Documents made public recently in a local horse soring case detailed the abusive methods used on the animals.
Last week, Barney Davis, 38, and Jeffery Bradford, 33, both of Lewisburg, and Christen Altman, 25, of Shelbyville, pleaded guilty to charges involving a conspiracy to sore spotted saddle horses and falsify paperwork.
Davis faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine while Altman and Bradford each face a term of up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine, with sentencing set for Feb. 13.
"Soring" is the brutal practice where items like bolts are screwed against the soles of a horse's hoofs or chemicals are applied to produce pain and sensitivity in an effort to enhance its gait. The altered gait, or "big lick," is valued at horse competitions.
The issue of soring has plagued Shelbyville's equine industry for years, most notably in 2006 when the final class of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was canceled after several competitors were eliminated due to infractions of the federal Horse Protection Act "scar rule."
However, sources tell the T-G that Davis was never involved with the local Spotted Saddle Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association or any Tennessee walking horses. Rather, Davis and the others were involved with the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association.
According to Altman's and Brafford's plea agreement, various ways were used to injure the horses in order to get the enhanced gait.
The soring took place in Lewisburg at Hidden Creek Stables, also known as Monopoly Farm, which was run by Davis.
Court documents say that Davis "and others" screwed large bolts into the sole area of horses' front hooves, which caused intense pressure to be applied to the area, "resulting in significant pain for the horse."
"The purpose of this type of soring is to create a more animated gait in the horse so it will perform better at horse shows," the plea agreement explained.
Another method of abuse at Davis' barn was to force horses to stand with their front hooves placed on top of large wooden blocks constructed of 2" x 6" lumber with a central steel prong projecting upward.
That steel projection would press into the horses' sole and frog area in order to achieve a "big lick."
Bradford also observed chemical irritants such as mustard oil and croton oil, mixed with kerosene, that were applied by Davis "or by others at his direction" on various horses' pasterns.
This was done in order to burn the skin and make the horse more sensitive to the weighted chains placed around this area when the animals were ridden.
In July 2010, Davis entered approximately 16 horses he trained in the National Spotted Saddle Horse Association (NSSHA) 21st annual Mid-Season Show in Manchester, including the horse Jose is My Daddy, owned by Keith McCullough.
Davis, Altman and three of his employees were running late for the show and Altman had called the show organizers while they were on the way asking "if the government was there."
Before the start of the show, Davis brought Jose is My Daddy to be examined for evidence of illegal soring, and the inspector found a bolt device screwed into the sole of the horse's hoof, removing it with a large set of plier-style hoof testers.
This inspection was video-recorded and Davis received a lifetime suspension from showing gaited horses for the violation.
When search warrants were executed at Davis's barn in March of this year, a tray of bolts matching the one removed from the horse shown in Manchester was found inside a horse trailer on the property. Court documents stated that a witness identified the bolts as being those used by Davis to sore horses in his case.
Also, numerous horses inside the barn were found with plastic wrap applied to their forelegs. When the wraps were removed off a random horse, laboratory tests revealed the presence of mustard oil. A container of Go-Jo hand cleaner with a brush in it was also tested and found to contain mustard oil.
A statement released Tuesday from United States Attorney William C. Killian stated that "too many people" had acted with impunity for too long by violating the Horse Protection Act. But Killian also said that other parts of the prosecutions are "less tangible but just as real."
"As human beings, we have been given dominion over the earth and its creatures, and we must exercise that privilege by being good stewards of this gift," he stated. "Maiming and mutilating horses for sport and profit betrays that charge of stewardship."
Killian said his office and the general public "want these competitions to be fair, free of cheating and fraud, and safe for the horses so everyone can enjoy the natural beauty and grace of animals such as Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle horses, and other gaited horses."