulation in the walking horse industry. The organization that filed this legal challenge is certified by the USDA for the specific purpose of enforcing Horse Protection Act regulations to help end soring. Instead of helping the USDA enforce the Act, they are fighting in court to limit the USDA’s enforcement authority, and help repeat offenders avoid justice. The USDA should be commended for taking steps to enhance enforcement, and shouldn’t have to fight baseless, regressive lawsuits from their own enforcement organizations to get there. 

It seems that in this industry, some trainers and owners are so addicted to the “Big Lick” that they’ll abuse their horses and violate federal law to achieve this bizarre and unnatural gait, and then go through the expense of a lawsuit against the USDA to fight enforcement of meaningful deterrents against these gruesome training methods. 

The “Big Lick” subculture of cheating, cruelty, and deception has been maintained by crooked trainers and owners – but increasingly, lawmakers, judges and prosecutors, horse owners, and other members of the public, are bent on stamping out this faction's abusive training techniques.

The HSUS won’t relent in its work to make Tennessee walking horse competitions honest again, by exposing abuse, supporting humane and fair Tennessee walking horse competitions, and pushing for needed reforms.

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