Frank Lessiter’s series on mistreatment of horses led to industry, government action.

Frank Lessiter, editor of American Farriers Journal, received the sixth Stephen Barr award for his four-part series, “Soring,” from July/August to December 2008.
“Inventiveness. Insight. Balance. Depth. Impact.” To those five watchwords of the Stephen Barr Award judges, Lessiter’s “Soring” series adds “passion and courage” — in pursuit of a topic little known outside the world of equine shows. Soring is the illegal practice of “injuring a horse’s foot or leg in an attempt to use pain to promote hoof action that judges look for in gaited horse competitions.”

While the American Farriers Journal audience of 7,000 horse-shoers and veterinarians got from his “Soring” series a disturbing examination of the practice, horses got a protector in a world where unsavory operators often get away with their crimes. Those days may be numbered. In response to the series, the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association recommended that the National Horse Show Commission turn to a separate governing body to help the industry deal with soring, and federal regulators are seeking more funding to study the issue.

Behind this movement is the meticulously written and illustrated series by Frank, who founded Lessiter Publications with his wife Pam in 1981. Their company now has nine titles in the equine, agriculture, and athletic industries.

The Michigan State University graduate, a veteran of three other trade publishing houses over a 45-year career, describes his work as “delivering actionable ideas, insights, and information to help advance the lives of our audience.” Often recognized for reporting and photography, he has served as president of American Horse Publications, and remains active in the American Agricultural Editors’ Association.

One judge noted “the sheer scope and ambition of the series, [which] demonstrated a willingness to take some risks at a time when fewer reporters and editors seem willing to do so.” Another remarked on “the writing’s passion and power, which built among readers a sense of anger about this abuse of horses, and the ability of these criminals to get away with it.”

The Stephen Barr Award is named for one of the ASBPE’s most honored journalists, who died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 43. Unlike other ASBPE awards, it honors individual writing from among the best entries in all editorial feature categories, especially work that reflects inventiveness, insight, balance, depth of investigation, and impact on readers. A check for $500 accompanies the award, endowed by Stephen Barr’s parents.

Read Lessiter’s winning series: