Tennessee Walking Horse with stacks and chains, part and parcel of Big Lick animal cruelty.

Will we ever really get rid of the horrible abuse of horse soring?

Tennessee Walking horse watches worriedly during horse soring inspections following an undercover operation by HSUS. Photo: HSUS.
Tennessee Walking horse watches worriedly during horse soring inspections following an undercover operation by HSUS. Photo: HSUS.

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry has failed to eliminate horse soring for decades.

Sports Illustrated exposed horse soring (although the term did not yet exist) in 1956 in an article entitled “Woe for Walkers.”

It states:

Horse business and sharp practice have not traditionally been divorced. But far uglier than mere chicanery is the widespread and longstanding practice of purposeful injury to that pleasant riding animal, the Tennessee Walking Horse (SI, Aug. 29, 1955). The torture, known and until recently condoned by inaction, is rarely punished legally. Reprimand from the horse world itself amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist. Only hostile public opinion to add force to the overdue wave of indignation against abuses will limit, if not stop, them during many of the major shows still ahead.

Sports Illustrated visited the issue again in 1960 in The Torture Must End. The subtitle states “If the American Horse Shows Association has nerve enough, it can stop abuse of the Tennessee Walking Horse right now”.

It did not; it has not.

What is horse soring as we have come to know it today?

Horse soring is the infliction of pain to force a horse to walk with an exaggerated, unnatural gait in order to perform well in competition. Associated with the production of the “big lick” movement in Tennessee Walking Horses it occurs in other gaited horse performances.

Exaggerated gait of Tennessee Walker gotten through the abusive practices of horse soring.
Exaggerated gait of Tennessee Walker gotten through the abusive practices of horse soring.

The National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee has taken place every year since 1939 where they crown the “World’s Grand Champion Walking Horse”, the most coveted prize of all, and where the “big lick” really takes center stage.

Participants sore horses using chemical agents such as mustard oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, salicylic acid, and other caustic substances on the pasterns, bulbs of the heel, or coronary bands of the horses, causing burning or blistering of the horses’ legs in order to accentuate their gaits.

The practice of horse soring is a prohibited illegal practice under the US Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970.

However, the HPA has been mostly ineffective. Similar to Thoroughbred racehorse dopers there appears to be no limit to the measures horse abusers will take to hide their cruel and outlawed practices.

Teesa Bippen, President of Friends of Sound Horses, based in St. Louis, points out:

The HPA violation database holds over 12,500 violations. The Board of Directors of the Walking Horse Trainers Association, collectively, hold 160 violations – leaders of the industry.

There is serious defiance of law when the US Department of Agriculture’s swabbing results at the Walking Horse’s largest 2013 show (The Celebration) comes back with a 67% rate of prohibited foreign substance on swabbed pasterns.

In just the past few years, the USDA has issued nearly 1,500 letters of warning to violators which carry no penalties. Sadly, some of those letters list over 10 violations of several horses on various dates so no one knows the full magnitude of soring abuse.

There is a bill currently pending before the US congress – the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act) – that would stiffen penalties and ban stacked shoes and chains.

Both flat shod and “big lick” performance horses are sored. However, the vast majority of all sored horses are “big lick” horses – horses wearing stacks and chains.

81% of all USDA HPA violations cited in 2013 were on “Big Lick” performance horses. The PAST Act bans stacks and chains in the show ring, and thereby goes a long way to eliminate soring and the “big lick”.

HPA Soring Violations Map 1986-2013
Courtesy HorseSoring.com

As desirable what the PAST Act can potentially accomplish is, what else can be done to eliminate soring?

How about refusing to hold competitions and give huge prizes where there are exaggerated gaits to begin with? Probably because it spins millions of dollars every year. As with other acts of cruelties to horses associated with competition, it is about greed and vanity.

Would banning stacks and chains end horse soring? Probably not, but it is at least a start in the right direction.

A forum commenter makes this sad observation:

Unscrupulous trainers are in every breed and every class of show horses, if the flat shod classes are left untouched where do you suppose the junk trainers will go? They will follow the money and the witch hunt will slowly trickle down the ranks until they work their way through the flatshod classes and eventually barefoot will be the only show in town. Guess what…… those same trainers will still work over barefoot horses…..

Reports say that 1 in 5 violations are written on flat shod horses.

As long as “big lick” trainers and owners win big prizes and make vast amounts of money, they are not going anywhere and soring will continue at the same abominable rate with few to no repercussions.

On the face of it, if “big lick” competitions are ended — via the PAST Act or otherwise — these cruel and unscrupulous people will go elsewhere and continue to torture horses for the benefit of their egos and pocketbooks.

While the PAST Act does not cover every base — few laws do — it is a very important start. And we must take every step available or we can come up with.

Here are some actions most of can take to do our part in at long last beginning to get rid of the cruel and barbaric practice of horse soring.


► TAKE ACTION (Courtesy of HorseSoring.com)

a. Become a member in one or more of the active organizations
b. Volunteer for one or more of the active organizations
c. Write your US Representative or Senators.
d. Write a Letter to the Editor of a horse magazine
e. Write to the people in charge of the major shows where there are soring violations recorded, and ask them to stop show-casing classes that encourage this abuse. For example, write to Dr. Doyle Meadows, the CEO of the National Celebration, and give him your input.

The 76TH Annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration® is set for August 20 – August 30, 2014.

1. Anyone with information on this cruel practice should call 855-NO-SORING or email: equineprotection@humanesociety.org. The HSUS will protect the identity of all callers.
2. Contact your state animal welfare department.
3. Check your state’s laws against soring.
4. Report your soring observation to the USDA.
5. Report your soring observation to the HSUS.
6. Send your observations via e-mail with detailed descriptions, photos, or video footage to FOSH, one of the organizations working to end soring.
7. Report the abuse to the local animal humane association. You may need to educate them, also, using this web site and other sources of information about soring.

Our posts on horse soring »



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