"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, September 28, 2009

RESEARCH - Padding and the Effect on Walking Horses

I was sent a couple of things from some friends about shoes, and after doing some further research, I ran across some excellent information that I believe clearly communicates why we should NOT stack our horses.

Now first, let's talk about the stacks themselves. Most people in the industry call them "pads" or a "package." I call them "stacks" because they are truly are that--stacks of pads made of leather, plastic, or aluminum or any combo thereof that are usually used for therapuedic reasons to protect the hoof. For example, I used to own a mare that wore pads on her front feet underneath her shoe. She used to be prone to stone bruises, so the pads protected her feet from this problem. Eventually my farrier found a hoof supplement that worked wonders for her, so she didn't have to wear them anymore.

With TWHs, these pads are stacked one on top of the other to create a Frankenstein-ish look so the horse is standing on several inches of these pads, as shown. The feet are cut at an unnatural angle with the heel low and the toe long so as to force the horse to "snatch" his foot up and fling it back out in front of him for more lift. This package cannot stay on the hoof all by itself, so metal bands are placed across the hoof and screwed to the sides of the stacks to keep the package on. Here is a video of how the package is put together. (PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT FLAME THE PERSON WHO MADE THIS VIDEO. He is doing nothing illegal here--just demonstrating how to do this.)

Now, there is nothing illegal about horses wearing pads. And it's not just the TWH industry that does it--Hackneys and Saddlebreds also wear pads and what they call "wedges." The wedges aren't nearly as tall as the TWH packages are. In 1986, a controlled study by the Auburn University (and I mean controlled by the TWH show industry) was done to see if the packages "hurt" the horses. They found that horses with packages are not under any stress and that a horse can wear chains around its pasterns up to 6 ozs without it causing pain. Of course, this was done without the horses being sored, and the horses used in the control were not studied over the long term as to whether or not it was a problem for them over time. The study did find that there is a higher incidence of thrush and laminitis in stacked horses, but that fact is usually hushed up. Of course, this study has never been published publically since the sore horse industry wants to continue to just quote only the good things that the study found, not the bad things. Click here for a good explanation of what the study found that you will not hear from the TWH show industry.

Many times you will be told by sore horse and stacked horse supporters that "it's no different than you wearing high heels." But there's a catch to that: when a woman (or man--hey, it happens) wears high heels, she can come home and take those high heels off. A TWH does not get to do that. He wears his pads 24/7 until he is retired from the show ring. He'll get them taken off for another trimming or to "fix" him in various ways to cause pain to the bottom of his foot for showing, but otherwise he wears them all the time.

Now, I don't know about you, but when I wear high heels, my feet hurt after just a couple of hours. So imagine being forced to wear them 24/7 AND you're a creature that does not sit or lie down for long periods--you stand for a good 23 of the 24 hours in a day.

What sparked this post was this article sent to me by a fellow blogger: The Quest to Conquer Laminitis. Most importantly, we can look at this chart: How Hoof Angle Affects Blood Flow. She said she sent it to me because the photos reminded her of the angles of a stacked horse's hooves. The vet who designed this machine in the photos is trying to understand how the blood flow in the hoof is working, because we know decreased blood flow causes laminitis. If he does a venogram of the horse's hoof, he can look at how the veins are working and be able to shoe and/or trim the horse correctly to increase the blood flow. Note that the photographs are of a sound, non-laminitic horse. When his hoof is tipped forward at 15 degrees, "there is increased loading of the heels and subsequently less blood flow in the bulbar vessels." So what does this mean? It means that the heel of the coffin bone is taking more of the weight while the blood flow is being cut off to the bulb part of the pastern.

Look familiar? The angle of the hoof in the photo of the stacked horse above is similar to the angle in the above linked chart. Plus, the horse in the photo has a longer toe and lower heel that the horse in the chart who has a normally trimmed hoof. This means the coffin bone is pointed in a more downward straight position for the stacked horse than the normally trimmed horse, most likely putting more stress on the bone itself. Now think about how the stacked horse is standing this way for 24/7. How in the world can a horse not be affected by this over the long term?

I think that this is something that the Sound Horse Conference and other groups can use to help end this grotesque image of our wonderful breed. If we can prove that yes, stacks over the long term are damaging, then perhaps we can get them included in the HPA. Maybe there is hope for an end to this after all....


Psychotic Raccoon said...

Thank you for posting this, it was very interesting. I wonder how Big Lick people would respond if they saw this? Probably either deny it (because they deny everything else even when there's proof) or not care at all. It makes perfect sense about the pads. That must be murder on their hocks as well.

I love it when they use the excuse that it's like wearing high heels. It just proves our point. Heels kill my feet after about an hour of standing.

Colste Stables said...

Nice Post! Mind if I link to it on Fosh's facebook page? P.S. Feel free to post a link to your blog there as well!

Anonymous said...

I agree, PR, and in fact, it was from a woman who used to sore her horses that pointed out the high heels thing to me: don't your feet hurt after a few hours in heels? It seems obvious, but because we just accept wearing high heels so many times people figure it's no big deal for the horses, either.

Go ahead and link to FOSH's facebook page, CS--that's what this info is for! I am currently working to find this doctor because I have some questions for him, so we'll see what we can find!

horsndogluvr said...

Oh, great. I hope you can get him interested enough to start researching stacks, pads, and long feet. Especially I hope for him to give a presentation to FOSH!



Anonymous said...

Actually, it would be better if he gave a presentation to WHOA, WHTA, TWHAC, and TWHBEA. They are the ones who still encourage stacks, so they are the ones who need to be educated. Those of us in FOSH and NWHA who have seen the after effects of horse that lived on stacks know they have lasting effects, whether the horse is sored or not.

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