A federal judge in Gainesville has granted a preliminary injunction to the owners of a champion Tennessee Walking Horse that prevents the horse — known widely as “the Secretariat of Tennessee Walking Horses” — from being disqualified from horse shows without a hearing.
At issue is a 45-year-old federal law intended to prevent owners and trainers from intentionally injuring horses — or soring — as a way of training them to perform in the desired Tennessee style.
U.S. District Judge Richard Story granted the preliminary injunction May 25 to Keith and Dan McSwain, the owners of Honors. The McSwains contend in court papers that USDA veterinary inspectors have wrongly disqualified Honors from competitions, violated their own inspection procedures and provided no forum to appeal what the owners contend is Honors' unfair and unwarranted disqualification from competitions.
In his order, which he limited to the parties in this case and declined to extend to the industry as a whole, Story agreed with the McSwains that no administrative procedure exists for horse owners to contest a disqualification. The judge said that, if USDA veterinary inspectors conduct preshow inspections of Honors and decide the horse should be disqualified, the USDA must provide the McSwains with an opportunity to be heard prior to any disqualification.
The McSwains claim they have never used soring on Honors. But, since 2013, USDA veterinary inspectors, claiming they had found signs of scarring, but no open wounds, disqualified Honors from four national competitions.