Walking Horse abuse must end
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.