Commentary: Nation stands strong against soring; Tennessee walking horse industry should, too

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By Keith Dane
Special to KyForward

It has been decades since Congress passed the Horse Protection Act to criminalize the conduct of trainers who use abusive methods to produce a prize-winning, unnaturally high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.”

Yet the inhumane practice of soring continues, and those involved in the big lick segment of the Tennessee walking horse industry are desperate to prevent any crack down. That was made clear by comments made at USDA’s recent listening session in Lexington on a rule the agency proposed last month to help end soring.

When soring horses, trainers apply caustic chemicals to the skin of horses’ legs and place chains around the sensitized area to exacerbate the pain. Trainers also attach heavy, stacked shoes to the horses’ hooves and often jam sharp objects into their tender soles. The USDA rule would ban these chains and stacks, which are integral to the soring process, and also end the failed system of industry self-policing that has allowed soring to persist.

These changes are consistent with the recommendations of an audit released by USDA’s own Inspector General in 2010 and with key elements of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.3268/S.1121, which is cosponsored by a bipartisan majority of members of Congress and has the support of the American Horse Council, United States Equestrian Federation, American Veterinary Medical Association and every state veterinary association.

The proposed regulations also fulfill a number of the requests in a February 2015 rulemaking petition that The Humane Society of the United States filed with USDA, and we are grateful that USDA is finally making this move.

These changes are a necessary step to clean up the Tennessee walking horse industry—they have had 46 years to do it themselves, but haven’t. Instead, these trainers have just become more sophisticated at inflicting pain on their horses, covering up the abuse, and working the political process to obstruct any progress.

They also appeared at the USDA’s meetings about the rule in Tennessee and Kentucky to defend their tradition of cruelty. This behavior is representative of individuals resistant to change – even change that benefits the welfare of the animals they disingenuously claim to love.

But those who truly care about horses and want to see a better future for the Tennessee walking horse breed also spoke at the USDA meetings in favor of the rule.

At the Lexington forum, Jeannie McGuire, president of the All American Walking Horse Alliance, commented about the economic hardships the big lick has caused to natural enthusiasts of the breed. Another supporter of the changes, Margo Kirn of Paris, Kentucky, spoke of how the reputation of the big lick horse limits her abilities to show her walking horse in dressage.

HSUS Kentucky state director Kathryn Callahan said, “Growing numbers of the public are outraged by the infliction of pain on these horses, by trainers and owners who value show ring awards more than the well-being of their horses.”

“More and more people are avoiding the Big Lick horse shows” and the public is “flooding the USDA in-box with requests to make the abuses stop,” she said.

Jurnee Carr, Miss Tennessee International 2016 also spoke in favor of the USDA proposal at the Murfreesboro forum as a concerned Tennessean. “The Tennessee walking horse should be treasured and celebrated, yet, because of the rampant and accepted practice of soring within the Big Lick community, it has become somewhat of a black cloud hanging over our state that I love so dearly,” she said.

At a recent similar forum in California, dozens of advocates including actress Priscilla Presley spoke passionately about the need for the proposed rule; not one person rose to represent the big lick faction in opposition. Another meeting is scheduled in Maryland and it is likely that a majority of attendees there will support the USDA rule as well.

The nation as a whole stands strong against soring, and the Tennessee walking horse industry should too.

Keith Dane

Keith Dane is the senior advisor on equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States

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6 Comments

  1. Laura Ousley says:

    Thank you for continuing this fight to end big-lick horse abuse. I have seen the horses in the barns standing in wraps and on stacks, pain in their eyes and I had the awful feeling that something was horribly wrong, but I was escorted out of the barn when I started to ask questions. I now know what I was seeing and it makes me sick to my stomach to know these horses suffer 24/7 and up until recently, there has been nothing we could do about it because of dirty politics involved. I hope everyone stands together and lets their state representatives know they support the new amendment proposed by the USDA, and show support by making comments on the USDA’s website.

  2. Lila Corey says:

    Thank you for continuing this long seemingly endless fight.

  3. Jennifer Hardacre says:

    Whenever sound horse advocates protest the torture inflicted on the Tennessee Walking Horse and urge the banning of stacks and chains, the “performance horse” faction resembles an orchestra of scorched cats! They claim that the stacks and chains do not harm the horse and that studies have confirmed that. They are dead wrong. A four year study at Auburn University, Alabama, by Dr. RC Purohit found that when the heels of a horse are raised only eight degrees on stacks, the flexor tendons (critically important part of the lower leg) become inflamed and their tolerance to being pressed on, as in an inspection, is as low as 5 pounds per square inch. The normal tendon tolerance for pressure is between 24 and 40 pounds per square inch. As for chains, the study found that the 6 ounce chains used in the show ring do little harm. (This is the only part of the Auburn study that the performance horse faction ever mentions.) However, photographic evidence from performance barns reveals that much heavier chains are used in training. The study found that combined with caustic agents on the pasterns, chains weighing no more than 10 ounces caused open sores with bloody pus within seven days, and horses were observed to display “many signs of discomfort and distress … lying down in the stall, reluctance to move, [obliviousness] to their surroundings, bearing more weight on the hind feet (“standing in the bucket”), stumbling, falling, hanging the head, wobbling and altered facial expression.” This facial expression is characterized by flared nostrils althought the horse is at rest, drooping ears, tightened mouth, and tented skin above the eyes, and is considered to be a sign of pain.

  4. Teresa Bippen says:

    Great article. Please keep spreading the word. Soring has gone on for too many decades and it is a blight upon a beautiful breed.

  5. mary anne says:

    Yes, PLEASE end soring!
    Alberta, Canada.

  6. Cathy Hayduk says:

    Thank you KyForward for publishing the article. Even deep in horse country there are people unaware of the big lick training methods. The more people that understand what is involved, the less people who will attend shows that feature this disgrace to the beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse. The big lick faction has had decades to stop using these training ‘aids’ but they refused to cooperate. It’s time to shut them down.

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