"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, March 12, 2011

RESEARCH - How to Stop Soring From an Amateur's Point of View

I have it on good authority that the USDA is working on the issues with the HIOs who have not accepted the new penalty structure. However I don't have any definite information, whether about decertification or not.

Until then, I've decided to write a post I've been planning to write for a long time. This post is based on over 13 years of experience in the TWH show world, and it's based on extensive research and my observations of sore horses, sound horses, the techniques and work used to train both sore and sound horses, and my experiences with different types of people who own and show TWHs. This is also my opinion only, but I hope that the facts I present shed light on what is truly going on within the TWH industry.

How To Stop Soring From an Amateur's Point of View

The following is a short list of ways I believe soring can be stopped. Here's the deal: this is a cultural and mental situation. The law continues to be broken because first, these people believe that because it's tradition then it's okay to treat horses like this, and second, they don't believe that the law is being seriously enforced, so they can continue to break it without consequences. Therefore, reform within the industry is not going to happen. It needs to come from the enforcers themselves, and that means the USDA.

First, let's look at this text, directly from the HPA:



Sec. 1827. Utilization of personnel of Department of Agriculture and officers and employees of consenting States; technical and other nonfinancial assistance to State

(a) Assistance from Department of Agriculture and States

The Secretary, in carrying out the provisions of this chapter, shall utilize, to the maximum extent practicable, the existing personnel and facilities of the Department of Agriculture. The Secretary is further authorized to utilize the officers and employees of any State, with its consent, and with or without reimbursement, to assist him in carrying out the provisions of this chapter.

Sec. 1828. Rules and regulations

The Secretary is authorized to issue such rules and regulations as he deems necessary to carry out the provisions of this chapter.

This means that the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture can give permission to the USDA to make rules and regulations and use its employees as much as possible to enforce the HPA. Therefore, the USDA can do any of the following to affectively end soring as other sound HIOs have done.

1. Take away the tools used to sore horses. Outlaw pads, chains, and bands in the show ring and completely restrict the shoe size and shoe material used.

Used with permission from the USDA

In this x-ray, nails were used to add weight to the horse's stacks to force him to lift and reach higher. You can really see the excess of nails in the back of the hoof, which will make the horse lift higher and flick his feet out in front of him more.

One of the more popular forms of soring horses is to use mechanical means known as pressure shoeing. This can involve sanding down the horse's foot until just beads of blood are showing up, then inserting something between the pad and the horse's hoof that will put pressure on the horse and cause pain. Bands are used to hold the shoe on and can be tightened to where the pain is horrible for the animal. More forms of pressure shoeing can be read about here--scroll down to the tan colored box.

Here are the results of bands that are too tight and shoes that were too heavy.

Via the Internet--cannot find the website these were from

Used with permission from the USDA listening session presentation in 2005

Obviously, these horses were put down as their hooves were completely sheared off. Unfortunately, this happens more often than anyone would like to see, but it is hidden by the industry. I know some people who went to a show in 2005 and witnessed a horse's hoof come off during a class. They said blood was everywhere, but the rider calmly walked away from the horse. The class was stopped, a truck was brought in to take the horse out, and it was put down behind the show buildings. The class continued on as usual. No one said a word, no shock waves through the audience--in fact, the audience continued to chat as if the class had been stopped for a quick tack adjustment. The people I knew were horrified by this obvious disregard of the horse's well being, but they were told it was no big deal, that it happens a lot.

Overall, outlawing these items is extremely easy to do--NWHA and FOSH have already done this in their rulebooks and they have 100% sound shows. Violations to the HPA that occur within these two groups are extremely rare in being related to soring horses but are usually related to other issues, such as indebtedness to show management or other such non-sore violations.

Now, I think we all know that while this is a very easy solution, this may not happen because no study has been doing that has covered the long term effects of a horse wearing stacks/pads. While there are hundreds of people out there who have rehabbed formerly stacked horses and we know the repercussions of what they are, most people within the industry are going to continue to deny there is any lasting effect because they don't want people to know about it. Therefore, I propose this...

2. Pay attention to the real results of the Auburn Study and do another study like it with unbiased vets. For those who don't know, the Auburn Study was done in September 1978 through December of 1982 to study the results of using chains in the show ring using thermography to show where the heat signatures indicated pain. It was determined that both 10 oz and 8 oz chains caused pain and inflammation. So the rulebooks were changed so that nothing heavier than a 6 oz chain is to be used in the show ring (but of course, this rule is violated a lot.)


In this photo, devices known as rollers are being used. Most likely the rings are made of heavy steel and are above the weight limit of 6 ozs. This photo was taken in 2005.

However, here are the results from the Auburn Study that the industry continues to ignore.

‎"Attached are some questions we asked of our farrier and four clinic veterinarians who devote their professional time almost exclusively to equines. They all answered `yes' to the first two questions and suggested sheared heels, quarter cracks, and laminitis as other abnormalities of the forefeet of Tennessee Walking Horses shod with conventional pads. They all answered `yes' to the fourth question, giving their reason that they could not adequately examine the feet unless the sole was exposed.

R.S. Sharman, DVM
Assistant Professor

1. Do you associate , from your observation, increased incidence of thrush with pads covering the sole of horses hooves?
2. Contracted Heels?
3. Other abnormalities?
4. Would you consider it necessary to remove pads and shoes from a horse to do an adequate foot examination? Why?"

The Auburn Study was bought and paid for by the sore horse industry to help back up their claims that the pads and chains don't hurt the horse. This study is frequently referred to by those who continue to support the Big Lick and padded horses, but they conveniently leave out the above information from Dr. Sharman.

Since the AAEP wrote the White Paper, they would be a great place to start. What we need is a true study by vets who are not part of the TWH industry (sound or sore) on how chains affect a horse, no matter what the weight is. Have them go look at BL horses at sales (anonymously, of course) and see how their feet when they’re taken off stacks really are, and x-rays these horses. Check out the plantation horses too—look for long toes and sheered heels, and x-ray them as well.

Illegal long toes. This can also be achieved by applying an epoxy to the hoof to extend it further. This photo was taken at an SSHBEA show.

3. Get rid of HIOs, have only VMOs do inspections, and implement a national TWH rulebook. This would cut down on the amount of TWH shows immensely. The TWH industry is quite possibly the only industry that has weekly shows during the show season. This means that horses are forced to wear heavy shoes, pads, etc. 24/7 so they are ready for shows on Friday and Saturday nights. These animals are extremely overworked for the type of showing they do, and since most of them are sored to make it easy to put them in the ring, they don't receive proper exercise to build up their muscles to learn how to carry both a heavy rider and the heavy shoes properly. So, having to pay for and bring in VMOs will cut down the number of shows as there won't be an "in" with crooked DQPs for bringing in the sore horses anymore.

Now, we all know that "outlaw" or "wildcat" shows will go on. However, because they won't be affiliated, the USDA can easily come in and shut them down and fine the show management a hefty fine for not following the law. The USDA will benefit from the money coming in from having to have VMOs paid for their services, so that money can continue to be used to attend the sore shows.

If the USDA needs an international TWH rulebook, then NWHA is the perfect model for this. NWHA's membership has been accepted accepted by USEF, which means their show rulebook is being considered to be their model for or the official rulebook for TWHs for the USEF. NWHA is the only TWH sound horse group that has accomplished this feat, for in the past, the USEF has shunned the TWH industry because of the abuse. NWHA's dressage rules have also accepted by the USDF as the official dressage rules for gaited horses. Plus, it has been proven that NWHA tends to be the sound horse group of choice for people who go away from the sore HIOs because owners and exhibitors who like more animation can easily follow NWHA's rules. NWHA has taken some amazing steps to get the TWH more recognized as a horse that is perfectly capable of being shown sound, and it's beginning to really become more prominent, especially since NWHA was invited to the WEGs to perform.

There's what my personal research has come to--three simple steps that can stop this abuse for good. Ending soring is easy if only the USDA will do it. Be sure to send in your letters to let the USDA know how you feel and that you want this to end now. If anyone has other ideas, please let me know--we all need to hear suggestions that are out there when it comes to stopping this horrific form of abuse.


Anonymous said...

I received this message via email:

I believe you are mis-informed about the nails in the x-ray picture - while excessive, the nails are to keep the "package" together - it is "one unit" and is then nailed to the "nail on pad" which has been nailed to the hoof [see the long nail in the very front directed from the toe toward the ground and at the heel]. The nail on pad is attached to the hoof like a shoe. If "weight" is wanted, it is usually accomplished by simply nailing a piece of lead to the bottom of the package - it is not done with "nails." Pieces of "lead" for this purpose are sold at most tack shops.

I have been involved in the TWH business for 40+ years, am a strong advocate of the "compliant" horse, and never known of any TWH being "put down" due to a hoof breaking off as you state. Usually when a hoof is broken like this it is from the back foot striking the front shoe, i.e., coming down on the back of the front shoe and pulling it off. I haven't seen this happen in years as shoeing techniques have changed. A horse will grow a new hoof in a year - there are products like those made by "VETTEC" for use on broken hooves, contracted heels, flat footed horses, etc. - conditions that are common in all breeds; please check out their web site and products. The F&Q area will direct you to videos of the use of their products and please note - the horses used in these demos are not padded TWHs, i.e., these problems are not breed specific.

"Pressure Shoeing" is perhaps the most horrible practice I know of, and contrary to rumor, is not a "wide spread" practice. Personally, I use the Vettec Equi-Pak-Soft between the pad and hoof and, like most TWH, the bottom of the package is "rubber" tire material.

There will always be those that "cheat" as there will always be drunk drivers, etc. The inspection process we have is "subjective" at best. But I assure you, the majority of owners want/demand "compliant" horses.

I commend you on your interest and research and strongly suggest that you visit the training barn of Winky Groover - Lorie did - for some first hand experience. They tried to take a current World Champion performance horse from the barn to the 2010 Sound Horse Conference but this was rejected.

We are, to my knowledge, the only breed that crowns a World Champion "Classic" horse each year. A "Classic" horse is a performance horse that is 15 years old or older. If you check last years Celebration you will find that the Classic horses competing had extensive show records starting when they were 3 years old, and most held World Championships throughout their careers, the oldest was 22 - they all passed USDA inspection There were many "Classic" horses competing in other divisions throughout the Celebration and were announced as "Classic" horses when presented with their ribbons. This is an undisputable fact/testimonial of the care given to our horses.

Unfortunately there are many rumors, mis-information, and frustration by and between the Stakeholders of the industry, folks like yourself, and the USDA.

Respectfully submitted,
Kay Rountree

Anonymous said...

My response to the above message:

I don't have much to comment on except that what you've said is the same I hear from every other person out there who supports what is continuing to happen.

As far as the x-ray, I have heard from your side that the nails are to hold the pad on, I've heard from the USDA and those who used to sore horses that it's to add weight. The x-ray was taken by the USDA in 2007 to prove that weight is being added in this manner.

Just because you haven't heard of a hoof breaking off doesn't mean it hasn't happened. I have plenty of people who have sored horses in the past say they've witnessed it, and I know some folks who when they were first considering getting Performance horses saw it happen at a show in 2006. Obviously they did not buy a Performance horse after that.

Winky Groover has stated he's gone sound, and I commend him for that. I believe him and have no need to go to his barn--I am not interested in the Performance horse, nor do I want to watch it. I wish we would see more people in the industry stand up like that and be serious about ending soring. However, I also noticed that Winky was asked to leave his positions at the WHTA and SHOW. That to me also shows that the industry does not seriously want to end soring.

As for older horses showing, there are plenty of older horses being shown in other horse disciplines: Saddlebreds, Quarter Horses, etc. Dressage horses do the same, although they are trained up over many years of hard work and classical methods, and most truly are not fully trained until they're in their late teens--there is no such thing as a "finished" Dressage horse at two years old. But with the TWH, they are being forced into that unnatural position, so of course they can be shown late into their 20s. Any horse could when it's being forced to show a certain way.

In my opinion, I don't think bringing a Performance horse to the SHC would have helped. The horse would have been guaranteed to be sound--they certainly aren't going to bring a sore one. We all know that the Performance, Park, Plantation, even Pleasure horses can certainly be shown sound. But the goal is to end soring as per the law, and the horses that are continually being shown sore are those that wear pads, chains and bands. What I and many others want to see is the tools that are used to sore horses be taken away. This industry has had nearly 40 years to end this, and I think that's enough proof that they aren't going to do it themselves. They are full of excuses and lies and aren't willing to make changes. You say there will always be those who cheat, and you seem to think it's okay. However, we have proof with IWHA, NWHA and FOSH that soring can be completely eliminated, so there is no reason why the rest of the industry can't do it.

Overall, it is the industry's fault that the government is coming down on them, and if they're not willing to make a serious change, the the government will have to do it for them.

Thank you for your response. I appreciate it.

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