Press Release

Animal Wellness Announces Addition of Horse Expert Donna Benefield as Senior Advisor on Equine Protection

Benefield will play a stronger leadership role in national advocacy campaigns for horses

Washington, D.C. —Today, Animal Wellness Action (AWA) announced the addition of Donna Benefield, of Gallatin, Tenn. as the organization’s new Senior Advisor on Equine Protection. Benefield was instrumental in the formation of four USDA-certified inspection programs over the past 30 years where she inspected thousands of gaited horses and is a Past President of the National Plantation Walking Horse Association. A lifelong horsewoman, Benefield is one of the most prominent students of the late Glenn H. Randall, Sr. who trained horses ranging from cavalry mounts, to Roy Rogers’ palomino, “Trigger,” Gene Autry’s, “Champion,” and other many other movie horses featured in countless films like Ben-Hur and The Black Stallion to name a few.

A former two-time Emmy Award winning producer, Benefield and her late husband Richard worked with equines in numerous films including the 1991 blockbuster The Last Boy Scout with Bruce Willis and Daman Wayans and the hit series Dark Shadows. She was introduced to the world of Tennessee Walking Horses by the late Joan Blue, a longtime equine advocate that worked to pass the Horse Protection Act of 1970. In 1982 Benefield won the Plantation Walking Horse World Grand Championship and Halter World Championship at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and in 1984 she performed in exhibition at the Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles, California.

Exposed to the world of soring – the intentional infliction of pain to Tennessee Walking Horses’ limbs in order to achieve a high-stepping exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick” – Benefield began work to reform the industry and was instrumental in the production of CNN’s Special Assignment: “They sore horses don’t they,” and Maury Povich’s “Current Affairs” expose on the Tennessee Walking Horse corruption and abuse in the 1980’s.

Benefield worked closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation after a contract on her life was taken in the late 1980’s. She’s testified before the U.S. Federal Court about the practices of soring in 1988, at numerous U.S. Department of Agriculture listening sessions over the course of 30 years, and in front of a U.S. House of Representatives committee in November of 2013 in support of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. AWA helped push that bill onto the House floor in 2019, with the measure passing overwhelmingly. Benefield worked with leaders of Animal Wellness Action to secure 308 cosponsors in support of the PAST Act in the U.S. House and 52 in the U.S. Senate.

She is a former National Board Member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association, has spoken at Sound Horse Conferences in Columbus, Ohio, and Franklin, Tenn. and has been featured on the cover of magazines and in articles in Equus Magazine and Horse Illustrated, as well as dozens of mainstream publications in the U.S.

“I am thrilled to join the Animal Wellness Action team, and committed to eradicating the plague of soring, ending the slaughter of American equines, preventing the mass roundups and surgical sterilization of American wild mustangs and burros, and end doping in American horseracing,” said Donna Benefield, senior adviser on equine protection at Animal Wellness Action. “Our team will continue to lead efforts on Capitol Hill to ensure the protection of these majestic horses we care so deeply about and will soon be launching several new equine campaigns in the upcoming months.”

“The key to any successful animal welfare organization is the presence of talented, mission-committed people, and when it comes to horses, Donna Benefield is a star performer,” said Wayne Pacelle, president, and founder of Animal Wellness Action.  

“We are honored to have Donna Benefield join our team, and believe that her expertise and influence will be tremendous assets in protecting our iconic American equines, whose very backs this country was built upon,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association. “Donna is a stalwart in the industry, and one of the most dedicated and effective forces in the crusade to end soring that I have ever known.”

Donna Benefield picture testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013 along with AWA executive director, Marty Irby
Benefield pictured in the recording studio
Emmy Awards from Walt Disney’s Duck Tales and The Murder of Mary Phagan with Jack Lemmon

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News

Animal Wellness Foundation is a Los Angeles-based private charitable organization with a mission of helping animals by making veterinary care available to everyone with a pet, regardless of economic ability. We organize rescue efforts and medical services for dogs and cats in need and help homeless pets find a loving caregiver. We are advocates for getting veterinarians to the front lines of the animal welfare movement; promoting responsible pet ownership; and vaccinating animals against infectious diseases such as distemper. We also support policies that prevent animal cruelty and that alleviate suffering. We believe helping animals helps us all.