How many times do we have to read stories about cruelty to show horses before we protest loudly enough to make it stop?
And clearly making it stop means a combination of two things: regulation that is both complete and enforced. If that's not in the cards, then we simply have to boycott the shows and the races.
Tennessee walking horses are the sore spot -- literally -- in our part of the country. And 40 years after abuses in the walking-horse industry led Congress to pass the Horse Protection Act, Tennessee is still turning out scores of horses that have caustic chemicals smeared on their legs or sharp objects jammed beneath artificially built-up hooves or have their hooves cut to the quick -- all to make them step higher and farther to please a show judge.
The ridiculous thing is that these measures have gone to such an extreme that what 50 years ago looked like a beautiful stride now looks clumsy and painful. That's because it is clumsy and painful. The horses almost look lame because their steps are so exaggerated.
But in 40 years, the Horse Protection Act wasn't enforced in a way to bring a court prosecution until 2012. That's when -- in Chattanooga -- hall-of-fame trainer Jackie McConnell pleaded guilty to abusing horses after an undercover Humane Society worker secretly filmed his crimes.
Last week, similar accusations of cruelty were leveled in New York and Kentucky against thoroughbred racehorse trainer Steve Asmussen, the nation's second-winningest horse trainer, and his assistant Scott Blasi.
The investigations were prompted after complaints and evidence of suspected violations, gathered in an undercover investigation, were provided by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
The New York Times reported last week that PETA filed 10 complaints with state and federal authorities accusing Asmussen and Blasi of administering drugs to their horses for non-therapeutic purposes and of having a jockey use an electrical device to shock the horses into running faster. The investigator compiled a detailed report using a hidden camera to record video that showed widespread mistreatment of horses.
The abuse shouldn't come as a shock. These newest allegations have emerged as horse racing continues to wrestle publicly with a drug culture that its officials concede has badly damaged the sport. A New York Times investigation in 2012 showed how a pervasive drug culture, encouraged by trainers and aided by veterinarians, put horses and riders at risk. The Times found that 24 horses died each week at American tracks, a rate greater than in countries where drug use was severely restricted.
Congress has held hearings and proposed legislation that would create stricter rules and give the United States Anti-Doping Agency authority to enforce them.
Sound familiar? It should. Congress has been stalling for two years on a proposal to toughen the Horse Protection Act as it applies to Tennessee walking horses.
Times Free Press reporters stood in front of the Joel W. Solomon Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse here in 2012 to hear former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings, R-Md., the author of the Horse Protection Act which criminalized soring more than 40 years ago, call for passage in Congress of Horse Protection Act Amendments to strengthen the law.
Those amendments are still pending, with big money from the $1.4 billion walking horse industry stalling them.
Come on, Congress. How hard do you have to look to see that more needs to be done?
Instead, they defund USDA, they float phony agriculture protection bills like the Tennessee General Assembly did in the aftermath of McConnell's charges. The Tennessee lawmakers sought to make it virtually impossible for animal advocates or investigators to use surveillance to show abuse.
Don't reform the industry, prosecute the reformers. That was the message.
Come on Tennesseans, Americans: Lean on your congressmen. Fill their email boxes. Stuff their voice mails. Make their aides crazy with your calls.
No amount of money should require these beautiful animals to be maimed -- even slaughtered -- like this.