Painful “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse show season kicks off amidst COVID-19

Horse soring "stacks" on the front hooves of a Tennessee Walking Horse at Big Lick competition. HSUS.

WASHINGTON, DC, USA, June 8, 2020 / — By Marty Irby

While the nation is grappling with the COVID-19 crisis and seeing major protests in response to the killing of George Floyd, animal protection advocates continue to grapple with the various crises and abuses that those we work to protect face each day, including the ongoing mistreatment of Tennessee Walking Horses. I’ve been working for the past decade — first within the industry as president of the breed registry and now as executive director of Animal Wellness Action — to end the scourge of soring, which involves intentionally inflicting pain to horses’ legs and hooves to produce an artificial high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.”

At the beginning of the show season in Tennessee, we generally see a rise in the debate and rhetoric regarding the use of large stacked shoes and ankle chains placed on the horses feet to exacerbate the pain they feel from the application of caustic chemicals such as diesel fuel, mustard oil, and croton oil. There’s also a long game of tug-o-war between the owners and trainers of “big lick” horses and the inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is charged with enforcing the Horse Protection Act that was designed to stamp out the abuse.

The “big lick” faction believes the USDA’s treated them unfairly, and that the inspection system is very subjective. Those of us vocal against the “big lick” believe that since Secretary Sonny Perdue took the reins of the Agency, very little has been done to curb the abuse. Perdue’s allowed trainers who’ve signed consent decisions for violations of soring to continue showing this year: given just a slap on the wrist and a future suspension set to begin when they’re ready to retire. One thing is certain, and we all agree: the current system has failed.

And now, it’s showtime again, albeit a few months later than we’re generally accustomed to. This weekend, the Tennessee Walking Horse “big lick” show season kicked off in Columbia at the Maury County Park. And while most people in the Volunteer State are unaware of the drama playing out over the abuse of the horses, a Citizens’ Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty positioned protesters from Tennessee at the gates of the show for the sixth year in a row.

These advocates have successfully pushed municipalities to disallow “big lick” events in their domains, and they’ve been quite successful eliminating traditional pain-based shows full of soring from Jackson, Mississippi; Panama City Beach, Florida; and the North Carolina State Fair. They have continued to exercise their Constitutional right to peacefully protest events in public, and the wagons are circling and driving the majority of walking horse abusers across the nation into a five or six county area centered around Shelbyville.

One of the most prominent violators of the Horse Protection Act, Russ Thompson, who sored horses just outside of Los Angeles since the 1980’s, has now become a permanent fixture in Bedford County. This marks the end of the last pocket of soring in the nation’s largest state.

The good news is change may come. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1754/S. 1007,which would ban the large stacked shoes and ankle chains, and eliminate the current inspection system, passed the U.S. House last July with 333 “yes” votes including U.S. Reps. Tim Burchett (R-Knoxville), Jim Cooper (D-Nashville), and Steve Cohen (D-Memphis). The walls are closing in on the legislators and coalition who’ve long worked to block the bill, and I believe they are beginning to see the light. The Senate companion bill now has 52 Members signed on as cosponsors, and we’re pushing harder than ever for a debate and vote.

And last month, Monty Roberts – “the man who listens to horses,” who has trained the horses in Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s stable for decades – recommitted his efforts to help us end soring and save the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. He first visited Shelbyville, and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration fifteen years ago and tried to help the breed step soundly into the future but met great resistance at the time. He’ll provide us with an opportunity to educate those steeped in the soring culture in the ways natural and non-violent horsemanship.

Change must come. The breed and the industry are withering because the public is onto them and the cruelty to the horses. Crowds are shrinking, the number of registered horses receding, and young people taking their enthusiasms for sport elsewhere. If the leaders of the industry don’t embrace reform, they may be left with nothing at all. A once thriving industry in Tennessee will pass away, and it will be due to a stubborn refusal of its leaders to adapt to a world that recognizes the health and well-being of the horses should have been at the center of the industry’s agenda.

From the looks of what we saw on video at the “big lick” show this weekend, the horses appeared to be plenty sore, and USDA failed to protect the horses once again. Please take action today by clicking here to tell USDA’s Animal Plant and Health Inspection Services Administrator Kevin Shea to send USDA inspectors the next “big lick” show that’ll be held in Shelbyville in two weeks.

Marty Irby is the executive director of Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C. and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.


In the meantime Clant Seay and dedicated horse lovers have been protesting every step of the way. Watch.

Well done everyone, and thank you. You are all heroes.

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Mayor green lights Maury County “Big Lick” horse cruelty show

The 75th Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee on August 29, 2013.

MAURY COUNTY, TENNESSEE — According to the New York Times, Tennessee is fourth in the United States where Covid-19 new cases are increasing. Tennessee is just behind the States of California, Virginia, and North Carolina which lead the country.

On May 21, 2020, local horse show managers announced that a three day “Big Lick” walking horse show will be held at Maury County Park in Columbia, Tennessee, June 4-6, 2020, promising that those attending would be required to “socially distance and wear masks.”

So Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles (@AndyOgles), who is in his first term, agreed to allow the mass gathering.

“Mayor Andy Ogles appears oblivious to the fact that many of the horses and people will come to Columbia from nearby counties which have among the highest Covid-19 viral infection rates in the State of Tennessee,” pointed out Clant Seay. “Others will also come from adjoining states such as Georgia which has 42,838 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 1,683 deaths according to the George Department of Health,” he added. Listen to Mayor Ogles here (YouTube).

Horse soring is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait traditionally known as the “Big Lick”.

Clant Seay is widely known as a tremendous champion of sored horses who travels from horse show to horse show along with a dedicated group of horse lovers protesting this abhorrent spectacle of horse abuse. They will be at this one. Care to join them?

Seay also lobbies in Washington D.C. for passage of legislation that will close loopholes and strengthen current U.S. anti horse soring law.

Extreme cruelty

Image from 2015 HSUS Horse Soring Investigation.
Image from 2015 HSUS Horse Soring Investigation.

Horse soring is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait traditionally known as the “Big Lick”.

In training barns where soring takes place, it is common to see horses lying down in their stalls, moaning in pain.

Chemical Soring

Caustic chemicals—blistering agents like mustard oil, diesel fuel and kerosene—are applied to the horse’s limbs, causing extreme pain and suffering.

Mechanical Soring

Another horse soring technique, known as pressure shoeing, involves cutting a horse’s hoof almost to the quick and tightly nailing on a shoe or standing a horse for hours with the sensitive part of his soles on a block or other raised object. This causes excruciating pressure and pain whenever the horse puts weight on the hoof.

A Life of Fear and Pain

The life of a sored horse is filled with fear and pain. While being sored, a horse can be left in his stall for days at a time, his legs covered in caustic chemicals and plastic wrap to “cook” the chemicals deep into his flesh. In training barns where soring takes place, it is common to see horses lying down in their stalls, moaning in pain.

Whenever the horses are ridden, in training or competition, trainers put chains around the horse’s sored ankles. As the horse travels, the chains slide up and down, further irritating the areas already made painful by soring.

Tennessee walking horses, known for their smooth gait and gentle disposition, commonly suffer from the practice of soring. Other gaited breeds, such as racking horses and spotted saddle horses, also fall victim.

Related Reading

Protest the cruel abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses in Columbia, TN; Tuesday’s Horse; May 27, 2020. Read more Tuesday’s Horse posts on Soring »

Fund for Horses

— Visit the Fund for Horses website for our Horse Soring Fact Sheet » View Images » Take action on pending legislation S.1007 »

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Horse whisperer speaks up for sored horses

Horse soring "stacks" on the front hooves of a Tennessee Walking Horse at Big Lick competition. HSUS.

WVLT-TV reports that American Horse Trainer Monty Roberts has reaffirmed his commitment to end soring as Tennessee Walking Horse events prepare to resume.

Soring is the act of intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait.

Roberts, known as “the man who listens to horses,” has been teaching others a natural, non-violent method of training horses.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Larry Edwards, Hall of Fame Tennessee Walking Horse trainer, said. “That filly started out scared to death, trying to climb over the pen and when he finished with her, she was as gentle as she could be.”

Join Monty Roberts

On July 25, 2019, the United States Congress passed H.R.693 — The PAST Act — 333-96. The PAST Act abolishes the use of “stack and chains”, central to horse soring.

This victory marks the first time Congress has moved to strengthen laws against soring since the practice was first banned.

The Senate version of bill has yet to make it to the floor for a vote. Vivian Farrell of the Fund for Horses urges everyone to please join Monty Roberts in pressing for the passage of S.1007.

“Senators Mitch McConnell and Marsha Blackburn will be employing their full arsenal of tricks to defeat S.1007 and keep the “Big Lick” alive.

They can be defeated, but it will “take a nation”. We are that “nation”.

Visit the Fund for Horses website to learn what steps you need to take. Scroll down to S.1007 — The PAST Act.

Learn how to make phone calls that get results here.

Check status of S.1007 at As of this writing, S.1007 has 51 cosponsors.

NOTE: The Tennessee Walking Horse’s 82nd Annual Celebration is scheduled for August 26th – September 5th, 2020.

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Updated with take action links May 26, 2020.

Quote of the Day

I'm Mayhem competing in the 2017 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration.

It’s not “a few bad apples”; rather the entire barrel of apples is rotten. The “Big Lick” is no better than dog fighting and cock fighting. All who practice or support it are guilty because animal cruelty is absolutely necessary to create and maintain the “Big Lick” gait. Horses do not have a voice, so we protest for them until “Big Lick” animal cruelty no longer exists.

— Clant Seay


Contact your two U.S. Senators and ask them to please cosponsor S.1007 — The PAST Act.

Calls are superior. The Capitol Switchboard number is (202) 224-3121. The operator will put you through. Have the name of the Senator you are calling ready!

Not super comfortable about phoning? That’s okay. Our experience is that the following online legislative service is every bit as good. Perhaps even better!

Take action via PopVox. All you need to sign up is an email and password. Your message to your lawmakers is guaranteed seen and counted! Not sure what to say? Get talking points on S.1007 on The Horse Fund’s PopVox Stakeholders Page »

Don’t want to phone? You don’t need to. POPVOX will deliver your message directly to your lawmakers. Guaranteed! No kidding.

It’s great using our talking points but please add how you feel personally about this issue. That really gets lawmakers’ attention.


Clant Seay is the founder and leader of  Citizens Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty and the main mover and shaker behind the success of the House version of this bill which passed 333-96. Learn more at Clant Seay’s website » See Clant Seay’s Facebook page here »

I’m Mayhem competing in the 2017 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration. Photographer unknown.