Lawmakers Seek to Stop Sadistic Abuse of Gaited Horses

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.

Related Stories:

Cruelty Exposed in the Gaited Horse World

Horse Slaughter Legalized in the U.S.

Video Exposes Rodeo Cruelty to Horses and Calves

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Joy T.
Joy Tabout a year ago

Already S. & S. over a year ago!
But now it says the petition is closed. Does that mean it was successful? It seems like more work needs to be done to fix this problem!

Justingaberial J.
Past Member 4 years ago

Wowww… quite cool blog you have!!!!

Diane L.
Diane L5 years ago

Morona, it's already illegal to "sore" a horse and there are inspectors at TWH shows to check for that. Any horse found to have been "sored" is disqualified. However, I like your suggestion of taking it a step farther...............make it mandatory for a 2nd opinion and if it comes back "positive", then that horse loses it's registration papers and any owner of such a horse is put on suspension for a year or even longer........making them unable to register any horses during that time, nor show any others. The person doing the "soring" should be either ineligible for competing for LIFE or if a licensed vet, lose their license for at least a year. Trainers simply move on.

BTW, the "caustic" substance put up the anus is called "ginger" and Arabians have had that done for decades, and yes, it's illegal. Problem is, once the horse defecates, it doesn't work anymore and the only way of knowing for sure it's been applied is to insert a finger and most judges don't resort to doing that. The obvious result is a horse that is standing quietly in a barn aisle half an hour AFTER it's class with it's tail STILL straight up in the air! Arab people will recognize the name of the U.S. Natl. Ch. Stallion that had that happen to, but I can't name the horse in here.

Morona M.
Morona M5 years ago

Change the TWH standards to a more natural gait, refuse to allow the sored horses to be shown, and refuse registration in the breed to those trainers and breeders who do sore their horses. American Saddlebreds have the same problems, in that soring, weird painful harness get-ups, cut tail muscles, caustic substances forced up the anus to make the tails held higher, are all used to get that ugly exaggerated gait and bearing. Beating the horses to make them stand on those sore feet when they really can't get up is beyond cruel. That fat slob of a trainer ought to be forced to run barefoot over smashed glass until he loses some of the fat in his head and his hind end.

Margie R.
Margie R.5 years ago

Same ol' story, repeated endlessly. The public gets irate, the 'industry' expresses its resolve to stop any mistreatment of animals, and so it goes, until the next person raises hell. I was in the walking horse world for @30 years, and there were changes made to settle down the complaints. For a while.
IMO, the only way to end the widespread cruelty is to make it unprofitable. Ban the 'big lick'. Ban 'action devices'. Discard the 'big lick' from the judging standard, and enforce that rule. Voila, exhibitors may actually have to ride a horse that is not moving through spurs and pain.

Gloria and Jack Howe
.5 years ago

This is absolute cruelty and should be banned forthwith.

Rin S.
Rin S5 years ago

This is pure cruelty, and it needs to stop.

Sandi C.
Sandi C5 years ago


Maria Nieves G.
Maria G5 years ago

Tha pain that some "humans" inflict in these beautifull animals for the name of entertainment is just horrible. These people are detached of any feelings! They need to feel some of it to teach them a lesson!

Anita Wisch
Anita Wisch5 years ago

As with ALL animal abuse, the offenders should be forced to endure what they have done to the animal, to be done to them! I would be the first in line to "punish" the offenders......