Dr. Steve Mullins, President of the SHOW HIO, has responded to a factually incorrect and extremely critical story published yesterday in the Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times Free-Press. The article concerned the sentencing of Barney Davis for violating the Horse Protection Act and comments Davis made to the judge. Below is the article in the Times Free-Press and Dr. Mullins response.

Trainer says horse soring widespread

Chattanooga Times Free-Press

by Todd South

published Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Barney Davis lifted wooden blocks, metal chains, bolts and washers in his hands, showing the evidence to the judge.

Davis explained how he and nearly all walking horse trainers use the tools, along with "mustard oil" -- a mix of acid and kerosene or other chemicals -- to tenderize and injure horse hooves. By driving bolts, wrapping chains and slathering corrosive liquids on the animals' hooves, trainers such as Davis can make them lift their legs higher and win fancy ribbons and trophies for the horse owners. The practice eventually can cripple the animals, he told U.S. District Judge Harry "Sandy" Mattice on Monday.

The practice, known as "horse soring," is illegal under the federal Horse Protection Act. Davis, of Lewisburg, Tenn., and three co-defendants have been sentenced after pleading guilty to charges related to abusing horses.

"Every walking horse that enters into a show is sored," Davis said. "They've got to be sored to walk. There ain't no good way to put it but that's how it is."

The allegations of widespread horse abuse astounded Mattice, who likened the abuse to cockfighting. If the practice is as pervasive as Davis described, Mattice said, Congress has promoted disrespect for the law by criminalizing the conduct but not enforcing it.

Mattice enforced it. For the first time in 20 years the crime has been prosecuted in the United States.

He sentenced Davis, 39, to one year in federal prison and a $4,000 fine conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, witness tampering and transporting and entering a sored horse into a walking horse competition.

Police arrested Davis while he was free awaiting trial on the soring charge when investigators video-recorded him helping another trainer "rasp" a horse's hooves to fit it for blocks. He's been in custody since July 2011 and will be eligible for release this July. As part of his plea agreement, he will appear in an educational video to speak out against horse soring.

His co-defendants -- Christen Altman, 26, of Shelbyville, Tenn., and Jeffery Bradford, 33, of Lewisburg, Tenn. -- each received one year of probation and $1,000 fines. A fourth co-defendant, Paul Blackburn, 35, was sentenced to one year probation and a $1,000 fine in January.

All three co-defendants pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor conspiracy charge. They must write an article for newspaper publication describing the practice and those who participate in it, as well as the long- and short-term damage done to horses through the abuse.

Former U.S. Sen. Joe Tydings of Maryland wrote the Horse Protection Act and submitted it to become law in 1968. The lifelong equestrian and member of the last U.S. Army horse cavalry unit was disgusted when he learned of the practice.

"Anybody that's brought up with horses, to see something like that makes their blood curdle," Tydings said in a phone interview Monday.

Tydings lost re-election to the Senate in 1970, shortly after the bill became law. He went on to work as a private lawyer and only learned decades later that his bill had been funded by only $500,000 annually and had not received a budget increase since the 1970s until last year when funding rose to about $700,000.

Tydings said that wealthy owners of competition walking horses have used political action committee contributions and influence to block increased funding to enforce the act.

"The majority of people who show, work with walking horses, do not get involved in this," he said. "However, the most powerful owners and trainers do."

Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors Association President Marty Irby sent a written statement in response to the horse soring sentencing.

"We, at TWHBEA, are unequivocal in our stance that horse abuse should not be tolerated, and we support rigorous but fair enforcement of the Horse Protection Act," Irby wrote.

The association did not respond directly to Davis' allegations that the practice encompasses a majority of the walking horse industry.

Letter of Response from Dr. Steve Mullins, SHOW HIO President in regards to article in Chattanooga Free-Press:

Mr. Todd South

Chattanooga Times Free Press

Dear Mr. South,

I am Dr. Stephen Mullins, President of SHOW Horse Industry Organization (HIO) which is the largest HIO in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. I am also a licensed member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and owned by own equine practice until heading up the SHOW HIO 3 years ago.

SHOW HIO is a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified inspection service which inspects over 20,000 Tennessee Walking Horses a year under the direct guidance of the USDA. This includes but is not limited to the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration (TWHNC). You need to know that Barney Davis was caught by SHOW inspectors showing a Spotted Saddle Horse at one of their shows, not a Walking Horse show. The USDA was not even in attendance at this particular show.

SHOW, in accordance with HPA regulations, turned this case over to the USDA but not until SHOW gave Barney Davis a lifetime suspension for this egregious violation.

Now that you have some relevant history, let me give you some pertinent facts missing from your story:

1. Barney Davis is not a Walking Horse trainer and not a member of the professional Walking Horse Trainers' Association (WHTA).

2. The horse that SHOW suspended for life in the Barney Davis case is not a Tennessee Walking Horse. The horse in the video attached to your article is also a Spotted Saddle Horse not a TWH.

3.  Barney Davis is not a member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA).

4. The compliance rate of horses inspected by SHOW HIO over the last three years is over 95%. This means over 9.5 out of each 10 inspected are complaint as verified both by SHOW inspectors and USDA inspectors.

5. At The Celebration in 2011, the World Championship Horse Show, the compliance rate was over 98% working in cooperation with the USDA inspectors. The USDA is present at every Celebration and will have over a dozen inspectors nightly. The USDA will check the horses after SHOW inspectors before and after each class as well as radiograph and thermograph horses in order to insure compliance with the Horse Protection Act (HPA).

Please do not categorize the entire industry with the words of someone who is not a trainer of walking horses or a member of any of the breed's organizations. The walking horse industry and all of its organizations totally support the humane treatment of horses and enforce the Horse Protection Act with or without the USDA present at horse shows.

Mr. Davis has been under a lifetime suspension and is a convicted criminal and not a credible source for your story.

Dr. Steve Mullins

SHOW HIO President