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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.

-Albert Schweitzer-

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 soring.

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 limits)

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 Colic.

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 sound groups.

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
Staff Writer

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 weekend.

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 unsuccessful.
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

And Another...

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!

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