Walking Horse Advocates Target North Carolina State Fair

A group of Tennessee Walking Horse welfare advocates targeted the North Carolina State Fair to protest the inclusion of certain classes in the fair's annual horse show.

Tennessee Walking Horses are federally protected from soring, the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated gait, by the Horse Protection Act (HPA). Some Tennessee Walking Horse welfare advocates support a federal ban on the use of performance packagesused in padded show classes at some breed shows.

Earlier this month, North Carolina resident Michelle Disney launched a petition on Change.org asking state fair manager Wesley Wyatt and North Carolina Department of Agriculture (NCDA) Commissioner Steve Troxler to cancel the fair's Tennessee Walking Horse performance classes.

According to Disney's petition, some Tennessee Walking Horses are “forced to wear tall, heavy stacked shoes, which accentuate the artificial gait. Often times, trainers will shove sharp, metal objects, such as tacks or nails, between the horse’s hoofs and stacks,” the petition said. “As a result of the soring process, the horses step unnaturally high because their feet are burning in (pain).”

The petition goes on to say that “the people of North Carolina firmly believe that the intentional abuse of horses is cruel and should (not) be on display at our fairgrounds! North Carolina horse show participants deserve an even playing field—free of trainers who take abusive shortcuts, and fair goers deserve a show of true horsemanship with only properly shod and humanely trained horses.”

As of Oct. 17, the petition had gathered 5,824 signatures.

Disney was unavailable to comment on the petition.

Jeffrey Howard of Dabora, Inc., publisher of the Waking Horse Report, believes the petition is ill-founded.

“I find Ms. Disney’s comments disturbing as they aren’t based on facts,” Howard said. “Can you name one Tennessee Walking Horse with a pad that has a 'sharp metal object' found?”

Brian Long, NCDA spokesman, said fair managers and the state's agriculture department are aware of the petition. Long said organizers hired the horse industry organization (HIO) Heart of America Walking Horse Association to manage the horse show. As the HIO, designated qualified persons from Heart of the America would carry out HPA compliance inspections at the event, Long said. An independent veterinarian had also been hired to attend the fair's horse shows, he said.

“We don't know if the USDA inspectors will attend because they do not announced it when they attend shows,” Long said.

Tanya Espinosa, public affairs specialist for the USDA's Animal and Plant Inspection Service, said the USDA is in the process of decertifying the Heart of America Walking Horse Association on grounds that it failed to observe a 2012 USDA rule mandating the HIOs assess maximum penalties against HPA violators.

“Until the desertification process is completed, the HIO is certified and able to conduct HIO activities,” Espinosa said.

No one from Heart of America was available to comment.

Long said Heart of America was hired to serve as the HIO for horse shows at the North Carolina State Fair before the USDA began the desertification process.

In the meantime, Long said fair officials expected protests to occur, and that the fair horse shows will be given a thorough review after the event closes.

“We sit down at the end of every fair and evaluate them,” Long said.

The North Carolina State Fair continues through Oct. 26.

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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