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Tennessee Walking Horse Cruelty: By Rachel Smith

Image above: CounterCanter, Flickr

Performance equine shows are a regular occurrence in many communities throughout the United States and demonstrate the incredible bond between horse and rider. However, the motivation to achieve the ‘perfect show horse’ can lead to extreme suffering. This blog discusses Tennessee Walking Horses, a breed which has been subjected to severe cruelty in the name of aesthetics.

The Tennessee Walking Horse natural gait is a smooth 4 beat gait known as the running walk, with the weight distribution on the rear quarters.[1]

This gait may be accentuated by ‘soring’ and associated practices.

SORING

A horse wearing stacks. Image: APHIS veterinarian Todd Behre

‘Soring’ is defined as the application of any chemical (e.g. diesel fuel), mechanical agent (e.g. overweight chains termed an action device) or practice (e.g. trimming a hoof to expose the sensitive tissue) inflicted upon any limb of a horse to produce an exaggerated gait.[2] Because of the pain, the horses lift their legs higher.

Let’s look more closely at chemical soring. This involves the application of caustic chemicals to the hair and skin of the horse’s lower leg, then covering the leg with plastic and a leg wrap for several days to allow the chemical to “cook” into the skin.[3]

Performance packages (stacks and pads), are attached below the sole of the horse’s natural hoof, with the result that the added weight causes the horse to strike with more force and at an abnormal angle to the ground.[4] Besides the infliction of pain, a horse will be restricted in a stall, bound by its padded shoes, chains or training equipment and unable to just be a horse.[5]

Whilst a similar gait can be achieved by selective breeding and humane training, this takes longer and requires more effort.[6]

LEGISLATION

Under The Horse Protection Act of 1970 (HPA), soring is illegal. Unfortunately, this has not eliminated the practice. Between 1986 and 2013, there have been more than 9,000 documented violations. Most incurred virtually no penalty.[7]

So, why is soring still happening?

  • Unethical trainers and owners use methods to avoid detection, such as numbing agents to mask pain during inspection, or falsified paperwork, as uncovered during a 2010 audit[8]
  • The desire to win – many judges use criteria that favour sored horses and the prize money for events featuring natural horses are substantially less
  • United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspectors only attend 10% of the shows where gaited breeds are exhibited due to funding limitations[9]
  • The USDA certified Horse Industry Organisations to self-police. This is ineffective due to a conflict of interests.

US animal welfare organisations, the American Veterinary Medicine Association, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the American Association of Equine Practitioners oppose soring and are supportive of increased measures to eradicate the practice.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act

The PAST Act would end the failed industry self-policing system, ban the show-ring use of chains, stacks, and excessively heavy shows, and increase penalties for violators.[10]

Announced shortly before Obama left office, the Act has now been frozen.[11]

The Performance Show Horse Association (PSHA), the Tennessee Walking Horse Breed Association (TWHBA) and the Walking Horse Trainers Association are opposed to the Act, and particularly to prohibitions on performance packages or action devises.

Economic concerns form the basis of their stance, due to perceived reduction in revenue for industry stakeholders. The TWHBA claim that the current legislation is sufficient and that ‘the demands on horse show management will be costly and create an unnecessary hassle”.[12]

Surely, such ‘hassle’ is merited to protect the welfare of competing horses?

In fact, resistance is allegedly reducing the popularity of the breed and industry they claim to love. “Tennessee is getting a reputation for being a horse abuse state. Pads and chains are killing the industry. And I don’t know how long we have to wait for proper enforcement before the industry dies”.[13]

In contrast, Friends of Sound Horses promotes the humane training of gaited horses and exhibition of flat-shod gaited horses.

TAKE ACTION

Lack of enforcement is failing Tennessee Walking Horses, driven by greed and the desire for a ribbon. It’s time to put the interests of horses first, rather than reject new regulations as an inconvenience.

If you live in the US, ask your representative to pass The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

References

[1]Performance Show Horse Association (2014) Unique gait bred into the Tennessee Walking Horse. Shelbyville, PSHA. Available at: http://psha1.com/a-unique-breed-with-a-unique-gait/(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[2]United States Department of Agriculture (2016) Horse Protection Act and its administration. Riverdale, USDA. Available at: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/sa_hpa/ct_hpa_history_and_administration(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[3]American Veterinary Medical Association (2012) Soring in Horses. Schaumburg, AVMA. Available at: https://www.avma.org/KB/Policies/Documents/soring_horses_bgnd.pdf(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[4]The Humane Society of the United States (n.d) Fact sheet: Tennessee Walking Horses ‘Soring’ Abuse. Stop Soring coalition. Available at: http://www.stopsoring.com/docs/DOC052009-001.pdf(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[5]Wylie, L (2015) Right, Tradition or Obstinacy: A look at ‘Big Lick’ by a Tennessean. Horse Nation. Available at:http://www.horsenation.com/2015/09/22/right-tradition-or-obstinacy-a-look-at-big-lick-by-a-tennessean/(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[6]United States Department of Agriculture (2016) Horse Protection Act and its administration. Riverdale, USDA. Available at: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalwelfare/sa_hpa/ct_hpa_history_and_administration(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[7]All American Walking Horse Alliance (n.d) What is Soring? AAWHA. Available at: http://www.aawha.net/Why-We-Need-Help.html(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[8]All American Walking Horse Alliance (n.d) What is Soring? AAWHA. Available at: http://www.aawha.net/Why-We-Need-Help.html(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[9]Friends of Sound Horses Inc (2017) Got Gait- Go FOSH. FOSH. Available at:http://fosh.info/What-is-soring.php(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[10]The Humane Society of the United States (n.d) Fact sheet: Tennessee Walking Horses ‘Soring’ Abuse. Stop Soring coalition. Available at: http://www.stopsoring.com/docs/DOC052009-001.pdf(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[11]American Journal of Veterinary Research (2017) Soring final rule put on hold. American Journal of Veterinary Research. 78 (4) 401-401

[12]Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (2016) Walking Horse Folks must act now to save our Industry. Lewisburg, TWHBEA. Available at: http://www.twhbea.com/2016/08/walking-horse-folks-must-act-now-to-save-our-industry(Accessed 19 January 2018)

[13]Nolen, R.S (2014) A Horse Industry’s Change of Heart. Javma News.244 (8) 883-885 Available at : https://avmajournals-avma-org.winchester.idm.oclc.org/doi/pdfplus/10.2460/javma.244.8.876(Accessed 19 January 2018)

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