Thursday, September 05, 2019

Horse trainer won top walking-horse prize despite imminent suspension for soring, a 'sad state of affairs,' activist says

Rodney Dick riding I'm Mayhem
(Shelbyville Times-Gazette photo by Gary Johnson) 
The trainer and rider whose horse was named Tennessee Walking Horse World Grand Champion on Aug. 31 was allowed to compete even though he will soon begin a mandatory suspension for serial violations of the Horse Protection Act. Rodney Dick rode the horse I'm Mayhem to victory during the 81st annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, John Carney reports for the local Times-Gazette.

In December 2018 the U.S. Department of Agriculture disqualifed Dick from all involvement in the horse industry from Oct. 1, 2019, to March 31, 2021, and ordered him to pay a $2,200 penalty for engaging in the practice of "soring" Tennessee walking horses. The technique involves harming a horse's front hooves and legs to encourage the high step that wins competitions. 

The Horse Protection Act has long banned sored horses from competitions, exhibitions or sales, but the rule is widely ignored and spottily enforced. In July, the U.S. House passed a bill called the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act to ban other soring techniques, increase penalties for violations and expand the USDA's enforcement of the HPA, but it faces an uphill battle in the Senate. 

Many horse competitions have shunned Tennessee walking horses because of the abuse associated with soring, activist Marty Irby writes in an op-ed for the Memphis Commercial Appeal. Irby is now the executive director at Animal Wellness Action, but is a former eight-time world champion rider and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association. He urges senators to pass the PAST Act: "The Tennessee Walking Horse breed can remove the label of being the most abused horse on earth, but only with legitimate change." 

The fact that Rodney Dick was allowed to compete is a "sad state of affairs" that shows how necessary the PAST Act is, Irby wrote in an email to The Rural Blog.

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