Horse Health

Abuses Are Rampant in Tennessee Walking Horse Industry

by Wayne Pacelle of

Tennessee walking horses don’t naturally throw their front legs way up in the air…”

Shelbyville Farm Center division manager Joe Green, Sr. told The Tennessean, in a story published today, that last Wednesday night’s report on ABC’s Nightline exposing illegal training practices within the show world for Tennessee walking horses painted “a bad picture.” “The good guys have tried so hard to make it right, then that bad guy comes along and tries to ruin it for everybody.”

His son―who runs the Farm Center, which does a lot of business with show horse owners and trainers―had a similar message he conveyed: “The walking horse industry has been under such a microscope for so long that most of the bad guys have been weeded out, and it was unfortunate that ABC tried to paint all of them as bad,” said Joe Green, Jr. “The way they did that TV piece wasn’t even journalism.”

These people may really believe what they say―perhaps because people within this industry have been in denial so long. You repeat something long enough that you then internalize it―like so many other people who participate in or defend animal abuse. I see it with sealers, with puppy millers, with cockfighters, and with just about every subculture that causes harm to animals.

Tennessee walking horses don’t naturally throw their front legs way up in the air, with such a strangely exaggerated gait. This “big lick” gait is artificial and regularly accomplished by the illegal practice of “soring”―the intentional infliction of searing pain with each step. By every indication, this practice is absolutely pervasive in the industry, and it is these competitive pressures that have led to a sort of arms race within the training profession―and the arms used against the horses are oil of mustard, croton oil, chains, and other foreign substances and tools.

The now-indicted horse trainer Jackie McConnell may be a particularly ruthless and harsh man, but so many other trainers are working in the shadows and using very similar methods to get the same results. There is widespread lawlessness within this industry, and the deniers need to take note and recognize reality. Opinion leaders are saying the same thing, such as The Tennessean editorial board and columnist David Climer.

Barney Davis, who along with three others was also indicted for Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations in 2011, pled guilty to violating the Act and was sentenced to a one-year prison term after he was caught soring horses on video while out on bond. When the court asked Davis about the pervasiveness of illegal soring in the industry, he responded, “Everybody does—I mean, they’ve got to be sored to walk.” Davis used “pressure shoeing” as his soring method of choice―but the goal was to produce a high-stepping gait by inflicting pain, as McConnell did. These are standard practices in the world of training for these shows. We’re not talking about a few bad apples here.

Take a look at these facts:

  • The industry claims a 98 percent compliance rate with the HPA, yet 52 of the 52 horses randomly tested were found by USDA to be positive for prohibited foreign substances having been applied to their ankles, at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, which is the major annual show (the Super Bowl, if you will) within the industry. Foreign substance violation rates (for soring, numbing, or masking agents) at all shows at which USDA inspected horses were 86 percent in 2010 and 97.6 percent in 2011. It doesn’t get more pervasive than that.
  • In 2006, the Celebration failed to crown a World Grand Champion of the breed when only three of the horses entered to be shown were able to pass inspection for compliance with the HPA. Industry inspectors, under the watchful eye of USDA agents, ruled most of the entries ineligible to compete―and show management decided to shut the event down, rather than hold a three-horse class for the breed’s most coveted title.
  • A recent analysis of the HPA violation history of the 2011 Riders Cup nominated trainers indicates that the top 20 ranking trainers collectively received 164 citations in 2010-2011 alone, suggesting that if you want to win big, you have to violate the law.

There are voices within the industry condemning McConnell, and they’ve rightly excommunicated him. But if they really want the public to believe that the industry is largely complying with the HPA, they need to be much more transparent in their words and deeds―acknowledging the violation histories of key players, and allowing independent law enforcement officials to examine their training practices and the horses before the competitions. And they should be the first in line to support The HSUS’s efforts to strengthen the law, which has not been updated since it was amended in 1976, and to seek adequate funding for enforcement.

That’s my challenge to the leaders of the industry: join us in the efforts to modernize the law and enforce it. Send a response through this blog, and we’ll work together on it.

17 replies »

  1. HOW YOU CAN HELP – Get Your Letters Out to These Folks

    Posted: 18 May 2012 01:29 PM PDT


    Hi everyone. As promised, here’s the big list to write to. It’s a long list, but it truly will make a difference if you can take the time to at least prepare a form letter and send it out to each email address. Phone calls are also good.

    Here are the important guidelines to follow.

    1. Write your own letter. Don’t copy and paste mine below–it’s just an example. Even just a few sentences is enough.

    2. Copy and paste the video from this link into each letter. Be kind enough to warn them that it is graphic footage. If you’d rather send the Nightline story since it’s not as graphic (but still hard to watch), choose this link.

    3. Name calling, nasty remarks, and angry words (except expressions such as “I could not believe what I saw in this video”) do not help. A person is immediately turned off by being “yelled” at online or in a letter. Use rational words and think through what you’re writing before sending it.

    4. If you’re going to write a form letter, be sure to individualize it when you put it in email form by putting such things as Dear their name at the beginning, and pointing out you understand their position in the community (such as a Senator or House Rep). Also make sure your subject line is clear as to what you’re contacting them for, such as National Celebration Corporate Sponsorship or Enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

    5. It’s okay to point out that the industry is continuing to support this abuse by posting statistics, such as how many HPA violators hold high positions in clubs and associations and are allowed to show their horses even after multiple violations. But be sure that you back up your facts. Feel free to contact me or ask on our Facebook page if you need help with that.

    6. We have also learned from government officials that they don’t like electronic petitions without real handwritten signatures, nor do they want to read the exact same letter from a bunch of people. Each letter needs to be individual.

    It’s also important to thank those who have already taken the steps to end soring. I’ve included those folks in the list as well.

    Here is my example letter to Ford to ask them to pull their sponsorship. Again, DO NOT copy and paste this letter. Please take the time to write your own.


    I understand that Ford gives a sponsorship to the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) National Celebration each year. You might already be aware of the undercover video at the link at the end of this message, which was taken last year. It shows the extreme abuse that goes on behind the scenes at many if not most TWH barns in Tennessee. This is all to create the high stepping gait in the show ring called the Big Lick. It is animal abuse for fun and profit.

    Soring, as explained in the video, is outlawed by the Horse Protection Act, yet it is still commonplace in the industry. The industry hides this fact and lies about how they are trying to end it. The HPA has been in effect since 1970, yet because the industry is allowed to “police” themselves, soring still continues and is rampant.

    As an owner and advocate for the sound TWH, I ask that you reconsider your sponsorship with the National Celebration. There is sufficient evidence that points to the fact that sored horses are still being shown there, and this cruelty needs to end. Pulling your support of this show would help tremendously with both your reputation and to help fight against the only form of abuse against horses that has a federal law against it.

    I am also a Ford driver–we have a 1997 F-250 that is in great shape and has lasted us a long time. We love Fords and want to always stick with them for our truck needs. I also commend you for choosing not to take the bailout from the government. Choosing to go away from these heinous acts of abuse by pulling your support would do even more for your good reputation and help us make the public more aware about this abuse.

    If you need more information, feel free to contact me and visit our blog at and our website at Thank you very much for your time. Video link:


    Now for the list. If you have any suggestions, feel free to contact me or post them on the Facebook page.

    USDA Contacts

    Current Sponsors of the Celebration
    ***UPDATED: I received the following info from Ford. The links below have been changed accordingly.

    “Please be advised that we are not a sponsor of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. The Mid-South Ford Dealers is the local association of Ford Dealers and they are independent from the company. The sponsorship falls under their jurisdiction and was made independently from us.”

    Corporate Office –

    Mid-South Ford Dealers – Click here for the list of Dealers near Shelbyville, TN. Choose the “View Website” link and then choose any links they might have that says “Contact Us.” You can check the bottom of the page for email addresses as well.

    Cracker Barrel – ***UPDATED: CRACKER BARREL PULLED OUT OF THE CELEBRATION IN 2002. They are no longer sponsors.

    Potential Sponsors of the Celebration
    Keystone Light – You will have to enter your birth date for legal purposes.

    Send your emails to the all the major board members: president, vice president, committee leaders, etc. Or choose all of the email addresses…the more the merrier!

    When writing to the HIOs, request that they ban McConnell the same way they banned Barney Davis. The HIOs immediately banned Barney Davis BEFORE he went to trial, but they have not banned McConnell. It’s clear who’s the money maker of the two for them.

    Also, ask them to start putting together stronger penalties. Perhaps a 3 strikes and you’re out policy–three HPA violations (not rulebook violations) and you’re banned for life. Ask them to stop trying to placate the public and pretend these are isolated incidents and actually start working to end soring. We all know soring is the main way of “training” these horses–it’s high time it ended.

    KYWHA –
    PRIDE – You can copy and paste all the email addresses into a single email.
    SHOW –
    SSHBEA –
    WHOA – Scroll down to see the email addresses.

    Ask them to stop supporting the HPA violators and giving them high positions in their association. Ask for changes in the by laws that anyone who has violated the HPA more than twice is not eligible to be on the board or an officer for life. Ask that their Horse Protection Committee, which has HPA violators serving on it, to get active within the breed and actually protect the horse.
    Executive Director – Ron Thomas,, 931-359-0580
    Executive Assistant – Diane White,, 931-359-0581
    President – Marty Irby,, 615-796-5334, 931-233-0112
    Senior Vice President – Margo Urad,, 214-763-7379
    Trainers Vice President – Wayne Dean,, 931-359-4808, 931-359-7326
    Equine Welfare Vice President – Dr. Linda W. Montgomery, 615-210-4038
    Find your local board representative on this page:

    The Celebration
    Ask them to ban McConnell from the show grounds. email:

    Your Congressmen
    It’s best to write to the Congressmen in your state first. On the Senator and House Reps links listed below, a short and easy search will take you to your Congressmen’s pages, where you can use the contact forms to contact them. On some Congressmen’s pages, they will only allow you to contact them if you live in their zip code. But zip codes can easily be found online at MelissaData for Tennessee and Kentucky.

    White House Contact Page
    Senators – choose the Find Your Senators option in the top right corner:
    House Representatives – choose the Find Your Representatives option in the top right corner:
    HSUS’s Page for Congress Contact Information concerning the TWH:
    Find Your Federal Legislators:

    Thank Yous
    ABC Nightline –
    HSUS –
    Pepsi – For pulling their sponsorship from the Celebration:


  2. Just heard on News 2, TWH association has revoked James McConnell’s license. He won’t need it at the cross bar hotel anyway. My opinion on the suggestion of “3 strikes you’re out.” Oh, hell no. Once is too much. Remember the pain and suffering of the horses. Afterall, it is against the law and no one should be allowed to break the law 3 times before they’re punished.


  3. After watching this video clip I really wish that the punishment could be EXACTLY what he did to those poor horses – what disgusting people. I agree with Redmm97 – WHY after 3 times is this
    person then punished – did they really think he wouldn’t do it again? Too little too late!


  4. I have said it on every site that I could find and all of the Tennessee newspapers that take comments, this is a living hell for horses. McConnell and his henchmen should be given the maximum sentences available. I don’t know why they agreed to let him plead guilty to one count and dropped the others…..the man is a sadist.
    I will also say this again, the powers that be and the exhibitors,owners and trainers and riders of TWH know this goes on and turn a blind eye to it. Go to any show that features walkers and you will see the exaggerated high stepping running walk. This is not obtained by natural training methods, this is obtained by pain to the horse.
    The entire TWH industry should be cleaned out and cleaned up, SHAME ON ALL OF YOU WHO HAVE WATCHED THIS FOR YEARS.


  5. The “voices” in the industry need to do a hell of a lot more than “condem” McConnell or anyone else that uses this hideious torture on horses. They need to proactively, with no excuses, dilligently police their industry. And absolutely no “three strikes” allowed. And it is not just the trainers that need policing, it is the owners that should be barred as well. If they just prosecute the trainers, that is a backdoor for the owners to find another trainer willing to torture horses for the almighty dollar!


  6. This is just one, institutionalized living hell for equines………….number one is human consumption horse slaughter.

    I am moving in the direction that legally and enforcing the beating up the TW humans is reasonable, but there are other equines industries doing the exact same thing, only in different ways.

    QHs, TBs, etc breed to excess to find that one superior survivor with no plan for a meaningful, living life for their discards.

    It’s a start…..but the export slaughter numbers seem to show that HSUS’s crusade is not stemming the tide of the ultimate abuse or industry hard heads’ mind sets.


    • Denise not EVERYONE in TB’s overbreeds with no after career in mind. Granted the industry has A VERY LONG road ahead but for instance–now when stallions go overseas to Japan or elsewhere they go with the Ferdinand Clause which basically states that WE (Americans) get first dibs on the horse when he’s retired.

      This was brought about SPECIFICALLY because of Ferdinand. Places like Old Friends keeps an eye on horses so they don’t end up in a bad place.

      I’m not saying its perfect, and I’m not saying mistakes aren’t made. I’m just saying that more people are aware and that is a step.

      In my own humble opinion that is totally unscientific–it’s the owner with a horse or two in the backyard who is a problem. It’s owners who know the breeding business has been in the toilet but yet still breeds, and then suddenly they find themselves foreclosed on. What happened to their common sense? And it’s icky trainers who send horses to slaughter with NO CHANCE for a second career because they weren’t fast enough on the track. It’s like they’re trying to get even with the horse which makes no sense cause the horse is slaughtered. And then there the thieves who will break in and steal your horse for horse meat (esp. in Southern FL)


  7. You would think that the breeders and trainers who use humane methods would be kicking up all types of hell to stop these people, do they really like being beaten in the show ring by these sadistic SOBs??? Why aren’t they clamoring at the gates to put a stop to these methods, or do they really care, or, are they really as innocent as they make out they are. This is long overdue and as soon as the judges (who are equally to blame for pinning the ribbons on these obviously abused horses) and competitors who use these methods are weeded out and start cleaning up their act (preferably by eradicating the “big lick” classes completely) these poor horses and we can breathe easy until the next ugly abuse story hits the media, and there are many. This video made me sick and I cant get the picture of the one horse with the wild eye in the ring after receiving the ribbon, terror, resignation and pain!


  8. The good news he had his license revoked. HOOFRAY for those in charge for doing this. This is only a first step in what’s sure to be a long long fight.

    As I sat there watching the big lick–its so artificial it’s gross. Horses don’t walk or trot like that. Not that exgerrated step. I mean Zenyatta had a modified version of it–sorta.

    Who even promoted this in the first place? It’s a totally bizarre action. I hated it. I hated watching men beat the horses with a whip and in the face. Can part of this creeps punishment be we can whip him in the face?

    As with racing those in charge need to look specifically at racking. They should be rewarding horses and owners who do this by training without brutal cruel methods.

    I’m fairly speechless at what I saw. It was that bad. And to boot my cousin happened to watch it and it really upset her. First one in the family to acknowledge any horse material I send out via fb. That’s how bad it was.


  9. This video is disturbing and it should be disturbing if this is going on in our country. What would we be if we saw it and were unmoved. God help us. Hats of to again to Keith Dane and the HSUS for exposing that this is still going on.

    It is interesting that two of the kindest, most malleable breeds, the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Quarter Horse are two of the most abused horse breeds. Though the training techniques are different, they are almost culturally institutionalized in that the mentality of the people who compete at a certain level with these breeds find it acceptable to use extremely harsh training methods.

    What they should have done at the Celebration is had that class with the three horses that did not test positive and select one of them as champion and a second as reserve champion and give the third ribbon and recognition as long as it was evident that these three horses had not been sored or been trained through painful procedures. If there was evidence that these horses were also treated with pain inducing measures, but they just did not test positive, then the class was rightly cancelled. However, if there were three clean horses, riders, trainers, it sends the wrong message to cancel the class.

    The Tennessee Walker has three wonderful gaits that are different from other horse breeds. These can still be celebrated and shown for their natural beauty and grace of movement.


  10. Yes, there are abuses found throughout the horse industry, both in racing and showing. Yes, some large breeders HAVE cut back in recent years with TBs and StBs, (Standardbreds – harness racers) and there are organizations out there to help off-track horses find new homes and work after their racing careers end. The issue of TBs racing so young that their bones cannot withstand the work is not addressed, however.
    But, I digress. THIS article is about TWHs and the abuses within the showing industry. This stuff happens. WORSE things happen. I come from a place where I have had those WORSE things described to me in detail. As a result, I’m pretty well anti-showing, period. I have one old Arabian gelding that someone told me a hundred years ago I should show, and I refused. I told them “I didn’t get him to show. I got him to trail ride, and to be my companion and that is what he is for.” 23 years later, I still have that old horse. He’s 31, has few teeth and is now arthritic.
    I even refuse to attend shows as a spectator – especially gaited horse shows. I refer to them as “Equine Torturefests” and refuse to pay money to go watch them.
    One reason that so few people lodge complaints AT shows is this: THEY CHARGE YOU TO LODGE A COMPLAINT. I know one woman who had to pay $100 to report a trainer for beating a TWH stallion and yanking the bit until both corners of the horse’s mouth were bleeding.


    • Bless you, Cibil, for treating your companion Arabian as you would want to be treated were you a horse!

      I am repulsed at the information you provided in your last sentence — both at the beating and yanking and at the need to pay $100 to report such abuse.

      The latter point is a clear indication, to me, that the players in this “sport” aren’t remotely interested in the horses’ welfare.

      Furthermore, anyone who claims to care about the TWHs and who claims to be following the rules and yet KNOWS (or even suspects) that egregious abuses are being heaped upon the horses they compete against is an accomplice to the crimes.

      They are so into winning that they are figuratively blind to the wrongdoing and to the animals’ suffering.


  11. Oh my goodness , this made me cry , I have 2 TW’s and could not imagine someone tourting them or any of my other horses for show purposes. This is horrendous!!!! I can not say what i would like to say as to what needs to be done with this IDIOT!!! i know what should be done to him. Can’t beleive they are letting him off with a slap of the hand with the video proof??? I will be making the contacts as stated above. I feel even the shoeing of these horses needs to be stopped as well, the pads!!! that is not a natural stance or gait and it is not PRETTY no matter how you look at it. Praying this will come to an end SOON!!!!!!


  12. Why keep trying to regulate the unregulatable?

    Why keep saying that the inhumane can be made humane?

    Why keep pretending that horses can be gently trained to do the “big lick” when every horse who has ever done it thus far has been, to one degree or another, abused into submission?

    Why keep allowing immorality to parade as morality?

    Why keep being complicit (by dint of not calling for these shows to be permanently banned) in creating such misery for these innocent equines?

    When rules keep being ignored, and when those rules, even if obeyed, permit harsh treatment of animals, it’s time to insist upon abolition of an industry.

    Those of us who are serious about ridding the world of cruelty mustn’t quit until this wretched excuse for pleasure, power, prestige and profits is drummed out of existence.


  13. I beg to defer with the people who say this is a small number of violators. Give me a break, everyone that is on a show circuit and does not report this kind of torture is just as guilty. Some of the Arabian trainers are no different. However, each show should have a Show Steward that one can go to and report cruelty. I would not hesitate to report a trainer or an exhibitor and would gladly
    wait to see a Steward’s report. It is imperative that the Show Steward check all barns and private areas to search for abusive tactics, The Arabian Horse Association is also looking in to the $100 charge. The bottom line is if you show on an “A” circuit if you as an exhibitor know something is going on and don’t report it, you are just as guilty. It will never stop if trainers are allowed to do this. Again, it is the almighty dollar. As an Arabian owner there are many people who are now chosing to just enjoy their beautiful horses on the trail and sometimes parades. This is one area where the Arabian Horse Association left by the wayside. However, they are now promoting this as a great avenue for the Arabian horse besides the show ring. Incidently with the cost of gas and the cost associated with the show ring many are chosing to enjoy their horses on the trail. Its pathetic that horse owners pay big bucks for someone to destroy their horse. Report the bastards
    if you see or hear of abuse!


  14. Why can’t we just leave all animals the way the good Lord made them!! We aren’t happy with our own bodies or looks, we’re not happy with the way animals, mainly our companion animals, look, so we just think we can play God & change them to appeal to our stupid, greedy ideals, without even a microscopic regard or concern about any possible consequences! Where did we lose the notion that if we have feelings & emotions, animals do as well? Now humans treat animals like non-living, inanimate things, all to please ourselves, or compete with eachother, or for greed & the love & idolatry of money! In an ideal, perfect world, we’ll be able to stop all this madness & abuse against fellow living creatures.


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