The “big lick” movement desired in Tennessee Walking Horses itself deserves a “licking”, and perhaps we can help the Humane Society of the United States with its effort to give it one. The big lick that gives the Tennessee Walking Horse its acclaimed fame is characterized by how the horse moves its front legs with greater activity than its hindlegs, which step much deeper beneath the body, creating a very dramatic overreach. The combination appears very graceful and elegant but often to achieve it, unnatural and seemingly sadist methods are used on horses. Soring is the overarching method used to produce this “big lick” movement. The practice of soring is prohibited, yet somehow it still endures!
For those unfamiliar with soring, it is a process that involves rubbing caustic chemical agents such as kerosene, salicylic acid, mustard oil, or diesel fuel, to name a few, on the pasterns, bulbs of the heel, or coronary bands of horses in order to cause blistering on their legs. These procedures are extremely painful and often result in noticeable scarring, yet it still is done in order to exaggerate the gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse.
So once these caustic substances are applied, the treated area is wrapped in plastic so that the chemicals absorb into the skin and burn the surrounding hair. Often to disguise the scarring, horses are treated with salicylic acid so that the skin of the scar peels off; this is usually done before the horse is stalled in to do the treatment, as they usually can barely stand after the treatment is done. Horses treated in this manner display various other noticeable characteristics:
Often the horse will stand with their hooves close together and shift its weight to its hind legs. The new hair that grows over the scarring is usually darker and wavy, if present at all. The horse’s hocks are a bit lower and may twist outward when it moves. The horse will often lie down due to the pain caused by the soring procedure. In fact, often it has difficulty walking, and it will often contest any hoof management- so good luck to its farrier.
The other method of soring, known as pressure shoeing, is no better: pressure shoes are placed in direct contact with the sole of the hoof by trimming the hoof nearly to the quick. Then the horse must be “road foundered”, which consists of riding the horses endlessly until the pressure shoe causes extreme pain and soreness in the hoof. Often, to accentuate the pain and thus the “big lick”, various objects such as metal beads, screws, nails, or hard, uneven items are placed under the sensitive portion of the sole of the foot inducing agonizing pressure. Sometimes both of these methods with caustic materials and pressure shoeing are implemented.
Better control methods for this cruelty have recently employed fluoroscopy, used to detect these sharp objects jammed under the hoof; thus it isn’t as common as it once was. Instead, though, trainers place chains around the hooves in addition to adding soring chemicals. These chains rub up against the sores induced by the chemicals to further irritate these areas.
The Horse Protection Act of 1970 was supported to specifically end this abuse, and with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), an organization within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), they are attempting to enforce the law. Doing so isn’t so simple, though. More to come about the hideous secrets of soring…