Soring Abuse in the Gaited Show World
There are some very important topics of Interest & Concern is the
horse world, many of them dirty, dark secrets. The are kept secret because
many horse people really just don’t want to know or do not actively
seek out issues that may affect them or horses around the world.
A Quotation We All Should Remember
Whenever an animal is forced into the service of men,
every one of us must be concerned for any suffering it bears on that account.
No one of us may permit any preventable pain to be inflicted,
even though the responsibility for that pain is not ours.
No one may appease his conscience by thinking that he
would be interfering in something that does not concern him.
No one may shut his eyes and think the pain, which is
therefore not visible to him, is non-existent.
Blue Ribbon Abuse
by Andrew Heet
Have you ever had your legs blistered with acid or
been beaten with a bat? If you can imagine such a situation, you might
wonder why anyone would do that to an animal and why the govern- ment
would allow it. In the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, conscientious
horse owners and trainers enjoy weekend gatherings for a little sociable
competition, although some other trainers and horses see a very disturbing
side of the show scene. Since the mid 1900’s, many Walking Horse trainers have
used cruel methods to get their horses to lift their front legs higher,
displaying an animated gait that helps them win in the show ring. After
34 years since federal legislation was passed to stop these inhumane training
methods, critics describe common activities within the Walking Horse show
industry of today to be both violent and illegal.
As many horse owners know, the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970 prohibits
the exhibition, sale, or transportation of a sored horse. Soring is the
application or injection of an irritating or blistering agent, internally
or externally, by a person to any limb of a horse.
When chemical irritants such as caustic mustard oil and diesel fuel are
applied to the front pasterns (lower leg) of a horse, the legs become very
sensitive, much like when a person has a bad sunburn. When the horse walks,
every step with the front hooves is painful. In response the horse lifts
its front legs higher to escape the pain of touching the ground. When bracelet-like
chains, a popular training device used at many shows, are placed on the
front legs in addition to chemical soring, the chains batter the sensitized
flesh with each step as the horse tries to climb up out of the pain. Chemical
soring and chains often cause open lesions and scars on the legs of horses.
Stacks, or pads as they are sometimes called, are another
of the common devices used to exaggerate gait. Typical stacks are layers
of pliable wedges, built up to 4 inches high, that are nailed to the bottom
of the front hooves to build the front end of the horse up higher. Stacks
look similar to large platform shoes and can cause inflammation and arthritis
according to the Auburn Study, conducted by Auburn University in Sept.
1978 – Dec. 1982.
The development of numerous techniques that create a painful relationship
of hoof-to-ground contact, made it obvious that the U.S. Dept of Agriculture
(USDA), charged with responsibility for enforcement of the Horse Protection
Act (HPA), needed to take serious action. Congress passed a 1976 amendment
to the HPA authorizing the formation of certified Horse Inspection Organizations
(HIO) to provide more efficient enforcement of the HPA. The HIOs hire horse
inspectors to inspect horses at shows to ensure the horses do not have
sored or scarred legs in violation of the HPA.
The new inspection process inspired optimism, but concerned Walking Horse
owners of the 70s and 80s began to wonder whether or not inspectors could
detect soreness in stewarded horses. Stewarding is a process in which trainers
beat their sored horses at the training barns or just before showing if
the horses react painfully to their legs being touched as they would during
inspections at shows. This teaches sore horses not to react to the inspection
process as they proceed in to the show ring undetected. One Walking Horse
groom recalled his experiences during an interview with A Current Affair
in 1987, saying that he has seen trainers steward horses by “chastising” them
with bats, sticks, and other objects.
A trend of past and present incidents has made it apparent that violent
acts are not only directed at horses, but also towards people who get in
the way. During the creation of CNN’s 1986 soring expose film, one
crew member who wandered into a stable area with a camera was allegedly
threatened by trainer Russ Thompson. The crew member claims that Thompson
said he would “hire the biggest, blackest son-of-a-bitch he could
find to tear his head off,” though Thompson later denied the episode.
A woman, too scared to have her identity revealed, when interviewed by
Madeline McFadden of Inside Edition in 1987 said that certain industry
personnel would kill anyone, and/or the horses of anyone who tries to expose
Many Walking Horse owners of today say they are skeptical of whether
or not the industry has cleaned up their act because of conflicts between
horse protection enforcement bodies. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture send
Veterinary Medical Officers to roughly 10% of shows. The VMOs oversee the
industry horse inspectors to make sure the horses are being inspected properly.
USDA statistics in their Horse Protection Enforcement report to congress
in 2000 ( www.aphis.usda.gov/ac/hpainfo.html)
illustrates that when VMOs go to shows to supervise the industry horse
inspectors, the inspectors detect 12 times the number of HPA violations
than they do when they are not being supervised by the VMOs. These statistics
show that the industry horse inspectors write up more violations when the
government is looking and less when they are not being supervised.
Failure of the industry horse inspectors to enforce the HPA is again
illustrated in the USDA 2000 report (pg.15) which states, “Last year,
92 horses were disqualified from showing due to what were called “non-HPA
violations.” Further review of the disqualifications showed the description
of the inspectors’ findings accurately depicted sore horses, yet
these horses were not ticketed for being sore.
The USDA also notes in this same report (pg.12) that VMOs had to request
the U.S. Marshals and law enforcement agents from the USDA’s Office
of the Inspector General accompany them to numerous shows due to threats
of violence against them. The USDA points out that similar intimidation
may have caused the low violation rate when the industry inspectors were
not being supervised. This suggests that some inspectors may be threatened
and intimidated in to not doing their jobs.
Aside from inadequate inspections, critics charge that some of the organizations
in the show industry have failed to make significant efforts to condemn
HPA violators. The Walking Horse Trainers Association, for example, celebrates
one trainer each year with a Trainer of the Year award. In the first 33
years of this award, 23 honorees had been ticketed for HPA violations.
Five of the violators were honored more than once. The 1997 Trainer of
the Year has had 14 violations between 1998 and 2002. The 2001 honoree
had a violation the same year he was awarded. Soring opponents insist that
trainers who have been cited as using illegal training methods should not
be celebrated with an award that compliments and encourages such behavior.
Some soring adversaries wonder why the show industry has failed to enforce
the HPA and why certain individuals and organizations seem to be trying
to prevent enforcement. The Nashville Tennesseean said it well in 1998
explaining that, “People currently serving on federal suspensions
are leaders in industry organizations and on boards. In this industry bad
apples don’t get thrown out of the barrel.” Benny Johnson,
who serves as a testament to this statement, was hired as the director
of inspection programs for the National Horse Show Regulatory Committee
from Feb. 1984 to Dec. of 1986. Johnson also served as an officer for the
Trainers Association and headed up the 1984 show committee. In 1987 Mr.
Johnson received an HPA violation and 2-week suspension. He went on to
receive a 6-week suspension for illegally trying to show a horse while
on his 2 week suspension.
Other examples of violators holding leading industry positions include
multiple presidents of the Walking Horse Trainers Association. As of 1998,
9 of the last 11 presidents of the WHTA had been on federal suspension
or had cases pending for exhibiting sore horses. Critics say that with
the lack of show industry commitment to abolish soring, the statistics
in the USDA 2000 report comes as no surprise. Of the horse events in 2000
that the USDA attended, incidence of pathological abnormalities indicative
of soring was detected in about 80% of stacked horses.
The USDA has tried in the past to take meaningful action to correct the
industry’s poor enforcement; these attempts have been repeatedly
thwarted by political pressure, including threats of budget cuts by certain
southern senators who sit on the Agriculture Appropriations Committee.
Some of these same senators receive campaign funds from Walking Horse industry
individuals and organizations. Many of the Walking Horse industry’s
political contributions can be found on the internet ( www.opensecrets.org).
Fortunately only 10% of Walking Horses are shown at industry-sponsored
shows, although this still amounts to many thousands of horses. Unfortunately,
the Tennessee Walking Horse industry has had the authority for over 28
years to stop soring through the inspection process. USDA supervision is
hindered by the same individuals that have had enforcement capabilities
delegated to them. The industry’s failure to even reasonably discourage
soring reveals their lack of responsibility and intention towards enforcement
of the HPA.
This political problem must be solved through congress putting pressure
on the USDA to enforce the HPA properly and an investigation and hearing
into the corruption of the industry before more horses suffer at the expense
of the industry’s profit.
Soring Abuse in the TWH Show World
Below is an article describing this horrible abuse to TWH by Bonnie Yeager
from the Sound Horse Organization. There was also a representative from
the SHO, Carl Curtis, who appeared as a guest on the If Your Horse Could
Talk radio show. It was the most emotional topic I've ever covered and
If Your Horse Could Talk is committed to getting this dirty secret out
to horse lovers everywhere. The show, #38 is
available via internet webcast. Also, please see info below about a book
named "From the Horse's Mouth" by Eugene Davis. Most emotional
and eye-opening book I've ever read. Please consider purchasing it through
the Sound Horse Organization at www.walkinghorse.org
Subject: Article on Soring
By: Bonnie A. Yeager
Most horses that are shown for ribbons, trophies, cash prizes etc. are
subjected to particular "types" of abuse. The Gaited Horse breeds
are victims of Chemical and/or Mechanical "Soring".
The Horse Protection Act was enacted in 1970 to protect ALL horses but
it came into being because of the atrocities committed upon the Tennessee
Walking Horse (atrocities committed to this day and which have "spread" to
other Gaited Breeds!)
Some of the Chemicals of choice by the Sorers include Mustard Oil, fuel
oil and other petroleum products, Collodian and Salicylic acid. These chemicals
cause terrible burning pain and inevitable scarring to pasterns, pockets,
coronet bands etc.
When the USDA/APHIS recognized this, they created the NO SCAR rule which
in turn drove the Sorers (who will NOT give up their abominable practices
even though they are breaking Federal Laws) to the use of Salicylic Acid
which is applied liberally to the scarred areas and literally "burns
off" the scarred skin while the horses lie in excruciating pain without
the benefit of anesthetic. This "new" skin (IF the horse survives)
is scar free but thickened and sparsely haired. Many horses, after this "treatment" have
open lesions and/or "scurfing" on their pasterns but are "passed" as "clean" by
the Sored-Horse Inspection Organizations when the USDA/APHIS is not present
at their shows.
note* The USDA/APHIS can afford to attend only 10% of the Horse Shows.
(The enforcement of the HPA has never been fully funded, even to the 1970
Mechanical Soring can be just as hideous and just as painful for the horses.
Stacks (up to 5" high and sometimes filled with wet sand for weight)
and chains are affixed to the front hooves (mostly after the horse has
been Chemically sored) causing the horse to snatch his painful front hooves
up off the ground and throw his weight onto the back of the spine, hips
and rear legs causing the "knee up the nose, butt dragging" image
of the Big Lick Show Horse.
Pressure Shoeing causes appalling pain and even some of the Sored-Horse
Trainers stop short of this despicable practice, though too many do not!
Road Foundering is a common practice before showing causing exactly the
amount of pain you would expect with "acute founder".
Heavy Plantation Shoes ("manhole covers" up to 60 oz. in weight)
accompanied by a Chemical "touch-up" and chains on already painful
areas, also produce the sought after but bastardized "gait".
Horses that are "Chemically sored" not only suffer instant pain
but can also be subject to Nervous System Disorders, sterility, genetic
mutations, spontaneous abortions, intestinal tumors etc. and most die from
Mechanical Soring, aside from the instantly produced pain, causes irreparable
damage in young horses to the tendons, knees, cerebral spine, hips, tendons
and hocks of the rear legs. Show horses are subjected to this torture from
as young as 14 mos. of age!!
The Show Careers of these unfortunate horses are short lived and these
horses have the highest mortality rates and the lowest insurable ages-up
to 12 years!
Bonnie A. Yeager
Sound Horse Organization
The Sound Horse Organization (SHO) is a non-profit, volunteer group of
horse lovers (no salaries to anyone) who work to provide education and
information regarding the chemical and mechanical soring of gaited show
horses and those farms, trainers, and breeders who would "sore it
on" or "nail it on" rather than breed it in.
A group that works contacting state and federal agencies and legislators,
sponsors sound shows, provides informative brochures and material for the
media, shows, sales, exhibitions and expos, as well as supporting of other
Any donation, no matter how small will contribute to someday ending this
abuse by educating horse lovers.
Please visit their website below and remember "From the Horses Mouth" is
available for purchase there. Although I couldn't put this book down, I
had to physically stop reading and control my emotions and tears. The story
exposes the awful truth behind the multi-billion dollar Tennessee Walking
Horse show industry, but told through the horse's eyes.
Another Disturbing Report:
[TWHCoalition] The Tennessean Report on Hohenwald
USDA investigating walking horse death at Hohenwald event
By JOHN GLENNON
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is looking into the death of a 2-year-old
walking horse at the J.M. Adcox Memorial Horse Show in Hohenwald over the
Ed Curlett, a spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service, said yesterday the organization is in the process of gathering
information on the incident, in order to determine whether there were any
violations of the Horse Protection Act.
''Sometimes it takes a while for these reports to get back to us,'' Curlett
said. ''But we should have everything shortly.'' The horse, named Silver
Dollar Sunrise, dropped dead in the middle of the amateur class competition,
according to Lonnie Messick of the National Horse Commission, which is
based in Shelbyville.
Messick said the horse had completed its first trip through the gates
and across the ring when the judge asked for a reverse of direction. ''At
that point, from what they tell me, the horse just sat back on its end
and fell over,'' said Messick, who wasn't present at the event.
Attempts yesterday to reach Walt Thompson, the manager of the show, were
Messick, who serves as the NHC's designated qualified person and executive
vice president, said the organization had one of its representatives inspect
all horses prior to the competition. ''Our people checked it and said it was
fine, that there were no problems,'' Messick said. ''Evidently, the horse didn't
appear to be sick or in pain. It looked like it was healthy.''
The horse had apparently changed ownership shortly before Saturday's competition,
as Bernie Duncan of Orlando, Fla., had purchased Silver Dollar Sunrise.
Messick said he was uncertain of the previous owner. There also seemed
to be a conflict of reports on the horse's trainer.
Messick said his reports indicated Michael Vandiver held the position, but
others familiar with walking horse competitions said the trainer was Tony Yokley
of Ethridge, Tenn. Yokley is currently serving a one-year suspension that won't
be complete until October, according to the USDA's Web site.
The USDA's Horse Protection Act is a federal law that prohibits horses
subjected to a process called soring from participating in exhibitions,
sales, shows or auctions. The act also prohibits drivers from hauling sored
horses across state lines to compete in shows.
Soring is a practice used to accentuate a horse's gait, and is accomplished
by irritating the forelegs through the injection or application of chemicals
or mechanical irritants.
BUT, here's some GOOD NEWS from the "Gaited World"
I agree - some of the things that are done are just terrible but please
understand that not all "gaited" horses are abused. Our Rocky
Mountain Horses are totally natural and gait up a storm the day they are
born. We do nothing to them and they are as smooth as glass! Thanks Lisa
Dr. Dan Moore
The Natural Horse Vet
Hey Lisa, I think I may have told you that my cousin Carol Camp-Tosh has
been a professional TN Walking horse trainer in Franklin TN for many many
years. You might know Carol from Parelli - she is getting her instructor's
certification with him. She introduced me to Parelli in about 1992. I had
nothing but TWHs as a kid and went to all the shows and showed my horses
as well as helping Carol. Although there a MANY bad eggs out there, not
all professional trainers (actually, not most) use these abusive approaches
in their training programs and by FAR the majority of owners do not use
abusive techniques, because the true TWH is a plantation horse, not a show
horse. I'm sure you know that but my concern is that you emphasize the
fact that only some are treated this way and it is done by the big wigs
which I could start naming off for you but they are common knowledge. I
agree with you that they should be stamped out and want the breed to prosper
as what it was meant to be - a superbly comfortable family companion. Personally
I believe the pads and the entire "show horse" mentality is a
form of abuse, so soring is simply an abomination IMO.
Carol has had a good bit of success but not only is she a woman, but she
does not adhere to the politics and does not associate with the abusive
types so she has never been the trainer riding atop a World Champion's
back. Fortuately her principals matter more to her than the ribbons, but
she definitely has her share of ribbons & titles.
There is a large movement of TN Walker trainers and owners who have been
fighting the soring practices for decades so it is nothing newly discovered
nor is it going unnoticed in the TWH community. There are several groups
out there including groups such as the Natural Walking Horse Association,
National Plantation Walking Horse and Carol was a founding member of a
group called Plantation Walking Horse Trainers (PWHT pronounced "P-what")
when I was a kid and they held their own shows etc. Be sure that as you
spread the word about the terrible side of a relatively small group (comparatively
speaking) of money hungry abusive trainers that you promote the truly wonderful
TWH owning majority out there!
Talk to you soon!
To listen to audio webcasts about this issue, click below and scroll down to Advocacy/Topics of Concern