WRITTEN BY JANET PATTON
Cross-posted from The Lexington Herald-Leader at Kentucky.com
After online drama and official angst, the Kentucky After Christmas Sale of Tennessee walking horses opened quietly at the Kentucky Horse Park on Friday.
Jerrold Pedigo, president of the sale, said the crowd was a little lighter and the early prices were a little lower than had been anticipated.
Some sellers were unable to get their horses to the sale because of winter weather. Would-be buyers also said they had difficulty driving into Lexington. That might have affected prices, which seemed to mostly be under $1,000. About 220 horses were cataloged to be sold.
After a delay due to the weather, dozens of horses began to make their way into the Alltech Arena to go before a crowd of a few hundred potential buyers looking mostly for trail horses.
Tennessee walking horses are Kentucky’s third-most-populous breed, behind Thoroughbreds and quarter horses.
Anti-soring advocates had expressed concerns before the sale that sore horses might be part of the sale, but that appeared not to be the case. USDA veterinary medical officers were on hand to inspect horses before the sale, alongside paid inspectors from the International Walking Horse Association.
By late afternoon, all the horses going to auction had passed inspection.
There appeared to be no padded horses at the auction. Pads have become controversial; the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Veterinary Medical Association have called for them to be banned because vets say they facilitate soring. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Hopkinsville, has filed legislation to beef up the Horse Protection Act and ban pads.
Almost all of the horses offered for the sale appeared to be flat-shod, but “performance” or padded horse enthusiasts point out that they can be sored as well.
In the world of Tennessee walking horses, padded horses wear thick front horseshoes used to help create an exaggerated, high-stepping gait known as “the big lick.” The big lick is often associated with soring, the deliberate injuring of walking horses’ front legs. Painful treatments that trainers sometimes use to encourage the big lick include painting caustic chemicals on the horse’s front legs, piling on heavy chains that bounce on tender spots, applying huge padded shoes, or inserting objects (including nails, tacks or golf balls) under the pads to create sore feet, a practice known as “pressure shoeing.”
An analysis of the sale catalog by the Humane Society of the U.S. found that about half of the horses were entered by owners previously cited for Horse Protection Act violations; a third of the owners had multiple violations. Two horses in the sale were previously cited as being sore at horse shows, including one cited twice in 2012.
Thank you Ms Patton for your unbridled coverage of this issue. — Ed.