Tennessee Walking Horse - Stock photo
Guest author: Dayton Uttinger
If something is broken, fix it. When it concerns Tennessee Walking Horses, this common rationale is applied where it shouldn’t be and ignored where it should. Tempted with blue ribbons and high stud profits, trainers abuse their horses through a practice called “soring”, colloquially referred to as “fixing”. Soring involves rubbing caustic, carcinogenic chemicals on a horse’s legs before wrapping them in plastic, forcing the chemicals to sink beneath the skin. This causes the skin to be tender, sometimes red and inflamed, so when trainers attach heavy chains around a horse’s legs, pain shoots up with every step. Alternatively, this same result can be achieved with pressure soring, where an unnatural shoe, a “stack”, is secured around the horse’s hoof, so that the horse must put pressure on sensitive areas. Some trainers additionally grind down the hoof closer to the quick to increase sensitivity, or they insert hard objects between the hoof and the stack (golf balls, lead, or even nails).
Image credit: Wikipedia
But how does this benefit trainers at all? How can a horse in this much pain be useful? Well, in several competitions across the country, judges reward the “big lick”. When the the chains strike a horse’s tender skin, or it puts pressure on sensitive soles, the horse snaps its limb back up and beneath it, much like how we recoil when we step on sharp pin. This results in an altered, exaggerated gait that judges and crowds appreciate and reward. There is some debate as to whether the big lick can be achieved naturally, but nearly everyone agrees that this needs to stop.
What Has Been Done?
In fact, most have agreed upon that point since 1970, when Congress passed the Horse Protection Act. It disallowed the sale, exhibition, or transport of sored horses, and created designated qualified persons, people within the industry to police soring. Originally, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) was going to be the sole investigative body, but it quickly found out how expensive that would be. While there are still some USDA inspectors, most of them are private experts.
Which would be fine, if it worked. However, these inspections aren’t eliminating soring. In 2013, 67% of horses tested by USDA inspectors tested positive for chemicals used for soring, but most horses are not tested by USDA inspectors. Over 60% of the violations were discovered during shows that USDA inspectors were present, which only account for 10% of all shows. Imagine what they’d find in the other 90% of shows.
Additionally, even when horses are disqualified, this hardly has lasting effects. Last year, a horse named Play Something Country was found lying on the floor, moaning in pain from the chemical damage to his legs. A few weeks later, he was winning ribbons at competitions. Clearly, the ramifications of soring are not taken seriously.
What Can Be Done?
Congress is now considering the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which would mandate that the government take responsibility for the training and certification of all inspectors, and all soring devices and tactics would be banned. Currently, some chains and stacks are still legal.
PAST can fix a broken system. Our Congressmen and women just need to know that their constituents are paying attention on this one. Contact your representative and raise awareness. The Humane Society has an easy-to-follow guide what you can do to support PAST and eliminate soring.
Click HERE to see how you can help!
Other than that, all you can do is take care of your own horse. While the blue ribbons and glory have a powerful allure, it’s not worth your horse’s agony. Horse’s muscles can be seriously injured just from overuse, so imagine the sort of lasting damage that soring leaves. Whether through chemical or physical means, soring has an impact on more than just a horse’s performance. This practice has continued on for too long, and current legislation is obviously not getting the job done. If something is broken, fix it.
Image credit: Humane Society of the United States
About the author: Dayton socializes for a living and writes for fun. Her rarely relevant degree gives her experience in political science, writing, Spanish, rugby, theater, coding, and spreading herself too thin. She will forever be a prisoner of her family’s business, doomed to inherit responsibility despite frequent existential protests.