The Truth Behind the Numbers
We have heard in the past few weeks about the United States Humane Society undercover investigation exposing a Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer, Jackie McConnell. This expose has been aired all over the nation. The video shows horrific abuse inflicted on the Big Lick horse to force them to perform an extreme high stepping animated gait.
We have also read the various press releases from the governing bodies in the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry including The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA), Walking Horse Trainers' Association and the largest Horse Industry Organization (HIO) inspection program called S.H.O.W. These press releases minimize or deny their role in the continued practice of soring and claim McConnell was just an exception or a bad apple. I am not going to elaborate on all of the lies in these press releases that these associations feed the public, but I will touch on a few.
TWHBEA felt the need after all these years to clarify its role, stating they are just a registry and have no authority over showing inspections like other equine associations. Well, if that was the case, maybe you should remove the words "Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association" and replace it with the word "registry" calling it the Tennessee Walking Horse Registry, or have your President Marty Irby recant his speech at the various USDA listening sessions across the country this year when industry stakeholders had five minutes to speak to the USDA about the Horse Protection Act. President Marty Irby stated he was against the USDA mandatory minimum penalty protocols. The USDA requires each horse industry inspection program to implement because these penalties would protect the horse and make trainers and owners accountable for violating the Horse Protection Act.
There are about twelve inspection programs, HIOs, with three of them being compliant with the USDA. We need to differentiate these inspection programs with the other nine so there is no confusion. The sound horse inspection programs are: The National Walking Horse Association (NWHA), Friends of Sound Horses, and the International Walking Horse Association. These associations have eliminated the sore horse from the ring.
Okay, that being said, the USDA mandatory penalties require a suspension taking habitual horse offenders out of the ring. I might also add they are MINMUM penalties and that the USDA should not have to force any equine association to implement these penalties. These inspection programs are supposed to protect the horse from abusive training methods, but instead they protect the violators.
Several of us from NWHA attended the Kentucky listening session where Marty Irby spoke. Mr. Irby stated these penalties would decimate the industry and decrease the value of our horse. We were so disgusted with his stance. He also goes on to brag the industry has a 98% compliance rate but one brave individual named Mark Matson challenged the percentage questioning, "If penalties only effect violators and you have a 98% compliance rate how would you expect a 2% violation rate to decimate your industry?" That is the truth, it is not possible.
Dr. Steven Mullin, an equine vetenarian and the director of S.H.O.W, has been interviewed several times recently. I might add that Dr. Mullins was quick to ban Barney Davis before his trial and denied the fact Barney Davis was a Walking Horse trainer. Guess what; a tape surfaced of Mr. Davis showing at the 2009 National Celebration under Dr. Mullins inspection program. Dr. Mullins also claims a 98% compliance rate and states he has enforced the Horse Protection Act more than anyone else. What he doesn’t state is his organization is facing decertification by the USDA because he refuses to implement these minimum penalties. His penalty protocol focuses on a fine with little to no suspension for the violators. This allows the habitual offenders to remain in the show ring and pay a mere $100 fine for most violations. I have found data where many trainers have up to ten or more violations a year and are still showing. It is a revolving door policy and many flock to this meaningless enforcement. Dr. Steven Mullins inspects for the annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, named The Cruelest Horse Show on earth by the United States Humane Society. If you remember, this show was shut down in 2006 before the World Grand Championship class because only three of the entries passed the USDA inspection for the World Grand Championship Big Lick class.
Now let’s discuss how this fabricated compliance rate is calculated. A true compliance rate is based on the number of horses, not the number of entries. Example ten runners show up to race. Only five of the runners pass a random urine test. Results equal a fifty percentage compliance rate. In the industry, the numbers are further diluted by including all sound horse organizations entries, versatility entries, and flat shod entries. This also does not include the mass exit of trainers every time the USDA shows up to inspect horses and the horses that are drugged, numbed, or stewarded. The recently released USDA foreign swab analysis showed 50 of 52 samples done at the 2011 Celebration were positive for foreign substances mostly numbing agents at Dr. Mullins inspection program. How’s that for a 98% compliance rate. A study found that 90% percent of all Horse Protection Act violations come from the Big Lick division. I found that Dr. Mullins does not include the number of horses on the USDA horse protection program DQP report. What are you hiding? A true compliance rate?
So if you want to use a compliance rate on entries, we can look at the 2011 Celebration, where the world grand champions are crowned. Now you have to remember the USDA can only attend 7% of all Tennessee Walking Horse Shows due to lack of funding. The compliance rate at the 2011 Celebration was actually about 91% and about 86% when the recently released USDA random foreign substance swab results are included. That does not include the horses that don't get led up to inspection that go in versatility classes that don't require inspection. The 98% number has been used by the industry forever, and it is a lie. It is based on the reports sent in by DQPs from the inspection programs that let sore horses in the ring, and includes all of the shows they inspect, 94% of which they inspect when the USDA vets are not standing over their shoulder to ensure they inspect properly.
Those programs need to be decertified by the USDA. This is not a problem of a few trainers. The top 20 trainers in the industry collectively have over 160 Horse Protection Act violations over the 2010 and 2011 show seasons. They are being rewarded for soring horses. It is ridiculous, and it needs to stop. The primary reason it has not stopped is that those same inspection program, if they do cite a violation, cite a lesser violation for which the penalties are meaningless. Plus, they commonly don't even enforce their own penalties on the worse violations. Those inspection programs are the tools by which all of this abuse goes on. All of the statements made by the Walking Horse industry are hollow platitudes. They cater to people who make a living soring horses and lying about it. It has gone on for decades, it is common, and Jackie McConnell is no exception.
The Walking Horse Trainers' Association stated they were shocked and saddened by the actions of Jackie McConnell. They state the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse is at the forefront of their association and membership. I think what is shocking is the number of violations of the top trainers in the industry competing for honors in the rider’s cup award.
Below is a spreadsheet showing the 2011 Riders Cup rankings of trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. It also shows the violations on those trainers written by the horse industry inspection organizations over the 2010 and 2011 show seasons. It does not include USDA disqualifications. In addition, it shows the penalties that would have applied under the USDA minimum penalty protocol, the suspension penalties (not fines) under SHOW’s penalty structure, and the suspensions that were actually levied by the horse industry inspection organizations. To the best of my ability, the data is true to the best of my knowledge as it was available. (Three pages--click each page thumbnail to read the entire page. Hover your mouse at the top of the page when it shows up and click Zoom In to see it in a larger view.)
One cannot examine this spreadsheet without concluding that these trainers continue to sore horses and are being rewarded for it by the industry. The penalties levied by the industry are worthless in terms of an effective deterrent. Most of the violations have no suspension at all. Most of the penalties for the few bilateral sore cases were served over the winter, also having no effective deterrent. In fact, most given those suspensions will be off of them just in time for the Celebration. The industry keeps saying there are a “few bad apples”, and most of the horses are sound. The fact is that the bad apples are the industry’s inner circle of trainers and owners. In fact, since Dr. Mullins and others have continued to put forth blatantly false information about violation statistics, it is no stretch that many of the violations are being dumbed down to something less than they really are (i.e., bilateral written as a unilateral or scar rule) when the USDA is not present, and probably even when they are present, to an extent. If these people will lie to the public, then they will alter inspections. That said, the spreadsheet should be viewed as very conservatively representing the situation, and in reality it is significantly worse. An examination of the penalties and who they would impact also shows why the industry is so up in arms over the USDA penalty protocol while simultaneously claiming a compliance rate of 98.3%. It is way past time for this nonsense to stop.
~ Suzi Clark
Suzi Clark rode her first TWH at five years old. The palomino mare was owned by her cousin, and this mare started a long love affair for the breed. Suzi continued to ride through her teenage years until she purchased her first TWH at age eighteen. Nine months after her purchase, she attended her first TWH show with friends Debra and Mark Matson. During those years, Suzi witnessed many atrocities inflicted upon the defenseless TWH. Nerve cords, open application of soring agents, stewarding, and using whips to force horses out of their stalls to the inspection area, as they were in so much pain they could hardly walk. Suzi was outspoken against the abuse during a time when it was forbidden and suffered physical threats and banishment. In 1997, she was informed of a new HIO called the National Walking Horse Association and is proud to say she is one of the fifty founding members of NWHA. Suzi is still active and competing in the growing association and is currently apprenticing for her judge's license.