Tennessee walking horse called “Honors”
Tennessee walking horse called “Honors” ()

Armed with a court order, a champion Tennessee Walking Horse barred from horse show competitions by government inspectors since 2013 last weekend entered—and won first place—in the Columbia Tennessee Spring Jubilee championship stakes, his owners’ lawyer said.

Honors, widely known as “the Secretariat of Tennessee Walking Horses,” was “like Muhammad Ali,” said Atlanta attorney Lin Wood, who represents horse owners Keith and Dan McSwain. “On Saturday night, he floated like a butterfly. He came back from government-imposed exile and returned a champion.” Honors won the blue ribbon in the Championship Stakes at the Jubilee, one of the larger competitions for Tennessee Walkers.

On May 25, a federal judge in Atlanta issued a preliminary injunction barring the U.S. Department of Agriculture from disqualifying Honors from competitions without first holding a hearing at which his owners could challenge the grounds for disqualification. U.S. District Judge Richard Story of the Northern District of Georgia issued the injunction in a suit challenging the USDA’s enforcement of a 45-year-old federal law intended to shield horses from intentional injury. USDA veterinarians inspect horses entering competitions for scars stemming from a long-banned practice known as “soring”—intentionally injuring horses to train them to perform the high-stepping gait prized in Tennessee Walkers.

The USDA has 60 days to appeal Story’s ruling.

Wood’s co-counsel, Taylor Wilson, said that Honors’ owners, Keith and Dan McSwain, had never subjected Honors to soring. After Story issued the injunction, Wilson said that he notified USDA inspectors that the McSwains would be showing Honors at the Spring Jubilee. Wilson said the USDA historically sends its inspectors to oversee the work of private inspectors who check the horses for scars or injuries before they qualify and follow up with post-show inspectors on the winners. But they did not attend this year’s Jubilee. Wilson said that Honors was inspected both before the show and after he won the blue ribbon. “On both occasions, the inspector found him to be in compliance with the Horse Protection Act,” he said. “The McSwains were thrilled to see Honors back in the ring competing after his prolonged absence from competition, as was the crowd.”