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Tennessee Walking Horse Abuse – Part I

— August 8, 2016

The Tennessee Walking Horse, TWH, is a gaited horse that got its start in the late 1800s when the Narganset Pacer was crossbred with a number of other breeds. The result was a horse with a smooth, surefooted, mile eating gait, that was perfect for use on large farms and plantations. This gentle, versatile breed was, and is, also used for pulling, races, trail riding and in many other disciplines. The TWH was recognized as a specific breed in 1935 when the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ Association was formed. Over the years, unscrupulous trainers began using action devices to make the horses gait showier in the show ring. A bill was introduced, but never made it to the floor. Is Tennessee Walking Horse abuse condoned by congress – or did lobbyist with big money behind them and cronyism win over what the majority wanted.

In the early 1900s, the TWH had difficulty competing in gaited horse shows because they were not as flashy and high stepping as American Saddlebred horses and some other gaited breeds. To obtain a more animated gait, TWH trainers began putting action devices (stacks, pads, and chains) on the TWH show horses’ front hooves. A horse show class called the performance or “Big Lick” was created for these horses to compete in when the new animated gait was well received by horse show spectators.

Photo Courtesy of APHIS veterinarian Todd Behre,
Photo Courtesy of APHIS veterinarian Todd Behre,

In the 1950s, some trainers began using cruel and abusive techniques, generally called soring, to get a more exaggerated gait from the TWH. A sored horse lifts his front legs quickly trying to get his hooves off the ground, and squats back on his hind legs to try to take some of the weight off the front legs. By the 1970s, the abusive training practices had became so widespread that a federal law, the Horse Protection Act, was enacted. Soring practices include placing ball bearings between the pad the hoof to bruise the sole, scraping the sole of the hoof to the sensitive portion and applying mustard or some other caustic substance, applying mustard oil or other chemicals to the pastern and other areas of the hoof and leg to cause blistering and burning, and even nails driven through the pad so that they violate the sole of the hoof. These examples are only a few of the hundreds that unscrupulous trainers use to sore horses.


Photo Courtesy of USDA,
Photo Courtesy of USDA,


Although the Horse Protection Act was aimed at stopping soring practices used by Big Lick and other gaited horse trainers, the problem became even more widespread as the trainers found ways to avoid detection by federal inspectors at horse shows. Over the years, as trainers found new ways, the United States Department of Agriculture, USDA, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, APHIS, instituted new methods for detecting the abuse. As a result, Big Lick trainers became angry when their horses were found sore by inspectors at horse shows and they were not allowed to show. The trainers and their supporters have verbally and physically attacked and threatened APHIS inspectors and advocates who are determined to end the practice of soring.

As relations deteriorated between Big Lick supporters and those seeking to protect those same horses, Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) introduced the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act of 2013, the PAST Act. Among other changes to the Horse Protection Act, the PAST Act would make it illegal to use pads, chains and other action devices on horses. That bill resulted in 307 cosponsors and was supported by numerous animal rights organizations, including the Human Society of the United States. Despite having a majority of house and senate cosponsors, the bill never made it to the floor. The question is, how can a bill supported by a majority be stalled and never make it to the House floor.

I do have more information on what happened to stall the 2013 PAST Act, and in subsequent years when the bill was reintroduced, and will share that with you in my next post in this series. Much more has happened since the bill was introduced in 2013. Abusing horses for the entertainment of crowds of people and the financial gain of a few is not acceptable, especially in this day and age when people are aware of what abuse is, and that abuse is occurring.

The major question here is how could a bill that was supported by a majority in Congress, animal rights organizations, and animal advocates never make it far enough to be voted into law – in 2013 and in subsequent years!

Please note that the featured photo is a flat shod Tennessee Walking Horse and is meant to introduce the breed to those who are no familiar with them.


Horse Soring

Horse Protection Act


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