Humane Society releases findings in undercover Tennessee horse abuse investigation

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WATE) – The Humane Society of the United States released details of an undercover horse abuse investigation against ThorSport Farm.

The group revealed findings Tuesday of a new investigation at the Murfreesboro horse training barn, documenting the alleged soring and mistreatment of Tennessee walking horses. A horse’s legs are intentionally injured to make the animal have a higher gait when soring occurs.

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PHOTOS: Humane Society Undercover Investigation
PHOTOS: Humane Society Undercover Investigation

The organization claims that for the second time in four years, an undercover investigator found evidence of trainers soring horses. The investigation allegedly found several horses slated to compete in a Tennessee competition were illegally sored, which could give them an advantage at the event. Samples were taken of wrapping from horse’s legs that tested positive for substances that have been banned from use in the show ring by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.

“This investigation proves that the practice of soring is alive and well in the heart of Tennessee walking horse country, and that some top trainers and owners in the industry are complicit in the abuse,” said Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection for the Humane Society.

At this time, no charges have been filed against ThorSport. The investigation is still active.

The farm released a statement Tuesday evening regarding the investigation and allegations of soring. The owner, Duke Thorson, says Thorsport has a “well-earned reputation for operating ethically and legally, and we emphatically reject the HSUS’s charges of soring.”

He goes on to say, “This farm operates within the rules. Our intolerance for unethical and illegal training is widely known to the point that people who want such an advantage no longer approach us. ThorSport Farm continues to work vigorously to end abuse and clean up the industry.”

More online: Read the full statement [PDF]

The exaggerated high stepping gate is known as the big lick. Veterinarian Dr. Michael Blackwell says the big lick gate is created by inflicting pain on the horse.

“It’s the big lick gate that goes over the line and involves illegal activities,” said Dr. Blackwell. Dr. Blackwell is the Humane Society of the United States’ chief veterinary officer and the former dean of the University Of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine. He says the Humane Society focused their investigation of a farm in Murfreesboro.

“You’ll see in the photos actually duct tape which is, again, not a breathable substance that literally blocks in this caustic irritating material against the animal’s sensitive skin,” said Dr. Blackwell. He says they also found horses with stacks on their legs. The band can be tightened creating pain.

“Sometimes they have bolts that have been inserted underneath and those are screwed in and those create pain and what the horse learns to do overtime is compensate to try and get off those sore feet and people clap and say big lick,” said Dr. Blackwell.

WATE 6 On Your Side reached out to Horse Haven of Tennessee. They are not involved in the investigation but have cared for many horses rescued from soring abuse.

“What I saw in the video is pretty standard to what’s happening across the state. These horses continue to be sored,” said Stephanie Soloman, Horse Haven of Tennessee Equine Manager.

An attorney with DA’s conference who is said to have the case has not returned a call to see if she plans to pursue charges.

The Humane Society is urging Congress to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, which would strengthen the Horse Protection Act. In August, the Humane Society purchased three billboards in Shelbyville to raise awareness about illegal horse soring.

Previous story: Billboards raise awareness about illegal horse soring

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