Even though it’s been illegal for 40 years, gaited horses continue to suffer from a cruel and painful practice known as soring to achieve an unnaturally high step known as the “Big Lick,” which was once again brought to light this spring by an undercover HSUS investigation covering Tennessee Walking Horses.
Jackie McConnell, the trainer who was exposed, was fined $75,000 and given three years of probation this week after pleading guilty to a single charge of animal cruelty. He faced 52 counts of transporting and showing abused horses and could have faced a stiffer fine and jail time, but got a deal.
“It was our hope that McConnell would do prison time for these terrible crimes but there are gaps in the federal law that need to be strengthened,” Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the HSUS told NBC News.
The practice in question involves methods that include putting caustic substances, such as mustard oil, Croton oil mixed with kerosene or diesel oil, on the sensitive skin around their hooves at their pasterns, bulbs of their heels and coronary bands to cause blistering, burning and irritation and wrapping them in plastic wrap to make sure its absorbed. As if that’s not bad enough, chains may also be used to add to the pain.
Pads or stacks may also be used on the front hooves to raise a horse’s forehand to add even more animation and if that doesn’t do the trick objects may also be placed between the pad and the hoof to cause even more pain and discomfort and add to the weight of the pads… think a handful of nails. Pads may also be used to hide pressure shoeing, where the hooves are trimmed down too far.
The resulting high step is nothing more than a desperate attempt to escape from pain. After all of that, some are trained not to react to having their legs touched, known as “stewarding,” which is what is happening to the horse in the HSUS video that is being beaten over the head.
The Horse Protection Act (HPA) was passed in 1970 because Congress realized soring was unquestionably cruel and supported unfair competition, but insufficient penalties and poor enforcement have allowed this practice to continue and essentially allowed the industry to self-regulate. The HPA also only covers what happens during transportation and shows, leaving horses vulnerable to unethical trainers at home.
APHIS developed a program to enforce the HPA that appointed Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) to inspect horses at shows before every class and disqualify horses who show signs of soring. DQPs may be vets, farriers, trainers or other knowledgeable individuals in the industry, who could also be Big Lick supporters – hence the problems with self-regulation.
According to Friends of Sound Horses, due to a lack of funding the USDA only regulates about 10 percent of gaited shows, if they inspected all of them an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 violations would be found every year.
At the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, 100 percent of the horses tested by the USDA showed signs of soring. Rather than comply with the law, people just continue to try to evade detection.
A new bill, H.R. 6388, was introduced this month by Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-KY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN) with original co-sponsors Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Jim Moran (D-VA) to address the shortcomings of the HPA and offer horses more protection by ending self-regulating practices and requiring shows to use USDA inspectors, banning the use of action devices, including chains and stacks, that cause pain on top of soring and increasing penalties for those who keep torturing horses.
Additionally, soring would become a felony, the HPA would protect horses at home and a third offense would result in permanent disqualification.
“Far too often, those involved in showing the Tennessee Walking Horse have turned a blind eye to abusive trainers, or when they do take action, the penalties are so minor, it does nothing to prevent these barbaric acts,” said Whitfield. “This amendment does not cost the federal government any additional money and is essential in helping to put an end to the practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses by abusive trainers.”
The Tennessee Walking Horse has a unique natural gait that should be admired for what it is without forced exaggeration and hideous unnatural movement of the Big Lick that is nothing more than the result of ongoing torture.
Please sign the petition asking your representative to help end the cruel practice of soring by supporting this bill.
Warning: this video contains violent footage.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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