"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

Monday, November 15, 2010

ARTICLE - Thoughts on the 2010 Sound Horse Conference

I am writing up a big post concerning what I have learned from this year's Sound Horse Conference. I have good news and bad news, but it's taking some time to gather all the correct information.

So in the meantime, these are articles written by two of my friends who attended the SHC. First is reprinted by permission from Edie Jeffas of One Horse At A Time, Inc., a small rescue group who is making a big difference in the lives of horses. One of the co-founders owns a TWH gelding Midnight's Stud Duck, who was the first place winner in the Beginner Novice Level 12 to 17 Youth division in the 2009 Three Phase Event. OHAAT dedicates a lot of their work to helping end soring.

The second is from Rose Miller, author of the wonderful book The Horse That Wouldn't Trot. Rose has become a personal friend and she sent me her article concerning her thoughts. I asked if I could post it and she said I could. Be sure to check out her book if you haven't already. It's well written and a wonderful real-life story, and is worth every penny!

Hopefully both of these posts will give you a first hand idea of how the 2010 SHC went and how more information is getting out there to educate the public about helping to stop soring. We still have a long way to go, though. More in my next post.

Sound Horse Conference 2010
By Edie Jeffas

Until a few years ago I had no idea the practice of soring existed. For those who don’t know what soring is, it is the practice of using chemicals and foreign objects to make the feet of a gaited horse hurt when they put pressure on their front feet. This results in a high stepping gait.

This practice has been illegal since 1970 when the Horse Protection Act was passed into law. 40 years later the horrid practice still continues.

The Sound Horse Conference was created to bring organizations together to address HOW to get rid of this practice once and for all. Some of the Organizations participating were the Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH), The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), USDA, Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Assoc. (TWHBEA), National Walking Horse Assoc (NWHA), and many others.

Speakers this year were from diverse backgrounds and presented topics on the new technology used by the USDA to detect various forms of soring, methods for training that don’t use a natural approach as opposed to mechanical means, second careers for show horses, the practice of pressure soring/shoeing and its debilitating results and how soring affects the lives of all involved with the horses that are victims. From the vets and farriers, to the trainers themselves. On the second day we heard from the judges perspective, learned what the racing industry is doing to improve their industry and how the Gaited Horse community can use similar methods to regulate themselves, had a presentation on how the Big Lick gait affects the entire horse through the use of thermography and the status of legal proceedings. We also heard a moving presentation from a trainer who once used soring practices and has changed his ways, bringing hope to all of those present.

As you can tell, this was a jam packed conference. So, what did this non-industry person take away from all this information?

First and foremost, there have been great strides, but there is still a long way to go to get rid of this horrible practice.

Why are people still soring their horses? One word, GREED.

Some claim it is so thoroughly entrenched in the culture that it won’t go away until the fans want it to go away. To a degree I agree, but I also don’t think the fans are aware of the damage being done to the horses just to get that high-step gait. All they know is they like the way a high-stepping horse looks. Personally, I don’t see how the grotesque movement of a Big Lick horse is seen as good looking, but to each his own. One presenter showed a video of Big Lick horses to his middle school special education students to show them what he used to do for a living. They all asked him what was wrong with the horses to make them walk like that. It was then he decided he needed to change his ways.

The damage done to the horses was illustrated by farriers, vets and trainers who work with these horses. Not only is there the obvious damage to the pasterns of the horses and their front feet, but also to their backs, necks and rear hocks as they struggle to carry themselves with their unnatural gait. It also affects the psyche of the horse. Imagine how depressing your life would be if you were kept in a stall, in pain, until you get pulled out to show. You may be drugged to get through the pre-show exam but you then are asked to perform in excruciating pain during the show. You then get sent back to your stall for the process to start over again. Is it no wonder so many are stressed out messes by the time they retire, if they live that long.

Some have said that if the Judges would quit rewarding ribbons to sored horses, all soring would end in 30 days. Hmmm, let’s look at what the judge is actually there to do. A judge is hired to choose the best of the group presented to him/her. To choose what best matches the standard set by whatever the governing body is for that show. Doesn’t matter if they are judging eggs, cars or horses, the job is the same. The are allowed to disqualify those that don’t come close to the ideal, but currently can not disqualify an entire class. They simply are not the ones to determine who is sore and who isn’t. They don’t have that skill set. They also don’t currently have a set of standards to judge.

Did you know there are 11 organizations involved in the showing of the Tennessee Walking Horse? I didn’t. I knew of two, TWHBEA and NWHA. Can you imagine how much easier it would be if we could get all these organizations to agree to ONE set of standards, or better yet, have ONE governing body over all shows!

If you have a ring full of sored horses, and can’t disqualify all of them, you have to pick a sored horse to win. It isn’t easy for a judge to do, but they have a job and have to put their personal feelings aside to do that job well. They also have to have the full support of the governing body. If they are challenged by an exhibitor or owner, they need to be 100% sure they will have their decision supported by the governing body. Right now they don’t have that assurance.

Who’s responsibility is it then, to identify sored horses and penalize those who sore? Ultimately it is the USDA’s. However, they can’t attend all the shows so there was a system of inspectors (DQP) chosen by the Horse Industry Organizations (HIO). Only problem with this system is that those inspectors are often in the pocket of a corrupt HIO. When the USDA would show up to do an inspection, violations increased dramatically over those when the DQP was acting alone. Clearly something has to change and it will be during the upcoming show season.

The attorney general’s office audited the USDA’s performance in regard to the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and found it lacking several things. I am not going to go over them here, but you can read the audit on the USDA’s web site.

During the 2010 show season there were 350 Horse Protection Act cases created! Out of 187 foreign substance tests, 107 have had positive results. Most of those for numbing agents.

Out of a total of 9098 HPA violations, 4505 (50%) are repeat offenders. There are a total of 1157 individuals that are those repeat offenders!

What is the USDA doing about it and why is it taking so long? Apparently the biggest problem is getting irrefutable proof that soring took place. That is easier with the new technology being introduced, but then you have the case load of the USDA.

Progress is being made; it is just slow in coming. Hopefully with the changes being made to address the recommendations by the attorney general’s office, we will see more action taken at the show level. I’m afraid that the current system of disqualifying a sore horse from showing at that one show just does not keep people from soring. It also does nothing to help the poor horse!

Some trainers and farriers have already recognized the error of their ways. One of the most moving presentations was made by a well-known trainer with multiple HPA violations, who also happens to be the President of the Walking Horse Trainers Association. With pressure from members at the Sound Horse Conference mounting and the attendance at Big Lick shows dropping off, and a meeting with Our Lord Jesus, he has changed his ways. He has been working with a farrier to make his horses sound, even when showing with a Big Lick “package” on their feet. He was intrigued by one presenter’s suggestion of removable boots for those who insist on the Big Lick way of going and will be contacting boot manufacturers to see if this could be a reality. Has it been easy for him? NO! He has been getting flack from some of his peers, but he sleeps better at night knowing he is on the right path. It will take a while to learn new ways of doing things, but at least he was willing to attend the conference and tell us he was wrong for what he had done and to ask our help in this big step. He received a standing ovation and we are very happy to have Winky Groover as a testament to doing things the right way. His horses are still winning even without the help of soring!

What can we do to help?

In Kentucky, you can help pass legislation that makes soring a STATE crime. Stay tuned to the One Horse At A Time facebook page, website or forum for when this is brought back before the legislators.

Sign our anti-soring petition. This petition will be used to help push for more funding for the USDA’s program. Their funding has been static for the past 4 years! It will also be given to Walking Horse registries to show the public will NOT tolerate this practice and they need to get their membership to STOP!


Become a member of FOSH and help fund their incredible work on behalf of our gaited horses.


If you want to see what the Big Lick looks like you can start here. [I removed the example due to potential permission rights, but if you want to see it, just go to YouTube or any online free video website and search for Big Lick. There are also videos on the TWHBEA website.]


2010 FOSH Sound Horse Conference - Personal Thoughts
By Rose Miller

My friend Sara and I arrived in Louisville, KY in time to join the pre-conference workshops, and chose to attend the one for judges. Dr. Jim Heird, who officiated, was raised in TN, but currently is active in the Quarter Horse world as Chairman of the AQHA Show Committee. Because he knew all about TWH and the QH industry, his thoughts on judging were of interest. We have a saying that “Judges could put an end to the soring, if they would not place the sore ones.” He took exception to that saying that it isn’t the judges’ job, and a judge cannot tell for sure if one is sore. A lot of us took some exception to THAT, as a creepy crawly pleasure or big lick horse is sore. However, he had a valid point, and stated that QH are not to have their tails deadened,(so they cannot swish them while showing) but a judge cannot for tell for sure that one that carries his tail flat to his butt, is deadened. The gist to me was that all involved have to end the soring; it cannot all be placed on the judges. To be honest, fair and hopeful, I do believe in many cases the walking horse classes are better, and hopefully/perhaps it is harder to tell, and a judge could get in hot water if he were wrong. That brought the issue to the judges’ governing body. Would they stand behind a judges’ decision? My personal belief is that a judge can make a difference, and certainly could have stopped soring in early years of TWH showing when it began, but then as now, they would have all had to stand together in their opinions.

On Saturday another speaker who was a trainer and judge, Chris Messick, pointed out that the spectators are a big issue, and had us listen to a tape where a big lick horse was excused from this year’s celebration because the judges (GOOD FOR THEM) thought the horse was “bad image.” The crowd cheered loudly as the horse left the ring…and NOT because they were glad to see him go! So there are lots of folks responsible for soring and many will have to pull together to get rid of it. Spectators who are appalled at the big lick classes leave if they even go, so the ones left are the supporters.

A big deal for me personally at the Conference was the opportunity to gift several of my books: The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot (www.rosemiller.net) to some notable people. Senator Tydings and his quietly elegant and gracious companion Helen attended the Judging workshop. It was told to me that Senator Tydings was incensed when told that soring was continuing. “It is against the LAW!” he responded. (The law that he was responsible for getting passed was 40 years ago.) Ah yes….

After the Thursday evening work shop ended, I had my chance to give Helen one of my books, as she noticed me waiting while the Senator was talking to someone else. I thought I would simply give it to her and she would later give it to him, but she tugged on his arm and he turned to me! So, I was able to thank him personally for the 1970 Horse Protection Act he sponsored and got into law, to help both the wild horses and the Tennessee Walking Horses. I could tell the fact the horses were still being abused weighed heavily on him, as he asked me, “Do you think it is better?” I am no expert, but I told him I thought it is better, but certainly not gone. As the seminar went along, I know he got his answer because I saw him later and he commented, “It is better…” Friday morning, the first day of the actual Seminar, I again saw Helen. She gave me a big smile and said she hadn’t quite finished reading the book. Since it is a woman’s story, she might enjoy it more than Senator Tydings if he ever has time to read it. I found Helen a most gracious lady.

The next morning I grabbed the opportunity to give a book to Rick Lamb who was the Master of Ceremonies. Rick is a popular horse education and has earned national awards and fans from his radio and television appearances. I hope he has time to read it.

Of course, the “Main Event” for me was Madeleine Pickens http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_A._Pickens (wife of T. Boone Pickens http://www.boonepickens.com/) who was the Friday luncheon keynote speaker. She was introduced by Senator Tydings and had been accompanied by T. Boone. She told about her effort to save the mustangs and give them a permanent home on their personal acreage. http://www.madeleinepickens.com/sanctuary-qa/ Please check out her site and note how you can also help the wild horses.

It was clear to see that Madeleine and T. Boone were very much a loving couple and supported the betterment of animals. During Katrina Hurricane she was instrumental in helping many deserted and desperate cats and dogs. They were very involved with ending horse slaughter and now are working on forbidding transportation of the horses to Mexico for slaughter. Yeah!! Now, of course, you know I sure wanted to give HER a copy of my book, but I was a little daunted by the idea of getting close enough to do it. I had asked Lori Northrup, FOSH President who put on the Sound Horse Conference, if it would be ok to give the books, and got the go ahead. During a quick break before Madeleine spoke, Lori’s husband Bill escorted me over to where Madeleine was speaking to Helen. Wow! I stood there for a couple of minutes and then Madeleine looked at me. I found my voice and said that I would like to give her my book which was my small effort to help horses, to thank her for all her work for the horses. She said, “There are no small efforts, everything counts.” Then she asked me if I had autographed it, and you can bet that I had! I would rather meet her than any movie star. (Well, maybe Harrison Ford…) By that time on Friday I had given 3 of my 4 books, and was content. I could have gone home then and been happy. But more good stuff was on the way.

We heard more from various trainers, veterinarians, farriers, and judges on the good and the bad still happening. One of the very bad is still the pressure shoeing. It is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s front hooves in order to achieve an accentuated gait for the show ring. It is said to be on the rise since it is more difficult to detect. This is one of the awful things I encountered when I showed Praise Hallelujah in the late 90s. It is worse because unlike painting the ankle area with a caustic material, the pressure pain never lets up. I take my hat off to Tommy Hall and the International Horse Show (the one I used to love in the 90s, but quit because of all the sored pleasure horses). They had exhibitors sign a release that the show could pull off the shoes of any winner if they desired, to check for illegal pressure shoeing. Some left (good riddance). Events such as this give me hope that indeed something can be done to stop this abuse. It comes down to determined people.

Friday evening we all were treated to another good dinner buffet and horse demonstrations in the Louisville Equestrian Center. Suzanne De Laurentis demonstrated horses doing tricks at liberty. Sheryl Crow donated her trained horse, Lady C, to FOSH for demonstrations, and Lady C performed for us. http://www.twhbea.com/voice/Features/LAdyC.htm The horses stood on platforms, some small, some larger, side passed or turned around on them. I think I would love to do that (with a SMALL platform). Mary Ann Kennedy is a Grammy-nominated hit songwriter from Nashville who creates music that celebrates the horse. She sang some of her songs (live!) while we watched the horses. She was the other person I wanted to gift one of my books to, and the next day had my chance. She generously gave me 2 of her music CDs. www.maryannkennedy.com She is very concerned and involved with horse/animal rescue. Here is another link to see the evening performance (Compliments of Lori and FOSH!). http://www.nashvillenewzine.com

Other clinicians (Larry Whitesell, Diane Sept and Buddy Brewer) gave demonstrations of sound happy training practices insuring contented horses. Ivory Pal, a beautiful Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse stallion and Rafael Valle gave a riding exhibition.

The next day was Saturday and a lot of talk was about ZENYETTA!!!! We hoped we would get to see her final race on television (we were finished by then and did). We shared our Holiday Inn Hotel with many race fans that had flown into town to see her in person. She is a splendid lady. Now that she is retired, maybe she will present all her followers and adoring fans with a colt that might just win the Triple Crown…who know? Then maybe a movie will be made about this magnificent mare!

It was plain to see that the speakers were passionately against soring and other abuses and the fact that even when caught, seldom is there a significant punishment. Gary Lane, a former Kentucky State Police officer, author of Training the Gaited Horse, and clinician, stated adamantly that when he was an officer he never pulled over a speeder and gave him a blue ribbon! http://www.windsweptstables.net/Book-and-DVD-sales.html

The conclusion of the weekend’s events (next to Madeleine Pickens talk) was a high point of the Conference for me. It was: A Story of Change, and Winky Groover was the speaker. Anyone knowing Tennessee Walkers, trainers and shows would know of Winky (and his dad, Wink Groover). I was most interested to hear what this big lick trainer would have to say. Winky began his speech with the disclaimer that he was not a public speaker and was scared to death to be there. He said he didn’t know how his presence would be received, but wanted to come anyway. He said he was going to read his speech, and began by saying, “During my life I have done about everything wrong that one could as a trainer and a person. Yes, I have served suspensions for those acts. I am sorry for the hurt I have caused horses as a trainer and I’m sorry for the grief that I caused family members, customers, and friends as a person. I have a past that I am not proud of, but with the help of many, I made a decision to change my life and training techniques.” It was a good talk from the soul. When finished, he received a standing ovation for his honesty and yes, bravery, to come before a group of SOUND horse folks who detest the sore/abusive horse training, and stand and be counted as “one of us.”

Next time we had a break and I hustled over to him. “Can you really have a big lick show horse and not sore it?” I asked. He answered that one could indeed. It takes a really talented horse, but it can be done. Trying to make not so talented horses into world champions is part of the “why” of soring. Winky is president of the Walking Horse Trainers Association and before I left home I had received a phone call from another member asking me if I would donate a copy of The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot to their Annual Banquet and Convention auction in December. I had a good laugh. Did this person KNOW what my book was about???? I told Winky about the call and told him the book was about my life with Walking Horses, but it was against soring, as I had seen it as I showed my horses in the 90s. I mentioned that I had waited until ‘09 Celebration to publish my book so I could say “all is well, soring is on its way out,” but I couldn’t say that. I could say it was somewhat improved, however. Did he still want a copy? “Yes, Ma’m I would,” he replied. And would he like a personal copy? “Yes, Ma’m, I would.” Well ok then, off I went to get 2 autographed copies. I hope he indeed reads his. I had been told by several folks in the know that some trainers really would love to stop soring, or abusive training. He surely sounded like one of them.

The final speaker was Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the United States who oversees the domestic horse welfare programs for the nation’s largest animal welfare organization. He spoke about the future of the Walking Horse, and among other statements noted that the Saddlebred horses do not invoke the kind of intense dislike and disgust (although they are not without problems either) that the big lick Tennessee Walking Horses do. Perhaps smaller pads, no action devices (chains) around the ankles and a horse performing to a lesser degree would be a start. Films could be made of horses such as these and the trainers told to limit their gaits to this standard. It sounded like a hopeful idea to me at least.

I applaud Lori Northrup and FOSH for the Sound Horse Conferences. I missed the first one, went to the second in FL with friend Ann because I wanted the latest on the soring issue for the final pages of The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot. There I met Pat and Linda Parelli, and Dr. Robert Miller, the vet who has written so many horse books, most famous for the foal imprinting books. Dr. Miller also endorsed The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot and Mules, Mules and More Mules www.rosemiller.net which will shortly be available for purchase. Naturally, that makes Dr. Miller very special to me.

With this third Conference I can see the forward movement in the anti-soring debate. It is encouraging, but only a good beginning. Still only a few shows can be attended by the USDA inspectors, the show inspectors can be lax or good. They still do a better job if the USDA inspectors are in attendance. If very good, exhibitors with sored horses pack up and go to one that is more lax, or even “wildcat” shows with no inspectors at all. Not all want to stop soring horses. You can help by writing your legislators asking them. After all, IT IS against the law!

There were 2 other things that stood out in my mind. One of the speakers said there were 2 things wrong with the Conference. One was that it should have been presented in front of thousands instead of the group present. I totally agree, and with that in mind, please feel free to share these thoughts with your friends.

Also, Winky Groover mentioned that both animals and people learn best by positive re-enforcement. With that in mind, I certainly wish to applaud and thank Mr. Groover and any other trainers (of which I sincerely hope there are many) that are willing to change their training methods for the betterment of the Tennessee Walking Horse!

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