"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Saturday, October 31, 2009

NEWS and ARTICLES - TWHBEA Will Not Exhibit at the 2010 WGC

Another victory for the sound horse! I am so happy the WEG chose NWHA to be the representative for the TWH breed. I also heard that The Jacksons and Champagne Watchout will be performing freestyle dressage at the WEG as well. So we will have a wonderful, TRUE representation of our naturally gaited TWHs at the WEG! CONGRATULATIONS, NWHA!
Click here for the article link
WEG picks natural walking horses for exhibits

Kentucky.com * Oct 30, 2009 * By Janet Patton - jpatton1@herald-leader.com

A controversial Tennessee Walking Horse group will not be allowed to participate in the Equine Village at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games after all.

Instead, the Games will highlight the National Walking Horse Association, which prohibits devices and practices that exaggerate the horse's natural gait.

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association had asked to participate in the exhibitions planned at the Kentucky Horse Park during the Games next fall and, according to WEG board chairman John Long, the WEG board had decided in December to allow them.

But last month, as the board was finalizing the list of participants, they changed plans and refunded the Tennessee Walking Horse group's $20,000 deposit instead, said Jamie Link, WEG 2010 Foundation chief executive officer.

"We recognized there is some controversy surrounding that breed. We made the decision that it's not in our best interest to provide a showcase for a controversy like this," Link said Thursday.

A small percentage of walking horses, which have a naturally smooth gait, are trained in a highly stylized high-stepping performance gait for competitions. This sometimes involves use of illegal devices and substances to make the horse's feet sore. These practices, known as "soring," are banned under the federal Horse Protection Act, enforced by the USDA.

The Tennessee Walking Horse group had agreed not to bring any walking horses in padded shoes or chains, and guaranteed none of the horses exhibited would be "sore."

But in the end WEG "went a different direction," Link said, although he emphasized that the board wants to support the Tennessee Walking Horse group's efforts to rehabilitate its image and reform training methods.

"Ultimately, we decided (the Tennessee Walking Horse Group) was just probably not the best fit," Link said. "We do want to showcase the walking horse because it's inherent to Kentucky's culture."

Fifty-three equine organizations and presenters will be part of the Equine Village. The exhibited breeds will range from Andalusians to Connemaras to Paso Finos.
All information regarding the Equine Village is available on the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Web site at www.alltechfeigames.com. Equine organizations seeking involvement in the Equine Village can contact Layson Griffin at layson.griffin@ky.gov or at 859-948-5919.

The World Games will take place at the Kentucky Horse Park from Sept. 25 to Oct. 10, 2010.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

NEWS - Western States Celebration Attended by USDA

I have fantastic news! I found out that the Western States Celebration, which was held in Mohave Valley, AZ the weekend of Oct 16-18, was shut down with the presence of the USDA!

The Western States Celebration has been going on for about three years now. It is advertised on the Tennessee Walking Horse Association of California's website as being in Laughlin, NV, but insiders have found out that it is actually in Mohave Valley, AZ, about a half hour south of Laughlin. They hold it at the Mojave Crossings Event Center. Mohave Valley is Native American Reservation land. The thought is that they are trying to hide this show from the Feds. There is no address or contact info listed on the website--only the class list.

The USDA showed up on Sunday, Oct 18. I was told that the main Big Lick trainer there tried to chase the USDA off, saying they have no jurisdiction because it is Native American Reservation land. The USDA had already looked into this, and yes, the Federal Government does have jurisdiction on Reservation land. While State laws are exempt, Federal laws aren't. But they went to the County Sheriff anyway, who of course confirmed this. So they came back to the show with the sheriff and everyone packed up and left.

Now, I do know this was a very, very sparsely attended show. Lots of classes were canceled, and there was usually only one horse per class, at the most three horses in a class. While this communicates to me that this type of showing is dying, the bad guys are still trying to keep it up, so it's important that if you hear about a BL show in your area to contact the USDA and let them know about it. Sometimes they already know, sometimes they don't, but better safe than sorry!

I sent the USDA an email thanking them for showing up at this show. I hope this sends a message to those trainers that they will find them no matter what, and it's time to stop this nonsense.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Story of a Show

This isn't research or information I've found that's new concerning the fight against soring. I just want to relate a story to all of you.

I went to visit a friend a few weeks ago, and we, both being against soring, decided to attend a horse show that was held by the Tennessee Walking Horse Association of California, which is known to still support the padded show circuit. It was free to get in, so we knew we weren't going to be putting our money into the system. No one knows who I am in that area, so I wasn't in any danger. She formerly sored her horses but has seen the error of her ways and now supports sound horses and sound horse groups, and they do know who she is, but no one really cares what she does anymore.

I saw this as a great opportunity. I was going to go to a show that was specifically a padded TWH show and that was attended and presided over by known HPA violators. I was going with someone who used to sore their horses. The show was also held in an extremely remote location that is not advertised on the TWHAC website, so no big chance of running into anyone I know there. Therefore, this was a chance to get to go with a former insider to see the workings of a show where the show management most likely believed no one knew what they were doing. Now, I have seen horses sored right in front of me before at shows here in AZ, but at the time I had no idea what I was looking at. Now I would be witnessing soring armed with the research and knowledge I have now, and I would be able to see how it all works.

What I saw was by far more shocking than the moment I first saw a horse on stacks. Knowledge is power, but it can also make things far more frightening then they were when we knew nothing.

There was a variety of classes, all with varied names. Park Performance, Park Pleasure, Lite-Shod, Lite-Shod Pleasure, Lite-Shod Specialty, Show Horse, Show Pleasure, and various trail and open classes. My friend explained to me that the tpe of class was based on the kinds of shoes the horses were wearing. Show horses are the big padded horses, while park horses have a heavy shoe with just one or two pads, and the lite-shod horses have just a "lite" shoe, which is ultimately large as well, larger than a normal shoe that most breeds wear in other horse events.

It became painfully--both for the horse physically and for me emotionally--obvious that in order to win the class, it didn't matter how even your horse's timing was, how fluid was his movement, if he had a head nod or not. No, the horses that were rewarded were those horses that were "doing the most," as in had the most action and movement. Once this was explained to me, I was able to mentally tie the classes pretty quickly. In one class that had two horses, one horse was very herky-jerky and laboring with difficulty, his back end crouching low, his hocks twisting violently, his knees lifting higher than his chest, each foot flinging out in front of him when he threw that leg out as if he were trying to shake his very hoof off. The other horse was fluid in it's movement with a head nod and wasn't laboring as much. But the herky-jerky horse won because he was "doing more." The more crouch and the higher the horses fling their legs, the more ribbons they got.

The way this arena was set up was to simulate what the USDA requires for the inspections. About 1/4 of the arena was sectioned off so there was a holding area. The horses were brought for inspection when entering the arena and then once inspected stayed in the holding area. This is so the DQP can keep an eye on them so no one does anything to them. It's also a nice spot to let the horses get used to being inside the indoor arena and to ride a little bit in there so they know what's going on and for the rider to see how they're going.

The DQP did his palpation work by the book, but that's all. He paid no mind to what was going on in the holding area, nor did he penalize anyone for standing around the DQP area and just hanging out. He allowed more than one person to handle the horse while he inspected. He didn't take much time in inspecting them--just grabbed a foot, palpated and dropped it, probably not holding the foot more than two seconds. I watched as the horses were inspected then brought over to stand and be resaddled and ridden. I watched several horses get "fixed" right in front of my very eyes. One horse got lead weights added to the bottom of his stacks to make him pick up his legs more. It was fascinating when they did it. First, they rode the horse and determined him not doing enough. They stopped and added the weights, and damn if that horse didn't start picking those legs up higher and crouching behind. Other horses were similarly messed with around their front feet, all right in front of the DQP, when nothing is supposed to be done with the horses once they've been inspected.

The crouching was horrible to watch. The back legs had to be kept in a spider-like position in order for them to hold the weight of the horse as he shifted his weight to keep it off his horribly pained front feet. The hocks would twist outward. It even sometimes looked as if at each step the horse took, he was actually landing on his cannons and fetlocks rather than his hoof. Sometimes the cannon bones were practically parallel to the ground.

The arena itself was in on the game as well. I'm not talking about those who run the arena, but how the arena was prepared for the show by request of the those who ran the show. There was hardly any arena footing on the concrete floor of the building. Some dirt had been sprinkled around, but they needed that floor to be hard so when the horse's hooves slapped against it, it would hurt and cause them to lift up their feet higher. The loud thudding and slapping of their hooves made it clear they were pretty much walking on the concrete and not soft, yielding arena dirt. Who knows how many of the horses were pressure shod in some way to make this even more effective. In fact, most of them were "tightrope walking" in the front. In order to more easily bear the weight in their front end, each foot would set down in the middle of the track the horse was on, effectively placing the leg directly underneath the horse's chest. The next foot would land directly in front of the track of the other foot. This gave the visual as if the horse were walking on a tightrope, having to place one foot in front of the other for balance.

In speaking about movement, very rarely did I see a true head nod on any of these horses. Because the pace is the desired gait for stacked horses because when you stack and sore them it squares them up, most of these horses were performing a stepping pace. Their head would nod, but it wasn't pronounced and you could see the side to side motion of the head as it nodded, a clear sign the horse was in a stepping pace. I also watched the footfalls, and none of them were an even four-beat gait: 1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4. Instead, they were the footsteps of a broken pace: 1-2, 3-4, 1-2, 3-4. This movement is against the rulebooks, which clearly state the horse must have a head nod and evenly timed gait.

The worst I saw was a 3 year old that was going in the stallions and geldings 3 yo class. A few classes before, I watched his rider and the trainer ride him, the trainer being a very fat man--probably close to 300 lbs--that should never have been sitting on such a small horse, let alone a 3 yo. The horse was obviously laboring and flinging his feet out in front of him. But for them, he just wasn't right. They brought him back to the side of the arena, and the groom walked up to the horse with a little bottle in his hand. He knelt down in front of the horse and put something on his pasterns. The horse rocked backwards onto his back legs in response. He even picked up one foot and put it back down when the stuff was applied. They left him standing for a moment, and then the groom "greased" him, which is standard language for putting a lubricant on the horse's pasterns so the chains don't rub the skin raw. While the grease is supposed to be one of three substances by HPA standards--glycerine, petroletum, or mineral oil--and is supposed to be provided by the DQP, this groom never went to the DQP for his grease that I saw. I was told by my friend that who's to say if his grease doesn't have a little kerosene or "croton oil" in it to add some pain to the horse. After they did this and put on the chains, the grotesque movement of this majestic animal got even more herky jerky. A couple of times I thought he was literally going to fall backwards onto his rump, he was trying so hard to get away from the pain.

As the horses rounded the arena, their wild eyes and laboring breaths told you they were in pain. These were not athletes as the stacked horse world will have you believe. These animals were obviously in pain and were scared. Even though the class would only last five minutes, each horse was bathed in sweat and breathing hard as he stood in the lineup. But their calm temperaments and fear kept them going. I don't really know what else could have.

While all this was bad, what got me the most and made my blood boil and tears sting my eyes was watching that 3 yo's owner rub on his face and kiss him as the groom attended to his feet. Yeah, you keep doing that, honey. Keep abusing that horse and keep smiling while he suffers so you can be in a one-horse class and win a $1.95 ribbon. Because that's what being successful in the sore horse industry is all about.

There is some good news in all of this. As far as I could tell, this show was only attended by two trainers and theirs and their clients' horses. Half the classes were canceled, and very rarely did a class have more than one horse. Only one class had two horses, and only one other had three. I got the impression that of the 10 or so people smattered throughout the stands, there were no outside spectators other than me and my friend. Spectators were families and friends of those showing, and there were few of those to say the least. We drove around back behind the arena to take a look at the show barns. There were only five trailers there and one promonent trainer's big rig. Only a small fraction of the stalls were taken. Compared to the 80+ RV spots taken and 100+ trailers brought to the 2009 NWHA Nationals, it was a very sorry sight indeed.

This tells me the industry is dying. First, they hold the show in a remote location, and most likely it's because they don't want the USDA to show up. They even lied about the location on their website and held the show in an area about a half hour away from the implied location. Second, with very few horses and spectators there, I can't imagine the trainers having a lot of horses in their barns. I believe that the increased pressure by the public and the increased information that is being brought to light were factors in the attendance of this show. The more people are educated about what's going on, the more they are going to think about whether or not this is the right thing to do. Even if they don't have a moral change of heart, they can at least understand that long toes and stacks are no longer desirable in the horse show world in general, and it can stop the more minds we change.

Of course, this does not mean we can let up. I am still going to write an email to the USDA detailing what I saw. While they cannot be punished after the fact, I want to let the USDA know that soring was rampant at this show. While I understand that going to a small show in the West is a waste of their time when there are hardly any horses there, it would have been nice to see this small show pack up and go home because the USDA arrived. So, as long as we keep the pressure on, then things are going to change. Keep your emails and letters flowing, and keep up the good fight. We can and will win this--it will just take dilligence and patience on our part!

Friday, October 2, 2009

HOW YOU CAN HELP - HSUS's American Horse Heritage Fund and TWH Page

We all get those envelopes in the mail with four-page long letters in font with an included envelope and several small cardstock "P.S." notes, telling us to save a child in some unknown third-world country for only 10 cents a day. I tend to get the animal ones, most notably from the and the since I have donated money to both in the past. No problem--it doesn't bother me, and hey, since they are usually accompanied by free return address labels or a magnetic notepad, I'm well stocked for the next 10 years of return address labels for sending out bills and birthday cards and paper for writing grocery lists!

I received a letter from the American Heritage Horse Fund two weeks ago, and this one caught my eye because the letter was specifically geared toward educating the public about soring. I was really glad to read this--it's so important to get the info out to the public. I'm sure this letter reached a lot of people who have no idea what's happening to the TWH.

Now, I can't find any info about the AHHF on the HSUS website, although they do claim that they are a part of their organization. When I googled American horse Herigate Fund, I only found a Facebook page for it. So I'm not positive of how legit the group is. However, there is a good idea included with this letter. There is a letter to the USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that you can conveniently send back with your donation. I figured I'd post what they wrote here. If you didn't receive the AHHF letter, then you can at least modify this text for yourself to send on to Sec. Vilsack. Click here for the contact info page for the USDA.

It is unconscionable that the Tennessee Walking Horse industry consistently resists and attempts to block aggressive enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to eliminate soring of horses by chemical, mechanical or other means, all for entertainment and profit.

Tennessee Walking Horses, and other gaited horses, need the commitment of the USDA to enforce existing laws and to protect them from unnatural suffering and pain simply for the sake of profit and entertainment.

Please give the Horse Protection Act the support it needs to ensure that sored horses are not allowed to exhibit. Don't let the industry negotiate or dictate the terms under which it operates; the law and humane treatment of horses should not be negotiable.


Your Name Here

Also of note, the HSUS has opened up a webpage specifically for the TWH. Click here to see it. This is great--it's prominently displayed through their Horses link at the top of the page, so our message will continue to get out there. Be sure to help spread the word--forward this page to all your horsey friends!

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