Soring alleged as 'tactic" on debt, jury orders payment

Friday, March 30, 2007

The owner of a horse farm on Highway 64 just east of the Marshall County line has been told to pay his debt to a horse trainer because on Monday the owner failed to persuade a Bedford County jury that he didn't owe money despite his claim a contract was void after soring was allegedly used to train his horse.

"We think the jury made the right verdict," Shelbyville-based attorney Todd Bobo said for his client, Eddie C. Tuck, in the civil case brought by Bill Reinhart who served as his own attorney. "We were worried the jury might be confused because of all the horse soring talk. It was just being thrown out as a 'shock the conscience' tactic."

Soring is the use of chemicals that irritate a horse's feet to make it step high as the animal walks in competition judged for that appearance and smooth ride.

Reinhart and Tuck had an agreement reached in May 2006 that Tuck would train Reinhart's horses and rent his barn about 4.5 miles east of Marshall County in the Wheel Community.

However, there were other issues over Tuck's use of tractors and their condition after the agreement ended in about two months with Reinhart alleging Tuck had sored his horse.

"That doesn't make much sense because he suspected that was going on within a few days," Bobo argued against Reinhart's repeated assertions by himself and through witnesses that he prohibited soring.

That prohibition was an integral part of the agreement between Reinhardt and Tuck, Reinhart said.

However, Bobo said, "If anybody was shown to sore a horse, it was Mr. Reinhart who put a horse on blocks and it was painful."

Later, Bobo retracted the assertion that Reinhart had a horse on blocks.

Reinhart countered that one of his employees, Don Mason, testified that a commonly-used substance was used to reduce callouses and while that irritates horses, it's not a soring practice.

Immediately after Judge Lee Russell announced the verdict that Reinhart owed Tuck $1,775, Reinhart asked Russell to declare a mistrial. Russell denied the request.

Reinhart will "probably" appeal, he said, explaining "The problem ... was the judge wouldn't let me introduce evidence on Mr. Tuck's previous record of soring horses."

Prior records from other cases aren't usually heard in court cases, yet testimony went the other way in this case.

Under questioning from Bobo, the horse owner, Reinhart, testified, "I'm not currently under suspension by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture which enforces the Horse Protection Act) but it is true there has been a case against me as an owner."

That was in the 1990s when Reinhart had a horse that was the subject of a USDA action against a trainer and, as a result, Reinhart is "very sensitive to that," he said. "I don't believe it's humane and it's illegal."

Reinhart attempted to read from the Walking Horse Report, a trade journal on the Tennessee walking horse industry, but Russell disallowed that, so Reinhart just told the jury "The horse industry has been in denial" about soring.

"The number of horses written up is legendary," he said of tickets written when horse inspectors conclude a horse's appearance and/or behavior indicated soring.

"At the trainers show (last weekend in Calsonic Arena) the feds were there Friday and Saturday," Reinhart said of the USDA's veterinary medical officers who observe and sometimes inspect horses after horse industry-paid inspectors, designated qualified persons, inspect horses to enforce the Horse Protection Act.

"And very few horses were shown," Reinhart said of a result of federal inspectors' work.

Typically, two views are presented when only a few horses are shown after a dispute over how a USDA inspector has judged a horse. In one, trainers conclude the inspection is unfair and outside the boundaries of an operating plan that defines soring. Others bluntly contend trainers don't want to get caught for soring.

Ultimately, Reinhart lost his case Monday when Bobo told the jury in his closing arguments that in this case, "The only thing at issue is the question on whether Reinhart paid Tuck what was owed him."

Testimony was heard and Reinhart spoke about the condition of tractors before Tuck started working at Reinhart's farm and what the equipment was like after the agreement was ended in about two months. Reinhart claimed that someone renting facilities was responsible for normal use and maintenance of facilities.

The jury deliberated about 35 minutes and had only two questions to answer. The first was: Which of the two parties, Tuck, or Reinhart, first broke the contract? And the second was how much damages had to be paid?

After the trial Tuck spoke only through his attorney who'd won a ruling from Russell to eliminate the chance of Tuck paying Reinhart.

"There was no proof of any monetary damage" suffered by Reinhart, Bobo said to explain the judge's ruling.

The case between Tuck and Reinhart started in Bedford County General Sessions Court where Tuck sued Reinhart for an unpaid bill. Reinhart lost and appealed to circuit court.

After the trial, Reinhart said he didn't owe Tuck money because the contract was broken since Tuck used a training practice Reinhart prohibits, and when confronted by Bobo's assertion that soring was a confusion factor, Reinhart replied, "I was concerned on the other side, given the controversy over soring ... and whether an impartial jury could be seated."

Soring was "absolutely not" a shock tactic, he said.