The Tennessee Walking Horse was bred and developed in Central Tennessee during the late 1800s as an all-purpose ranch horse.
It descends from a mixture of different breeds including Narragansett Pacer (now extinct), Canadian Pacer, Thoroughbred, Morgan, and Standardbred. It is famous for its fantastic running walk, which can be as fast as a canter, and extreme leg action, especially those bred for the show ring.
The breed made headlines recently after President Barak Obama, before he left office, finalized a rule ending the barbaric and cruel practice of horse soring. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) carried out several undercover investigations, involving top trainers from the show horse industry, who use this type of abuse simply to win ribbons.
What is Soring?
Soring is a method used to exaggerate the horse’s leg action, lifting their front legs higher and quicker than is normal, achieved by applying chemicals and pressure shoeing.
Chemical agents such as mustard oil, kerosene, and diesel oil are applied on the feet and lower legs and then wrapped in plastic. This burning and blistering infliction of pain cause the horse to snatch up its front legs quickly creating what is known as "the big lick."
Heavy, bracelet-like chains, placed around the horse's pastern, have the same effect. In the show ring, they are permitted but must not weigh more than 6 ounces (170g). However, although lighter, they bang and rub against the already sensitive area inflicted by the heavier ones.
When shoeing the Tennessee Walking Horse, the nails are purposely placed into the sensitive laminae of the foot, causing extreme soreness.
Half golf balls, marbles, bits of glass or stones are placed and hidden between the sole and "stacks." These stacks, made from plastic or leather, are about four inches (10cm) thick at the heel and two inches (5cm) thick at the toe, making the horse stand unnaturally in a permanently, elevated position. Often at shows, you will see riders warming up on a road or hard surface, deliberately making the feet sore to attain the required “lift” in the gait. The only way these horses can get away from this type of pressure is to lie down. Due to this type shoeing, they are extremely prone to laminitis or Navicular disease.
Apart from ridden exercise, the show horses remain in their stables and never go out to pasture. Their life is one of pain and sadness. Many die relatively young from colic due to the stressful training they must endure and the exposure to toxic chemicals.
A Stain on Tennessee’s Reputation
In the early 1970s, The Horse Protection Act was passed by Congress to ban soring. However, due to a lack of funding by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), it was impossible to send an official to every Tennessee Walking Horse show. Horse industry organizations used their own officials, with many, unfortunately, being a part of these cruel practices. Several states have banned soring but is still seen in Tennessee and parts of the southeast.
These questionable practices have stained Tennessee’s reputation for more than fifty years. Under the new law, the USDA will train and license inspectors to implement the procedures, banning the use of stacks, chains, and chemicals.
However, before Obama left office, the new horse soring regulations had not been published and are currently on hold by new President, Donald Trump. At present, the post of agriculture secretary is unconfirmed, but, hopefully, once filled, the ruling can move forward ending the barbaric practice endured by this unique and beautiful horse.