New rules in place at the 69th Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration - which began this week in Shelbyville, Tennessee- offer some signs of progress for an industry that has been plagued for decades by the specter of soring. But recent allegations of illegal and inhumane training methods serve as a reminder that the industry is still under close scrutiny.
In a letter sent this week to Hon. Charles Crawford, Bedford County, Tennessee District Attorney General, The Humane Society of the United States urged Crawford to investigate an alleged case of "pressure shoeing" and pursue, if warranted, animal cruelty charges against Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Dick Peebles and the farrier who allegedly performed the pressure shoeing. The Humane Society of the United States also offered assistance in investigating this case.
" At a time when some trainers and leaders in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry are trying to implement reform and finally put an end to soring, those individuals that refuse to comply with state and federal law and continue to abuse and molest these magnificent animals should be held accountable," said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States. "Those who practice the illegal act of pressure shoeing should be rejected by the entire Tennessee Walking Horse industry."
"Pressure shoeing"- generally held to be the most egregious form of illegal horse soring - is the trimming a horse's hoof so the shoe puts painful pressure on the horse's sole, forcing an exaggerated high gait. In some instances, foreign objects are placed between the sole and the shoe or pad which is nailed to the hoof, to create painful pressure on the sole.
On August 15, the Walking Horse Trainers Association (WHTA) Board of Directors and Ethics Committee issued a report detailing an investigation of Mr. Peebles' alleged shoeing violation. According to the report, Mr. Peebles, while not admitting guilt, agreed to accept responsibility for a shoeing violation and received a five-year suspension penalty, a penalty reserved for pressure shoeing under the USDA Horse Protection Act Operating Plan.
The WHTA's suspension of Mr. Peebles' trainer's license may not actually prevent him from training horses, or his clients from showing them. The suspension was not implemented and is not enforced under the Horse Protection Act, but rather the WHTA's own rules and ethics code; therefore, he is not officially banned from showing under any law or governmental regulation.