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Entries in Horses (5)

Monday
Jun182012

Veterinary Groups Push for Better Protection for Championship Horses

ABC News (WASHINGTON) -- 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 Monday 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, including 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.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Jun012012

Whistleblower Who Alleged Horse 'Torture' Threatened with Expulsion

Humane Society of the United States(NEW YORK) -- After speaking out to ABC News about what he called "torture for the sake of a blue ribbon" in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, the director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States is facing possible expulsion from the board of the sport's breeders association.

Keith Dane has been told to appear before the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA) enforcement committee to answer a complaint filed against him by a fellow association member in the wake of the ABC News' Nightline investigation.  Dane is a Tennessee Walking Horse owner and trainer and a TWHBEA board member.

The member who filed the complaint, Kathy Zeis, did not respond to requests for comment.

Marty Irby, president of the TWHBEA, said Zeis paid an undisclosed fee to file the complaint, but would not explain the nature of the grievance.

Dane's hearing is scheduled for June 28. 

"If the hearing goes forward, I intend to fully respond to and defend against the complaint," Dane told ABC News.

"It is shocking that anyone within this industry would even suggest that there be retaliatory or disciplinary action against a Humane Society official and horseman who blew the whistle on Jackie McConnell, who has now pled guilty to felony charges of horse abuse," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.  "It suggests that there's still an attitude within the fraternity that anyone who breaks the code of silence on horse soring must be excommunicated.  These people have it backwards, and they also need some lessons in crisis management."

Undercover video made by an investigator for the Humane Society documented the cruelty of one of the sport's leading trainers, Jackie McConnell, who has since been banned for life by the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration (the sport's most high-profile championship).  The video showed McConnell and his employees beating horses with wooden sticks, shocking them with electric cattle prods, and "soring" (applying caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses) -- techniques apparently employed to make the horses produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships in the Tennessee Walking Horse world.

McConnell, 60, also pleaded guilty to one federal count related to a violation of the Horse Protection Act.

Since the Nightline investigation, the nature of the sport has come under intense criticism, with calls to clean up an industry that insiders say has long known about the prevalent use of illegal, abusive training techniques.

"The fact is that 'soring,' the technique of using chemicals and chains to give walking horses the exaggerated gait or "big lick" to win championships, was used for years -- with industry leaders closing their eyes to keep the almighty dollar flowing," an editorial in the local Murfreesboro Daily News said this week.

The Tennessean also 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.

"It's sort of a world unto its own and there are a lot of well-kept secrets in it," Dane told ABC News.  "All too often, you have to cheat to win in this sport."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
May222012

Accused Tennessee Show Horse Abuser Pleads Guilty

ABC News(CHATTANOOGA, Tenn.) -- One of the leading trainers in the famed Tennessee Walking Horse industry admitted Tuesday that he abused horses under his care to enhance their performance, the latest step in a case that has renewed controversy over the treatment of animals in the sport.

Jackie McConnell, 60, pleaded guilty to one federal count related to the conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, a week after an ABC News Nightline investigation aired undercover video made by the Humane Society of the United States that showed McConnell and his employees beating horses with wooden sticks and shocking them with electric cattle prods.

In another scene, McConnell oversees his employees as they apply caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses and then wrap them with plastic wrap so the chemicals eat into the skin.

The alleged torture was apparently employed to make the horses produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships in the Tennessee Walking Horse world.

"That creates intense pain and then the ankles are wrapped with large metal chains so the horses flinch, or raise their feet even higher," said Keith Dane of the Humane Society.

In addition, the application of the harmful chemicals, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Tennessee said McConnell also "took steps to camouflage the damage to the horses by instructing others to apply magic markers and other masking devices to the horses' legs prior to inspection."

He had been charged with 52 counts in violation of the Horse Protection Act, but pleaded guilty to only one in a plea agreement with prosecutors. Two of his stable hands, John Mays and Joseph Abernathy, also pleaded guilty to one count and face up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine. Another employee and co-defendant, Jeff Dockery, has yet to enter a plea.

McConnell faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine when he is sentenced in September.

Last week, ABC News approached McConnell outside his home about the abuse allegations, but he declined to comment.

After the undercover video made by the Humane Society came to light, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General and FBI then followed up with their own investigation at McConnell's farm in Collierville, Tennessee, and at a temporary stable closer to the location of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration exhibition in Shelbyville.

Last week, ABC News found all but one horse had been removed from McConnell's Collierville stable.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
May172012

Video Reveals Torture of Horses Trained to Win Championships

Humane Society of the United States(NEW YORK) -- Large numbers of the famed Tennessee Walking Horses have been tortured and beaten in order to make them produce the high-stepping gait that wins championships, an ABC News investigation has found.

"All too often, you have to cheat to win in this sport," said Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the United States.

In the most recent example, an undercover video made by an investigator for the Humane Society, documents the cruelty of one of the sport's leading trainers, Jackie McConnell of Collierville, Tenn.

The video led to a federal grand jury indictment of McConnell and was seen publicly for the first time Wednesday night on the ABC News program Nightline.

The tape shows McConnell and his stable hands beating horses with wooden sticks and using electric cattle prods on them as part of a training protocol to make them lift their feet in the pronounced gait judges like to see.

In another scene, McConnell oversees his hands as they apply caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses and then wrap them with plastic wrap so the chemicals eat into the skin.

"That creates intense pain and then the ankles are wrapped with large metal chains so the horses flinch, or raise their feet even higher," said Dane of the Humane Society.

McConnell is expected to enter a guilty plea to one count, according to his lawyers.

He declined to comment, or apologize for his acts, when approached by ABC News this week outside his home.

Leaders of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry maintain that such brutality is rare and that trainers do not have to cheat to win championships, which can add millions of dollars to the value of horses.

"They do not have to cheat to win," said Dr. Steve Mullins of the group called SHOW, which oversees inspections of horses before major events.  "You don't have to do this kind of junk to win. ... And we are terribly against this stuff."

The industry group maintains that the vast majority of horses are not subjected to the cruel practice of "soring."

But a random inspection by the agents of the Department of Agriculture at last year's annual championship found that 52 of 52 horses tested positive for some sort of foreign substance around front hooves, either to cause pain or to hide it.

Dr. Mullins told ABC News there could be innocent explanations for some of the foreign substances found by the inspectors. 

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec012011

Horse Slaughterhouses May Reopen in US After Five Year Ban

Thomas Northcut/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Horses can now legally be butchered for human consumption in the U.S. after Congress lifted a ban on funding horse processing inspections this month.

The measure was part of an agriculture spending bill President Obama signed on Nov. 18, reversing the 2006 decision by Congress to defund horse meat inspections.

The likelihood of Americans dining on horses, however, is slight since there is no culture of eating horse meat in this country, they are revered as pets and many states have strict controls on horse meat.  California and Illinois have laws banning the consumption of horse meat.

The meat, however, could be exported to Europe and Asia.

Animal welfare advocates pushed for the ban when it passed five years ago, but horse industry advocates and the Government Accountability Office say the ban had a slew of unintended consequences: More horses were left abandoned when owners could no longer afford to keep them or use them for work; owners who wanted to sell their horses for slaughter were forced to have them shipped to Canada or Mexico, where slaughtering is legal; and horse prices became depressed in the United States, according to a report released by the GOA in June.

In the years since the last horse slaughterhouse closed in America, horse abandonment and export has grown significantly, according to the GAO report.  In Colorado, for example, data showed that investigations for horse neglect and abuse increased more than 60 percent, from 975 in 2005 to almost 1,600 in 2009, the report said.

According to one advocate, the ban also forced the bottom to drop out of the horse industry entirely.

“It’s basic economics,” said David Duquette, president of United Horsemen, which advocated for lifting the ban.  “Horses used to be a $102 billion a year industry, with at least 500,000 direct jobs in horse industry.  That’s been cut in half.”

The ban was lifted quietly in this year’s agriculture spending bill.  Now, advocates say that the $62 million-a-year slaughter industry could be back up and running in as little as 30 to 90 days.

Opponents of the measure say that they will fight any meat processing plants that open in the coming months.

The Department of Agriculture issued a statement Tuesday saying there are no slaughterhouses in the U.S. that butcher horses for human consumption now, but if one were to open, it would conduct inspections to make sure federal laws were being followed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio