Enhanced Anti-Soring Protocol at TWH National Celebration

Months after a high-profile Tennessee Walking Horse trainer pleaded guilty to soring horses, administrators of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration vow to carry out enhanced anti-soring protocols to prove animals presented for exhibition at the event are sound, and that publicity connected to the that guilty plea will not diminish the event's prestige.

Soring, the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait, is prohibited by the Horse Protection Act (HPA). The Celebration, which takes place Aug. 22 through Sept. 1 in Shelbyville, Tenn., is the Tennessee Walking Horse industry's premier annual event.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Walking Horse industry drew nationwide attention when Celebration Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell and others were indicted for conspiring to violate the HPA. McConnell later pleaded guilty the conspiracy charge. The Celebration board of directors later voted to suspend McConnell for life and to remove his image and other data from the Celebration Hall of Fame.

Despite the negative publicity, Celebration spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said that entries had not declined significantly and that Celebration management had adopted new protocols to detect the presence of substances connected to soring or masking soring effects on the feet and legs of horses presented for exhibition. Under the protocol, laboratory test results will be made public during the event. Horses on which inappropriate substances are found will be disqualified, their trainers will be suspended, winnings will be withdrawn, and the class will be retested, Baker said.

"More than 2,660 horses are expected to compete this year, and I think the (bad publicity) has had the opposite effect," Baker said. "People want to prove that their horses are sound and the Celebration wants to give the public a level of confidence that this show is fine."

Teresa Bippen, spokesperson for Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) declined immediate comment on the substance testing protocol.

Meanwhile, Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) said the organization has installed a billboard advertising a national tipline and the possibility of a $10,000 cash reward to those who provide information leading the arrest and conviction of HPA violators at the Celebration and elsewhere.

"With the cooperation of concerned witnesses, we can help bring violators to justice and rid the industry of the abuse that mars its reputation," Dane said.

Baker said the HSUS reward offer was nothing new.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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