Horse soring: Cruelty behind Tennessee walking horses competitions

“Unfortunately in the early part of the 20th century, when these horses (Tennessee walking horses) started to become show horses, people decided that they wanted them to have a very high stepping gait in the front,” Keith Dane, head of the Equine Protection department at the animal welfare organization Humane Society of the United States shares with The Animal Reader.

“They started to experiment with ways to artificially make the horse perform these gaits also referred to as the big lick,” he continues. Soring is the use of chemicals or mechanical devices to cause pain to the front feet and legs of Tennessee walking horses when they touch the ground.

“So they (horse trainers) started using pain-inducing methods to create pain so that the horse will try to step away from the pain and step higher. They would put chemicals around the lower part of the horse’s front legs and then they would apply chains that would strike against the sensitized area that the chemicals caused and that would make the horse step even higher,” Dane explains.  

Platform shoes that are 6 to 8 inches (15-20 centimeters) tall and weigh about 10 pounds are attached to the hoof, which makes the horse elevate in the front and squad down in the back. This also causes the horse to lift his front legs even higher.

“We call these stacks, but these are basically pads of plastic or leather that are nailed together and then those are nailed on the horse’s hoof,” Dane says.

The whole process of soring begins when the horses are between 12 to 18 months old and continues till they retire or die during competition or training.

“Thankfully, the number has been dwindling from what it was ten years ago but still about 10,000 horses are sored every year,” Dane continues. He thinks the only way to stop these cruel practices is to get the bill Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act passed.

Despite the pandemic, it looks like the next ‘big lick event’ will be the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration at an arena in Shelbyville, Tennessee, to be held between August 26 and September 5.

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