Walk­ing Horse abuse must end

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - Michelle Guinn, New Mar­ket

Mary­land is well known for its eques­trian roots. With such a large va­ri­ety of eques­trian events each year, many Mary­land res­i­dents own, train and ride horses. Mary­land is also home to many pres­ti­gious horse events in­clud­ing Preak­ness, Hunt Cup, Mary­land Horse Expo and joust­ing, not to men­tion all of the other eques­trian-re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties that many Mary­lan­ders par­tic­i­pate in through­out the year. As a Mary­land res­i­dent and horse owner, I feel it is my duty to bring to light an is­sue which is hid­den from many eques­tri­ans be­cause a large ma­jor­ity are not fa­mil­iar with Gaited Horse breeds and more specif­i­cally the Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse.

There is a show divi­sion within the Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse in­dus­try known as the Per­for­mance divi­sion. In th­ese classes, the horses wear heavy, oversized stacks on their feet, which can weigh up to ten pounds, and chains around their legs. The stacks and chains are used to ex­ag­ger­ate the move­ment of the front legs, caus­ing the horses to lift un­nat­u­rally high in what is called the “Big Lick.” Un­for­tu­nately, the stacks and chains alone do not pro­duce the de­sired and award-win­ning Big Lick for the show ring; they are but tools to force the horse to move in the spi­der-crawl type gait, which is com­pletely un­nat­u­ral to the phys­i­o­log­i­cal makeup of the an­i­mal. The Big Lick gait is only truly achieved as a pain re­sponse achieved by the prac­tice of sor­ing. Sor­ing in­volves the ap­pli­ca­tion of caus­tic, blis­ter­ing chem­i­cals to the horses’ pasterns, in­clud­ing such chem­i­cals as mus­tard oil, kerosene, Gojo and WD-40. Train­ers then wrap the horses’ legs in plas­tic wrap and let the so­lu­tion cook into the skin, mak­ing it very raw and sen­si­tive. The chains are then ap­plied to the sen­si­tive skin caus­ing the horse to re­act to the pain and lift their legs.

Sor­ing has been go­ing on for over 60 years. In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Pro­tec­tion Act in or­der to out­law sor­ing and made it il­le­gal to show, trans­port or sell a sore horse. Un­for­tu­nately, they left the in­spec­tions and over­sight in the hands of those who most ben­e­fit from th­ese Big Lick horses, and the sor­ing prob­lem has not been elim­i­nated. On the con­trary, train­ers have found more and more ways to sore and hide the ev­i­dence in or­der to make a horse be “com­pli­ant’ for show­ing.

Sadly, the stigma of sor­ing and the Big Lick has dec­i­mated the breed in many ways. With its nat­u­ral, easy-to-ride gaits, sure foot­ed­ness and stamina, the Walk­ing Horse makes an ex­cel­lent trail and en­durance horse. The breed’s ver­sa­til­ity also al­lows them to be suc­cess­fully trained in dres­sage, rein­ing, jump­ing and many other pop­u­lar eques­trian ac­tiv­i­ties. Its won­der­ful, kind tem­per­a­ment makes it a per­fect com­pan­ion and fam­ily horse.

For­tu­nately, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture has stepped up and has pro­posed new reg­u­la­tions which would out­law the stacks and chains and re­move the in­spec­tion and over­sight from the cor­rupt Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse in­dus­try and move it into the hands of trained ve­teri­nar­i­ans and USDA per­son­nel. There is a pub­lic meet­ing sched­uled at the USDA Head­quar­ters in Riverdale on Sept. 6. Also, there is a pub­lic com­ment fo­rum on the USDA web­site. I en­cour­age all Mary­land eques­tri­ans to be­come ed­u­cated and help us to save our breed by ei­ther at­tend­ing the meet­ing or sub­mit­ting a com­ment in sup­port of the new reg­u­la­tions. If you would like to learn more about the Ten­nessee Walk­ing Horse or sor­ing, please visit The All Amer­i­can Walk­ing Horse Al­liance web­site at www.AAWHA.net.

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