Although Tennessee walking horse officials say their industry is not harming horses, the Humane Society of the United States has asked the Bedford County district attorney to investigate a Shelbyville, Tenn., trainer, who was sanctioned recently by the Walking Horse Trainers Association for “pressure shoeing” a horse.
Keith Dane, the national Humane Society’s director of equine protection, sought the help from District Attorney Charles Crawford on Thursday in a letter also sent to Bedford County Sheriff Randall Boyce.
“I am writing to draw your attention to an alleged case of pressure shoeing — the most egregious form of illegal horse soring,” Mr. Dane’s letter states. “We urge you to fully investigate this case and pursue, if warranted, animal cruelty charges.”
Neither Mr. Crawford nor Sheriff Boyce returned calls Friday. Soring refers to various training practices that result in pain or injury to horses.
The letter, dated one day after the 69th annual, 11-day Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration began in the Bedford County seat of Shelbyville, was prompted by a Walking Horse Trainers Association public statement last week.
In the trainers’ statement, Trainers Association President Wink Groover said the group had suspended for five years the training license of Dick Peebles — a major trainer in the industry who has won many championship ribbons.
“The trainer involved, Dick Peebles, while not admitting guilt, has agreed to accept responsibility for the violation since it possibly occurred while the horse was in his care,” Mr. Groover said in the statement.
Mr. Peebles did not return phone calls Friday.
The 2006 Celebration ended without a grand champion after inspectors disqualified all but three horses for what they said were indications of soring. Walking horse trainers and owners spent much of the past year trying to restore the sport’s reputation.
Industry spokesmen said the newest soring allegation came to light after the horse’s owner, following a dispute with Mr. Peebles, moved the horse to another trainer’s stable. When the horse’s shoes and training pads were removed, the pressure shoeing was discovered, they said.
Mr. Groover said Friday he was not aware of the Humane Society letter. He said the trainers association policy on pressure shoeing is to suspend for life trainers who use it, but the trainers group made the five-year agreement with Mr. Peebles for the sake of expediency.
“In order for this to be immediate, we agreed to the five years, and we stopped the investigation. Otherwise, we would still be investigating, and he would have a trainer’s license and be doing whatever training he wanted to do. It probably would take about a year (to complete the investigation),” Mr. Groover said.
Mr. Dane said federal jurisdiction of the Horse Protection Act, which resulted last year in the disqualification of the horses at the 68th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Championship, is applicable only in horse shows and sales rings, and the trainers association action carries no criminal penalties.
For those reasons, he said, he is seeking state investigation and criminal charges.
“Although the federal Horse Protection Act provides opportunities for reform through enforcement at horse shows, the Tennessee code affords local authorities the opportunity to combat this cruelty wherever it exists in the state,” he said.
Celebration spokesman Chip Walters said horses trained by Mr. Peebles remain eligible in this year’s competition, but they now must be under different trainers.
Mr. Walters said the celebration has drawn about 4,200 entries this year, down about 8 percent or 9 percent from last year’s registrants.
Attendance, which this year was 10,419 the first night, also is down, Mr. Walters said, “but the attitudes have been great by everybody.”
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...