The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association says it is shocked and saddened by the undercover video released publicly on ABC News Nightline showing abusive training techniques.
The news item, centering around undercover footage filmed by an investigator with the Humane Society of the United States, resulted in charges being brought against several individuals for breaches of the Horse Protection Act, including well-known trainer Jackie Connell.
The Act is designed to prevent the illegal practice of soring – a technique in which the lower legs are sensitised by mechanical or chemical means to encourage the high-stepping gait desired in the walking-horse industry.
“We don’t condone this behavior or these actions by Jackie McConnell and are confident that the actions in that video are not indicative of the behavior of our members,” association president Jamie Hankins said.
“The welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse is at the forefront of our association and our membership,” Hankins said.
“Our members have adopted and abide by a code of ethics which requires that we treat all horses ‘humanely, and with dignity and respect’, and use only training methods which are humane and complement the natural abilities of our great breed.”
The association, which has more than 550 members, said it did not become aware of the existence of the humane society video of McConnell until the ABC News Nightline item aired. It said it was not contacted for comment before the video was made public.
Upon its release, the association’s board of directors met and voted unanimously to take the necessary steps to suspend McConnell’s trainers’ license indefinitely.
The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association reaffirmed its condemnation of any violation of the Horse Protection Act. It said it continued to support and promote the proper care and training of all Tennessee Walking Horses.
It commended what it called significant progress made in ensuring that only compliant horses were shown, and said it enthusiastically supported all exhibitors’ efforts to present only clean and healthy horses.
“TWHBEA is committed to ensuring the welfare of every Tennessee Walking Horse, regardless of discipline,” president Marty Irby said.
“The association continues to do everything in its power to ensure that all Tennessee Walking Horses are properly cared for.
“Tennessee Walking Horses do not have to be sored to walk. The walking horse holds an inherent natural gait that has been in existence for nearly 100 years.
“TWHBEA adopted a zero tolerance policy in regards to soring a number of years ago and has recently challenged every member to adopt a zero tolerance policy themselves.”
The association said it was committed to doing everything in its capacity to champion the exhibition of sound horses that meet the guidelines of the Horse Protection Act.
It said it was unequivocal in its stance that horse abuse should not be tolerated, and fully endorsed the rigorous but fair enforcement of the act by those tasked with doing so.
It said it also supported any and all educational and enforcement efforts put forth by the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association - the governing body for professional Tennessee Walking Horse trainers.
The association emphasized that it was only the official breed registry for the Tennessee Walking Horse.
Its primary responsibilities are to ensure that all Tennessee Walking Horses are properly registered and transferred, and to maintain the integrity of the registry. It also publishes the official breed journal, Voice of the Tennessee Walking Horse.
It said, in reality, it had no authority over most areas of the breed, including the rules that govern horse shows, judging of horse shows, pre and post-show inspections and the licensing of Tennessee Walking Horse trainers.
It said: “All of these areas are governed either by the various USDA certified horse industry organizations or by professional groups such as the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association, Walking Horse Owners’ Association, etc.
“TWHBEA’s rule-making and enforcement capabilities lie strictly in the area of the breed registry and the various marketing programs offered by the Association.”
That said, it stressed it was committed to working with all other Tennessee Walking Horse industry organizations to ensure the welfare horses.