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Finding a reputable trainer for gaited horses

The exposure of famous Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell, caught on undercover camera by the Humane Society, has uncovered the practice of soring and animal abuse to win in the show ring. It has also caused many people to question training methods in the Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH) industry. Unfortunately, these methods are not limited to TWH and are widespread. How do you locate a trainer who is not involved in soring and abuse?


“The Big Lick,” that high-stepping, front foot reach, is not a natural gait in TWH, says those involved in TWH and gaited horses. Big steps can only come with long-term training, patience, and in horses that are natural show horses. Some horses love to show. “I had a horse that was beautiful when we practiced,” says a retired rider/trainer (who wishes to remain anonymous). “But when it got in the ring it forgot everything it was taught. I had a stallion who was so excited to show he would come close to be disqualified because the closer we came to ringside the more he shook; he was so excited to show... (At inspection) they swore he was drugged. Soring happens in 90% of (TWH). We all did it.” To find a reputable trainer who loves horses and hates abuse, you must do some background work.


The USDA Horse Protection Program publishes an Active Suspension Report list that is accessible to the public and lists trainers, owners, and exhibitors, the suspension dates, ticket numbers, and horses names under which the suspension occurred. Check these lists for trainer’s names. FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses) also maintains a database of “all reported and available Horse Protection Act-related violations and suspensions imposed by Horse Industry Organizations and the USDA over the past 20 years. There are over 9,500 records to date in the database, and 
they are easily reviewed by name, state, etc.” You will note many trainers’ names appear more than once yet stay in the business. This does not mean they are good; it only means the sanctions are not tough enough.


If you are seeking a trainer who does not utilize soring or abusive methods, do your homework. Talk to other exhibitors, owners, and trainers. Some illicit trainers will keep abusive methods ‘in the family.’ This is how they learned to ‘train.’ Other owners and exhibitors may lie, so ask around, do not trust one or two people. Make your questions casual and not direct, use open – ended questions and not yes/no questions. For example, ask, “What are some of the methods does trainer Joe Smith use?” Not, “Does Joe Smith use soring?” You could even try a ‘trick’ question: “What chemicals does Joe use to sore?”


A tour of the barn means nothing. As one trainer assistant explained, the soring chemicals are hidden from view during barn tours, and the practice is hidden from newcomers. Some owners know soring is utilized. Some are innocent. A blue ribbon and the clout of having a winning horse is everything. The pain and suffering of an animal is just the price.


Contact the American Humane Society and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and ask about trainers you are considering. The latter was born when one man stopped another from beating a defenseless horse. The Humane Society was the organization that caught trainer Jackie McConnell beating and soring horses, leading to over 50 counts of animal abuse and exposing the ugly side of beautiful show horses.


You must do a background check of your trainer and those around the trainer. You trust your horse, a very sensitive animal that is a part of your family, to this person. Realistically, a blue ribbon costs a few dollars, but your horse costs more than dollars. Which is more important?



The USDA Horse Protection Program Active Suspension Report

Humane Society - About horses to include video (see above)

FOSH list of those on suspension - click HERE


Judith Yates is the Director of Amri Security and a true crime writer. She has recently published a book on "common sense self defense" and is a professor of criminal justice. Two years ago, Santa finally brought her a horse after over 40 years of asking!


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