June 18, 2012 -- Citing allegations of "extremely abusive" practices that persist in the world of Tennessee Walking Horses, two of the country's leading veterinary groups joined forces today to urge Congress to modify the Horse Protection Act to better protect the animals.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) are asking for a ban on the use of "action devices," which include chains often used in conjunction with caustic chemicals on the horse's ankle, and thick, heavy pads that are attached to the horse's hoof that cause the horses to walk more abnormally. The devices, both groups maintain, are implicated in soring -- the practice of intentionally inflicting pain to enhance the high-stepping gait sought after in Tennessee Walking Horse championships.
The new call to action follows an ABC News "Nightline" investigation into abuse inflicted on the high-dollar horses, included soring, by one of the sport's leading trainers.
"For half a century, the action devices have been used to cover-up the cruel practice of soring, they disguise and hide it," said Harry Werner, horse veterinarian and chair of the Equine Welfare Committee for the AAEP. "If the action devices and pads are gone, soring will have to go to because it will be far too obvious what's going on."
While soring was made illegal in 1970 with the passing of the Horse Protection Act, some maintain it has continued to go on behind closed barn doors.
"Increasingly shrewd and more difficult to detect -- yet equally painful -- methods of soring continue to plague the Walking Horse industry," said Rene Carlson, president on the AVMA.
After the "Nightline" investigation aired last month, the sport came under intense scrutiny, with the Chattanoogan newspaper reporting that the top 20 trainers in the Riders Cup have amassed 161 violations of the Horse Protection Act in the last two years alone. The Tennessean newspaper reported that eight of the last 10 "Trainers of the Year," as awarded by the Walking Horse Trainers' Association, have been suspended for soring at least once in their careers.
Werner said the veterinary groups are also hoping to raise awareness among amateur horse owners, who are not always aware of what trainers are doing to train the horses for competition.
"They're all going for the grand prize, which brings with it a fair amount of money in the breeding barn," he said. "It's a greed-driven mission."
He's hopeful renewed spotlight on these practices and an amended Horse Protection Act will finally bring such widespread practices to an end.
"It's gone on way too long, it's time for it to stop," Werner said.