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Horse Soring: A Cruel Practice That Many Fear Still Continues

by Modi Ramos

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The Humane Society of the United States gives a voice to animals who need it most. And this is especially true when it comes to those cruel and unnecessary acts that animals face at the hands of humans. Horse soring is absolutely on that list of acts that should be punishable by law. No matter which way you look at it, it’s inhumane. Horses, specifically the Tennessee Walking Horse, which is known for its incredible gait, has been subject to the evil practice of soring for decades. We know that the TWH has incredible genetics that give them this naturally eye-catching walk, but what is being done—and the high step it’s producing—goes far beyond that. 

In case you’re not sure exactly what this is, it’s defined as “the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait.” And when it comes to the show rings of Tennessee, particularly the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, the chest-high stride referred to as the”Big Lick” is what has always grabbed the attention and solidified a win.

The 75th Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee, on August 29, 2013

The soring can be either chemical or physical—and often both.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, with chemicals, soring is achieved by blistering and irritating the horse’s forelegs by use of chemical irritants. The physical act of soring happens by way of painful mechanical devices. The intense pressure directly results in inflammation and laminitis. And heavy bands and thick, heavy stacks of pads placed almost like platform shoes cause further agony. And with a rider on their back, the pain only intensifies. The lives of these horses are full of lonely stall days and no happiness. Just day after day of cruel and unusual punishment at the hands of trainers who care nothing of them but to use them as a means to win. 

The lack of empathy for the animal that is forced to suffer means nothing when it comes to winning. And I know I do not speak only for myself when I say just how evil this practice is. It must be stopped. And thankfully, there are people who are striving to see that this happens in our lifetime.

Horses do not deserve to suffer at the hands of humans for the sake of a blue ribbon.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act set to change all this. And the outpouring of support for the sake of these beautiful horses was heard by many far and wide across the United States—including those in Kentucky and Tennessee where the practice is most observed. Soring was technically outlawed in 1970, but the practice still continued regardless, with many turning a blind eye to the well-being of the equines involved for the sake of winning and tradition.

And the long-standing Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has taken place since 1939. The celebration is a 10-day event in which some 2,000 horses compete.

What was once referred to as the “Greatest Horse Show on Earth”

The PAST Act passed in July of 2019. As the Humane Society reported,

The PAST Act has also received the support of hundreds of stakeholder groups and individuals, including 70 national and state horse groups such as the American Horse Council and the US Equestrian Federation, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, National Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most prevalent).

When the bill was made into law, US Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) spoke out that he felt strongly just how “beyond reprehensible” soring is. He released a statement saying that, “How we treat animals is a reflection of our national character.”

Still, although it’s been over a year since this act was made into law, fears circulate as to what’s going on behind the scenes. The following video was shared by the Humane Society, and I warn you, it might be difficult to watch. For the sake of those who are sensitive to the sight of horses being abused, I have hyperlinked the video here so that you may view it on YouTube, should you insist on viewing it. For myself, I was in tears in less than 30 seconds time.

Despite the fact that the PAST Act has passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 333-96, many fear that the practice will remain as the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is fast approaching. Concern grows for these horses that will be entered into the upcoming celebration, which seems to be fully underway despite the pandemic.

The Humane Society reports:

“Preparations for the annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration at an arena in Shelbyville, Tennessee, to be held between August 26 and September 5, appear to be on in full swing, despite a reported increase in coronavirus cases in Bedford County, which is home to Shelbyville.”

The Humane Society also shares how soring is detected—and covered up at the hands of abusive trainers:

“Horses born after October 1, 1975, are also subject to what is know as the “scar rule”: Their legs should show no evidence of scarring that is indicative of soring, such as missing hair, scars, or cuts. While inspectors have jurisdiction to inspect horses anywhere on the grounds of a show, exhibition, auction, or sale (as well as in transport to these venues), intimidation, harassment and threats from industry participants have kept inspectors from examining horses outside of a designated inspection area, directly before entering the show ring. This system gives trainers ample opportunities to attempt to conceal soring before the horse is inspected.”

The Humane Society warns that in recent years, the annual Celebration has been nothing more than a showcase for the industry’s worst offenders. And, with everything that’s going on in the world today, how should it be any different this year, with many putting their attention and focus elsewhere during the pandemic.

The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund urge individuals to seek action for these horses, and fight for stricter penalties for those who break the law.

These horses’ lives are at stake. And if the law passed in 1970 didn’t end things then, who is to say that it will now?

Many of those who care about the well-being of these horses are fearing the absolute worst at the “show must go on” attitude of the event. The controversial event reached a first last year, with a climax between the horse trainers and federal regulators resulting in cancellation of the last day event and crowning.

Thankfully in recent years their has been a downturn in popularity

Donna Benefield, a horse owner who is also affiliated with the event, told the New York Times

“I think it’s going to become crystal clear what’s going on in this industry…and I think it discourages the general public from wanting to participate in an industry that is this fundamentally corrupt.”

If you want to do your part and take action against these cruel acts, you can. Please do your part and visit this link here so that we can work together to make a difference in the lives of these poor horses.



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