The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is not just keeping an eye on the National Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee next week. It's anti-soring message is staring down at the showgrounds.
HSUS rented a billboard opposite the entrance, and it doesn't say, "Welcome to Shelbyville."
Instead, the billboard encourages people to phone a tipline where charges against soring can be investigated. It's even bi-lingual.
The tipline is not a direct line to the US Department of Agriculture, the government agency charged with enforcing the Horse Protection Act, which was designed to protect horses from the federally-banned practice of "soring" a horse's hooves and/or lower limbs to get a bigger gait and higher step.
The tipline is an internal project of HSUS, which has no direct role within federal law enforcement, but has a huge role in public awareness.
HSUS may, if it chooses, investigate and publicize accusations submitted by callers. It will also offer a reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of violators of the Horse Protection Act or?any state law that prohibits horse soring.
Earlier this year, HSUS paid out a $10,000 reward for information that led to the arrest and conviction of Barney Davis, a Tennessee horse trainer, for violations of the Horse Protection Act. Davis testified during his sentencing hearing that soring is a common practice.
HSUS urges anyone with information on soring to call?855-NO-SORING or email:firstname.lastname@example.org. The HSUS will protect the identity of all callers.
Mike Inman, CEO of the celebration?said in a televised interview with?WZTV in Nashville, "(The billboard is)?nothing more than a well-timed publicity grab" and that "the safety of horses has been the event's top priority for decades".
"Actually, the industry has a hotline 365 days a year, every year," Inman told the interviewer.? "We don't put it up and take it down whenever it's convenient."
Entries are predicted to be lower this year at Shelbyville. Inman, in his first year as CEO, has been upbeat about the 2012 Celebration, calling it a successful event that any horse breed would envy. About 200,000 people are expected to attend, if past years' attendance statistics hold for 2012. The grounds can house up to 1,500 horses.
The show begins on Wednesday.