Soring is the practice of inflicting pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated “Big Lick” gait to gain a competitive edge in the show ring. The practice is rampant in the walking horse industry in which Tennessee Walkers and other gaited breeds are exhibited.
Soring was made illegal under federally law with passage of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) in 1970. But the law has done little to curb the practice. Since 2002, 4,000 incidences of soring violations have been reported. In the last 12 months alone, over 1,000 suspensions have been issued for violations of the Horse Protection Act. These are only the people who have been caught at inspection stations at shows and sales.
A random inspection by agents of the Department of Agriculture at last year’s annual championship found that all 52 of 52 horses tested positive for some sort of foreign substance around front hooves, either to cause pain or to hide it.
Soring takes a number of forms. Caustic chemicals—blistering agents like mustard oil, diesel fuel, and kerosene—are applied to the horse’s limbs, causing extreme pain and suffering.
A particularly egregious form of soring, known as pressure shoeing, involves cutting a horse’s hoof almost to the quick and tightly nailing on a shoe, or standing a horse for hours with the sensitive part of his soles on a block or other raised object. This causes excruciating pressure and pain whenever the horse puts weight on the hoof.
Mechanical means involve putting a foreign object, such as a screw or bolt, or half of a golf ball, against both of the horse’s front hoof soles, and then shoeing with a pad and horse show over the object. Each time the horse steps or puts weight on that hoof, it causes pain. Pressure shoeing also involves cutting a horse’s hoof wall and sole down to the quick, where it starts to bleed, and then nailing a shoe over that surface. This makes a very tender hoof that is sore again each time pressure from the animals’ weight.
The odds of stopping or even curbing the practice are not good when an entire industry is built around it, and judges continue to reward the High Lick gait that’s the hallmark of a Tennessee Walking Horse.
There is also BIG money in it.
In May, Jackie McConnell, considered one of the leading “trainers” of this sorry industry, was fined $75,000 and put on probation for three years for soring. He was also banned for life from the Tennessee Walking Horse organization’s main annual show competition and removed from its hall of fame. The fine is pocket change to McConnell who has made millions in the business.
He was unmasked by a video made by the Humane Society of the United States showing McConnell and his stable hands using painful chemicals on horses’ legs, and whipping, kicking and shocking them in the face to force them to perform the unnatural ‘Big Lick’ gait.
A blue-ribbon Tennessee walking horse stallion might be worth $1 million or more when put up for sale, but it can earn that money back for a new owner in a year through stud fees as others try to cash in on his champion bloodline.
Last year in Shelbyville, Tennessee, site of the annual Walking Horse National Celebration, William B. (Bill) and Sandra Johnson, owners of Waterfall Farms, which had some of the most-recognized walking horse champions available for stud service, were suspended from being involved in “any show or event” for one year by the United States Department of Agriculture for violations of the Horse Protection Act in connection with the “soring” of their Tennessee Walking Horse champion “JFK All Over” at the 30th Annual Spring Fun Show in Shelbyville.
If you want to see what kind of money we’re talking about in this business take a look at Waterfall Farms today. Formerly one of the finest equestrian breeding facilities in the South–over 905 acres, 340+ stalls, 3 ponds, fully stocked lake, riding trails, 5 residences, equipment sheds, Barns, offices, hospiltality house, and indoor arena–asking price $4,995,000.