Chattanooga Times Free Press
HUMANE SOCIETY DEFENDS HORSE SORING PROBE
The evidence from our recent investigation at ThorSport Farm documented sickening practices.
The “Big Lick” Tennessee walking horse industry seems to have embraced a new strategy when confronted with hard evidence of animal abuse. Duke Thorson denied any wrongdoing in a press statement, and the Celebration rewarded ThorSport Farm trainers with ribbons and prizes.
Four years ago, an undercover investigation by The Humane Society of the United States documented trainer Jackie McConnell and his associates applying caustic chemicals to horses’ legs and illegally transporting them to shows.
The “Big Lick” crowd immediately threw him under the bus, calling him a bad apple and ejecting him from its hall of fame. The case resulted in the second-ever federal felony prosecution under the 45-yearold Horse Protection Act. It also sparked the discussion in Congress about the need to fortify the federal law.
The evidence from our recent investigation at ThorSport Farm documented the same type of sickening practices — slathering caustic chemicals on horses’ legs so owners can collect ribbons.
While those involved in the ThorSport operation have been exposed as more apples in a thoroughly rotten barrel, the organizers of the Celebration gave the operation high honors. ThorSport head trainer Chad Williams took home the Reserve World Grand Champion title with one of the victims from the investigation, He’s Vida Blue.
So what was different? Influential Duke Thorson operates at the highest levels of this corrupt industry, sitting on the board of several Tennessee walking horse industry groups, including the Performance Show Horse Association and the new Horsemen’s Leadership Council launched by the Celebration.
ThorSport is located in Murfreesboro, which is in a different county than McConnell’s farm. The HSUS turned over all of its evidence to the Rutherford County Sheriff ’s Office, but a search warrant scheduled for Aug. 24 was nixed at the 11th hour without explanation by someone in the Rutherford County law enforcement chain of command.
The show ring success of the abusers speaks volumes about the industry’s disregard for the law and for animal welfare. The fact that authorities in Rutherford County and the 16th Judicial District took no action to investigate the soring going on at ThorSport or bring these animal abusers to justice speaks volumes about the failure to uphold a law intended to protect these innocent equine victims. It underscores the need for the major revamping of the federal law that the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act will provide.
These failures are the very reason the Humane Society conducts undercover investigations. Transformational change has occurred in so many industries because brave investigators pulled back the curtain on practices that would otherwise remain hidden from public scrutiny.
The evidence from our investigation of ThorSport is undeniable. All of the wrapping samples taken directly from the legs of horses at ThorSport tested positive for illegal substances.
Rhonda Thorson herself called the storage room “the scary room,” an appropriate description because its shelves were stocked with WD-40, GoJo and homemade concoctions used to sore the horses.
The ingredients in these mixtures included a highly flammable component of turpentine and sulfur used to make fertilizers and gunpowder. No one would want these substances smeared on their skin. Sadly, it’s a “tradition” in the “Big Lick” community to do this to horses.
Mary Beth Sweetland is senior director of research and investigations for The Humane Society of the United States.