"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
Thursday, May 31, 2012
GUEST BLOGGER - Still Painful After All These Years
Our next guest blogger is Laurie Sain. Laurie's point of view is vital to the current TWH industry, for people like her are now learning that nothing has changed to end soring in the industry, and are speaking out about what they've seen.
Still Painful After All These Years
I’ve been a horsewoman for 50 years. My sister and I began showing in small shows early, in the 1960s, since we lived in Southern California where few cattle drives or riding trails existed.
I clearly remember going to Open shows, where all breeds compete, and seeing the Tennessee Walking Horses, clumping along with their big, heavy pads.
In those days, the pads weren’t as extreme as today. But the rumors were whispered just the same: soring a horse’s pastern (like a human’s ankle) with chemicals, then placing huge, heavy chains that would spark the horse to lift its feet because of the pain. Driving nails into the horse’s hoof sole, to hit the nerves and make it even more painful to put the foot down. All covered with clever little pastern boots, so no one would see.
And all to get those big, scared-looking horses to pick up their front feet. The sound of the huge weighted pads hitting the ground reminded us of Frankenstein trying to do ballet, especially next to the trim, round feet of our little Arabians.
Years passed, and we left the Open show circuit. But we heard the horrors of the 60s and 70s were over: soring had stopped. They were no longer torturing the horses. Sure, the “Big Lick” horses – the ones who clomp along like Frankenstein—still circled the show ring in a weird caricature of the breed’s beautiful, natural gait. But the pain had stopped.
I wanted to believe this. I did believe it. Then, recently, ABCNews showed its video of cruelty at the hands of “trainer” McConnell. Somehow, I made myself watch; somehow, after a day of crying, I knew I had to write.
Left to their natural way of going, Tennessee Walking Horses are lovely, calm, smart trail and riding horses whose smooth gaits make life easy for their riders. At the hands of McConnell and Company, they are fearful, tortured animals, forced into an artificial movement that still looks and sounds like a monster. And the only way to do it is via the methods ABCNews and the Humane Society of the United States had the courage to expose. Because no horse will do "The Big Lick" of its own intension. It's too unnatural, hard on the horse, and useless as a gait anywhere but the show ring.
All the “Big Lick” Tennessee Walking Horse associations and organizations associated with the TWH so-called “Celebration” – their national competition – claim McConnell is a “bad egg,” definitely not the “tip of the iceberg,” and that soring has stopped.
If that’s so, how is it that McConnell learned these techniques? Who taught him? How has he continued to train and show despite multiple violations of the national Horse Protection Act that prohibits soring? If he is the only one, why is he winning? Why did 52 out of 52 randomly tested entrants at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration test positive for banned substances on their pasterns? Were they all McConnell “trained” horses?
McConnell is not working in a vacuum – not with techniques like these. If he were the only one, any other trainer would have long since cried out for those who cannot protect themselves: the horses. Any handler would have protested putting an animal in so much pain that it can’t stand up in its own stall. Any show competitor would have called foul against “stewarding” – hitting a horse with more pain via a board to the head or a cattle prod to the neck, so it wouldn’t flinch when its painful, sored pasterns were touched.
The silence condemns the Big Lick industry—trainers, riders, and owners—more than any protestations. Don’t kid yourself: McConnell is not an “isolated bad egg.” He is the tip of an iceberg, one that I only hope we can all uncover. So that, one day, all Tennessee Walking Horses can stand up in their stalls, pain-free, just to smell the air, like any other horse.
~ Laurie Sain
Laurie Sain has ridden and trained horses since childhood, and now enjoys training dressage to her 22-year-old Arabian gelding and 13-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare. Both also ride in the mountains on their days off from training. She also paints horses in various media, and is a professional writer and editor. To contact her, visit www.lauriesain.com/art.
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- UPDATE 5/24/2012: HOW YOU CAN HELP and THANK YOU
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