Tennessee Walking Horses march around show rings like they’re trucking up a hill, lifting their front legs for each giant step. It’s supposed to be a natural gait, the thing that makes Tennessee Walking Horses so flashy and special.
But these horses’ moves aren’t always all-natural. Behind the scenes, some trainers and riders sore their horses to exaggerate their steps. That was all supposed to end in with the Horse Protection Act. In the past month, however, the USDA has taken down massive amounts of animal welfare information — including records of people who’ve violated the HPA.
Enacted in 1970, the HPA aims to end soring by making it illegal to show, sell or transport sored horses. Soring comes in many forms: chemical application, training with heavy chains or trimming hooves down to their sensitive cores. It’s all done to make horses snap up their hooves quickly, almost like they’re walking across hot coals
It’s blatant animal cruelty. And it just got harder to catch.
Because now, the public can’t see the names of thousands who’ve been accused of animal abuse.
That doesn’t mean riders and trainers who’ve been prosecuted under the HPA haven’t changed their ways. That’s actually how the USDA is trying to validate what it’s done. In a statement, the USDA said it wants to protect the privacy of past offenders because apparently it’s “committed to transparency.”
Privacy. Transparency. Last time I checked, those are opposites.
But beyond that irony, it’s not as if the USDA is trying to protect the identity of totally innocent individuals. 80 percent of animal abusers are repeat offenders, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Even if past offenders have done the time, horse shows and breed registries should at least know who to keep an eye on. That could mean drug inspections at shows and on-site visits for offenders — whatever it takes to weed out cruelty from the industry.
After all, it’s not just unfair to let unethical training practices turn into big wins. It’s simply disgusting.
Right now it’s unclear who will still be able to access animal welfare records, if anyone. But everyone should know if a horse they’re looking to buy was the victim of cruel training methods. They should know if they’re competing against an abusive trainer. They should know to keep an eye on their neighbors at a show. Removing public records just makes it harder for everyone to catch abusers.
Questionable training practices already turn into wins, even with USDA records publicly available. It’s not possible to catch every offender. But horse shows and breed registries need to crack down on abusers and promote fairness across the board. And the USDA needs to make that as easy as possible.