The Tennessee Walking Horse Shows are basically of two different categories; the competitions are arranged as “flat shod” and “performance”. The flat shod horses are brought in with ordinary horseshoes, cannot be padded or equipped with other action devices and they are judged on the basis of brilliance, manner and manageability. The performance horses are allowed to be padded or “built up” and are judged on their exhibition of their remarkable animated gaits in every step by lifting their front legs high off the ground. Animal rights activists object to this kind of shows as they point out that the participant horses suffer something called the “Big Lick’ because of an illegal procedure of “soring” is administered on the animals.
Even though officials at the State Fair department have given assurance of keeping the horses off such harm’s way, a good number of horse lovers still wonder: will Tennessee Walking Horse Shows be safer for the horses? The fact that a horse is deliberately caused pain in order to perform in the show is still unknown to many spectators. Horses’ advocates at local and national levels have been investigating the means by which these horses are made to perform with unusually higher gaits. They found that chemicals (such as mustard oil or diesel fuel) are applied to ankles of some horses to cause soring by their trainers. When chain attached to the horseshoes rub against the sores, the horses get scared and make big jumps with their forelegs. In order to increase the pain, some trainers even stick nails between the horses’ hooves.
Calls for cancellation of these shows have been voiced by the HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) and the AAWHA (All-American Walking Horse Alliance). There has been a call for boycotting the State Fair during the Tennessee Walking Horse Shows. A petition called “Change.org” initiated by Michelle Disney of Raleigh was successful in collecting 5700 signatures of horse lovers. The petition is addressed to Steve Troxler, the state Agriculture Commissioner and Wesley Wyatt, the fair manager. The petition is a campaign against the inhumane practice of soring the horses and letting them perform on the basis of their natural gaits. The State Fair officials have allowed hired inspectors to check for any soring and if found, those horses will be disqualified.
This year, 66 horses were admitted to the show and they were said to have been thoroughly inspected by the Heart of America Walking Horse Association. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says that the organization has been recently decertified as a qualifying inspecting body. Manager of the Walking Horse show, Sheri Bridges, however, says that she was unaware of the process that decertified the organization.
No matter how much inspection is done and which procedure is followed, there is always a possibility that some trainers will keep “soring” the horses secretly that may not even be detected. It is rather more important to raise the awareness about the inhumane practice that has been going on to make these horses perform better at the shows. That will be a more effective way of making the Tennessee Walking Horse Shows safer for horses.
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