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High-stepping horses face 'horror beyond words'

High-stepping horses face 'horror beyond words'

The horrifying abuse of the Tennessee walking horses captured on new undercover video obtained by the Humane Society of the United States is horrifying.

The video was taken undercover by an investigator posing as a stablehand at Whitter Stables of Collierville, Tennessee. The scenes played out on this video are sickening. They show horses beaten with sticks, whipped, even receiving electrical shocks to their heads. To see these beautiful creatures being tortured is absolutely stomach churning. The Humane Society says the substance being poured on their hooves is a harsh chemical. All to make them prance higher.

But why are they committing these atrocious acts on these animals? It is all part of an illegal practice called “soring” which is even worse than it sounds. The trademark of these Tennessee Walking Horses is walking with an unnaturally high-step, with their front legs rising far off the ground. I believe this whole notion of training horses to parade around with a manufactured gait is ridiculous -- not to mention -- cruel to these animals. People who work for these groups, like S.H.O.W, claim there are ways of teaching horses to high-step that does not cause significant pain. Dr. Stephen Mullins told CNN, that one painless technique is to put pads under the horse’s front feet changing the way the horse lands. But critics say this video suggests that these hideous methods are the norm.

“Soring” on the other hand, leaves no doubt that it is abuse and torture of these beautiful horses. It is illegal because it was banned 40 years ago. With “soring” trainers use pain as their method of teaching. They make it too painful for the horse to land on its front legs naturally, leading to the high-step gait they so desire. And not only that, but the same investigator who uncovered this torture also found trainers “stewarding” their horses. “Stewarding” is actually training horses to not react to pain during show inspections. Just to be clear here, these trainers inflict pain on these horses to get the high-step. Then they inflict more pain, until the horse stops reacting to it. That idea is almost a horror beyond words. I say almost because a few choice words do come to mind but I won’t write them here.

And despite claims by Dr. Mullins that “we are well on our way” to getting rid of the “sore horse”, other reports seem to point to the opposite. ABC News reports that “a random inspection by the agents of the Department of Agriculture at last year's annual championship found that 52 of 52 horses tested positive for some sort of foreign substance around front hooves, either to cause pain or to hide it.”  52 out of 52! Every single horse showed signs of torture.

My only hope is that the sheer brutality of this video will lead to a long overdue change. The famed trainer at the center of this investigation, Jackie McConnell, is expected to plead guilty next week to a count of conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act. I am thrilled that Pepsi Co. did the right thing and high-stepped out of this nightmare. Pespsi Co is setting an example by pulling its sponsorship of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

I can’t get past the word celebration there. These animals are forced to live a life of pain. And that is no cause for celebration. It is time to stop abusing animals for our amusement and re-examine this entire industry.

For more on this story watch Jane Velez-Mitchell weeknights at 7 p.m. ET on HLN. 

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