Stories of life on our farm in Northwest Georgia where every day is an adventure in this beautiful spot that God has entrusted to our stewardship.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Soring Controversy

On May 17, 2012, the Humane Society released a shocking video of Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell's abusive practices toward horses under his care, including soring.  This video is heart-breaking, but important.  It led to the first real crackdown in the almost 40 years since the Horse Protection Act was voted into law.  If you have ever owned or ridden a horse or even admired a photo of a beautiful horse, say "thank you" to that horse by watching this video:

Humane Society video

As a teenager (many years ago in the early '70's) I was privileged to ride a Tennessee Walking Horse stallion in a field near my home.  I'd been on quite a few horses, but never one that moved like that.  I never forgot Gold Son.

In 2001 when we moved from France to Tennessee and I was ready to replace my beloved Camargue that I had to leave behind, I knew I wanted a Tennessee Walking Horse.  One weekend in October Herb, Kara and I drove up to Walking Horse country near Shelbyville, TN.  Over the weekend we visited 7 or 8 stables.  I found my Angel in the second one we visited, but I kept "shopping" to be sure.

Kara greets Angel at the training barn.  We named her Angel for her affectionate nature.

Early on we realized there was a Great Divide between "flat shod" horses and "padded" horses.  At the barn where I found Angel (registered as Coppertop's Delight), all their horses were flat shod.  The trainer explained to us that his horses gaited naturally without needing pads and chains.     

As the weekend wore on, it seemed like we were going downhill in the quality of the barns we saw.  Some were more like horse traders' backyard barns than training barns.  And then we arrived at a well-maintained barn with classy stalls.  It looked promising.  While we waited for someone to talk to us we walked around greeting the horses in their stalls, as we had done in other barns.  In one stall stood a young horse.  We reached our hands in and chirped to him, but unlike other friendly Walkers we had met, this horse just stood still.  He stretched his nose toward us but refused to move, standing there shivering.  And then I saw the big pads and chains that were partially hidden by the shavings, and I realized that the horse was in so much pain that he would not even step up for a pat, although his reaching nose showed that he wanted to.  "Let's get out of here!" I exclaimed, and we did.

At the time I blamed the pads and chains for the horse's pain.  Now I know differently.

Kara rides flat shod Angel at a running walk in 2001.  The blur of her hooves shows how fast she's moving.

In this video Gaye DeRusso demonstrates the Tennessee Walking Horse's natural gaits.  (Ignore the step pace; many Walkers do it, but it's not a desired gait according to the breed standards.)  The running walk looks the same as the flat walk, but it's more collected and also faster.

Walking Horses canter, too.  In this video the blue roan gelding Lucas shows the rocking chair canter (you might want to fast forward past some of the trail ride at the beginning--it gets a bit long.  Notice, however, that the horse's rider is filming from the saddle with very little shake to the video.  All of the shake is in the horse's head!)

I ride Angel at Lonnie Kuen's 2002 gaited clinic.  Her front leg is blurred with her speed.

Lonnie Kuen, a noted gaited horse trainer (whose week-long gaited clinic I attended with Angel) demonstrates proper gaiting on a horse that is probably a Spotted Saddle Horse, a breed related to the TWH.  The arched tail, head shaking nod and even the relaxed flopping ears are hallmarks of the flat and running walks.

For a great demonstration of the running walk (both in a riding ring and out in a field) by Papa's Royal Delight and others, scroll down to the blue tabs at the bottom of the page.  His last name "Delight" shows that he's a distant cousin of Angel!

Day-old Brandy (Chance's Delightful Gold) tries out her wobbly "flat walk" in 2006.

Just in case someone tells you the shoes or pads are necessary for a horse to gait, here is Frankie going barefoot.  (Note:  I do NOT espouse putting any child on any horse EVER without a helmet!  There is NO SUCH THING as a bombproof horse!)  This horse moves beautifully--and perfectly naturally.

So what is this Big Lick that's in the news?  Here's a video of a horse show where you can see the Big Lick for yourself.  You can also see what they call a "canter."  The word that comes to my mind as I watch these horses is "abomination."  Their gaits are such a complete travesty of anything natural that I find them completely ludicrous and hideous, just like a steroid-hyped body builder.

WhataHorse has a disclaimer about soring with this horse show video.  As far as whether the horses doing these gaits are sored or not, I won't attempt to judge.  I will simply close with a quote from convicted sorer Barney Davis in a Sept. 2, 2012, article from the online Chattanooga Times Free Press:
Keith Dane, the Humane Society's director of equine protection, says his group will call this year for pads and chains to be outlawed, just as caustic acid and foreign objects placed between the horse's foot and the pads already have been.
Soring experts, like convicted sorer Barney Davis, say one can't work to achieve a "big lick" without the other.
Davis, required by his sentencing to participate in an educational video about soring, talked about how soring is done in a new clip released last week by the Humane Society.
"If you didn't use the chain it would have no purpose for the chemical," he says in the video.
A few moments later, he adds:
"Putty puts pressure on the bottom of foot. It's the same purpose of a bolt. It hardens. They take it out before they go to the show. But the sore is already there. The only way you're going to get the soring stopped is to get the pads and the chains."
Davis doesn't blame just the trainers.
Veterinarians know what's going on, he said. "They're the ones selling you the pain medicine to cover it up."
And owners, too, must take responsibility, he said.
"A lot of the owners can't be that dumb to know there's not something wrong when [a horse] walks like that. A horse will not walk on his hind legs unless he's sore. That's just common sense."
I think Herb summed it up beautifully when I showed him the video of the Big Lick followed by the barefoot horse gaiting across the pasture.  "That horse is just floating!" he said.  That is exactly what the Tennessee Walking Horse was bred to do--carry its plantation-owning rider across the fields all day long in smooth-riding comfort.  Why on earth would anyone want to mess with a horse like that?

Three-day old Brandy tries out her "rocket" canter!


  1. Thanks for sharing this Susan, I can't believe anyone would treat such a bueatiful animal in such a way, Part of that guys punishment should be to be sored himself.

  2. You're so right, Gordon! Or maybe they could just put him in with all the horses he's sored and let them get in as many good kicks as they want!


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