The Humane Society of the United States released undercover video showing horses being abused, and now a Tennessee trainer is facing federal charges.
The video was shot last year at Whitter Stables and contains graphic images of horses being struck with heavy lumber.
According to a press release, stable operator Jackie McConnell is charged with felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act
Director of Equine Protection Keith Dane says the video shows McConnell's stable using 'soring' to train their Tennessee Walking Horses.
The horses are known for their graceful, high stepping gait.
But Dane says it's often achieved by abusing the animals.
Not only does the video show tethered horses being repeatedly struck in the head and legs with heavy wooden sticks, Dane says it also shows people apply harmful chemicals to their legs.
He says soring is achieved by sensitizing the animals' legs with chemicals. Then he says they strap heavy chains to their legs.
The horses then use an artificially heightened gait Dane compared to flinching to avoid the pain.
Federal laws according to Dane only prohibit the transit and showing of horses trained by soring.
He says state laws prohibit the practice all together, but investigations are difficult to do considering the complacence of those involved and the reticence of those in the industry.
He says it's also difficult to detect soring in horses. Dane says trainers use 'masking' agents such as topical numbing creams before shows so the horses don't show pain.
Dane contends the practice is widespread in the training of Tennessee Walking Horses, an allegation the association denies.
The Walking Horse Trainers' Association released this statement in response;
"The gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse is a natural one and our horse does not have to sored to achieve the high-stepping gait we are so well known for. We vehemently disagree with the Humane Society of the United States when they claim our horse has to be sored to achieve this gait."
Dane says that while this breed of horse does naturally possess a four-step gait, soring is used to enhance its stride and height.
Young Williams Animal Center Administrator Dr. Michael Blackwell attended the news conference Friday.
He says that while a high-stepping gait is not necessarily indicative of abuse, the public should be weary.
"I think that anytime you believe an animal is being abused, you have an individual responsibility as a citizen to speak up," says Blackwell.
Dane says he hopes the video serves as a call to action.
He encourages the public to contact their representatives to call for stricter laws.
He says they also need to provide more funding for the USDA, who is entrusted with enforcing the current laws.
The Tennessee Walking Horse Association says it plans to suspend McConnell's license.