A sore horse makes for a sore subject on Capitol Hill

Horse soring has been a hot topic this week as both sides voiced their opinions in the House. Bill HR 1518 the Prevent all Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee. The opposing bill, HR 4098 Horse Protection Amendments Act of 2014, was introduced by Representative Marsha Blackburn, also from Tennessee. Horse soring is a process that has been used on show horses, typically Tennessee Walking Horses, for many years. This process is done so the horse has an exaggerated gait or walk for the judges during competitions in the show-ring. Soring can be done in several different ways to make the feet on the horse sensitive to exaggerate their gait. The different techniques include applying chemicals to the hooves or using weighted shoes, pads, boots or chains.

The groups pushing the PAST Act are against all soring methods. This side includes the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), but our main concern is that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) also sits on this side of the isle. Certainly AVMA is lobbying for what they see is best for the horses health but we all know that when HSUS is involved there is always a hidden agenda.

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Opposing groups including the walking horse industry’s premier show, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, doesn’t want to see a long-time show tradition eliminated. These groups would like to see a stricter inspection process with more accurate testing methods. The current testing methods are done by inspectors at shows where pressure is applied to the hoof of the animal to see if the animal is sensitive to touch. Horsemen that oppose the legislation say that this way of testing is too variable as the horse may pick up his foot when pressure is applied without being sore.

Many of the large stable owners have spoken out on this issue admitting to using soring practices including chemicals back in the day as a way to get ahead. But they say that soring is very rarely done that way anymore. Most of the industry uses weighted shoes and gradual training (which would not be allowed under the PAST Act). One industry leader says those drastic soring procedures aren’t necessary, the key is a horse with natural talent and gradual training, using weighted shoes.

The Tennessee Walking Horse industry is a treasured tradition for many Tennessee residents and brings a lot of visitors and shows into the state so the industry is very weary of this bill supported by HSUS. They think that training can be done in the right way without the whole industry disappearing along with their passion and tradition. Senator Alexander did speak up about this point in his argument by saying: “In baseball, if a player illegally uses steroids, you punish the player – you don’t shut down America’s national pastime.”

“With Tennessee Walking Horse shows, when trainers, owners, or riders illegally sore a horse, we should find a more effective way to punish and stop them – not shut down one of Tennessee’s most treasured traditions,” continued the Senator.“The problem with the Humane Society’s bill is that it destroys a Tennessee tradition known around the world. Our goal is to find a way to preserve the Tennessee Walking Horse tradition and stop the cruelty to horses.”

Horse owners realize the importance of animal welfare but do not believe that padded or weighted shoes and chains harm the horses. This belief is based on a passion for horses and a desire to work with those animals day and day out. Horse owners would like scientific testing systems performed using techniques like blood tests and swabbing not pressure tests with variability.  Horse owners often consult with their veterinarians to ensure horse health but they are skeptical of a bill backed by HSUS—and they should be. As HSUS’ ultimate goal is to not use animals in any way—it is likely that their affinity for this legislation is a means to shut down another community that uses animals for showmanship and entertainment.

While this is a bit of a sore subject amongst industry leaders and Congressmen & women alike, we’d love to hear your thoughts and opinions. Especially as these discussions continue to “trot” through congress.


  1. As a former big lick trainer, I can tell you there is no way to achieve the lick that is desired in the show ring without the horse being sored at some point. There have been testimonies made by myself and other individuals from within the industry to prove that this is fact. Self regulation has not worked. The industry’s science based inspection hasn’t worked because it is nothing more than a big smoke screen. The USDA has a real good science based inspection process that they previewed at the Sound Horse Conference 2014. The industry doesn’t like it because they can’t get around it. The tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse will not suffer due to losing the pad and the chain. The only ones that still embrace it are just a small group concentrated in the southeast. If they would be willing to move forward with the type of Walking Horse that wears a keg shoe or even a toe weighted shoe, they would find out that they still have the best athlete. When the trainers learn how to train this type of horse without all the gimmicks, they will find a market better than they could ever imagine.

    1. Thank you for your comment Carl. It is nice to hear a former big lick trainers opinion on the subject. So from the show ring perspective could they still have these specific breed shows without any form of soring? Also would they have to change the criteria for which these animals are being judged if soring was removed completely?

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