Horse Health

Banned substances on horses undercut compliance claims

by Paul C. Barton, Tennessean Washington Bureau

“Has there ever been any sporting event with that rate of cheating?”

SoringWASHINGTON – Putting mustard oil, kerosene, diesel fuel and other blistering agents on Tennessee Walking Horses has long been part of the cruelty of soring — the infliction of pain on the animals’ front legs and hooves so that touching the ground causes them to recoil in agony and achieve a higher-stepping gait.

But Department of Agriculture documents show the horses frequently face a second set of chemicals as well — those used to mask scars and numb a horse’s pain to fool inspectors.

And walking horses at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville — which starts Wednesday — test positive for masking and numbing agents more often than not, leaving critics to doubt the industry’s claim that at least 97 of every 100 horses are free of soring and their owners and trainers are in compliance with the Horse Protection Act of 1970.

USDA‘s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has a long list of banned substances its inspectors test for at events like the Celebration. They are banned because they can be used to hide evidence of soring. They include many substances associated with industrial processes, such as making dyes and pesticides, bleaching wood pulp, and making paper and packaging.

Some, such as o-Aminoazotoluene or anthraquinone, are animal carcinogens. Still another, sulfur, is sometimes mixed with motor oil to make a paste that is rubbed on a horse’s damaged areas to cover up soring.

And pain-blocking chemicals like lidocaine are applied in amounts calculated to keep a horse quiet during inspections but wear off in time for the pain to return in the show ring when the horse needs to demonstrate the exaggerated “Big Lick” gait, the American Veterinary Medical Association contends.

USDA records show 67 percent of horses examined at the Celebration in 2013 tested positive for substances that could mask soring.

“Has there ever been any sporting event with that rate of cheating?” said Teresa Bippen of Friends of Sound Horses, a St. Louis-based organization.

The masking and numbing agents wouldn’t be needed if soring were as limited as Big Lick owners and trainers contend, say supporters of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. The proposed bill in Congress would amend the 1970 Horse Protection Act and significantly bolster USDA’s ability to police the practice.

“The percentage of prohibited foreign substances found at Tennessee Walking Horse shows in recent years speaks volumes regarding the high degree of soring that still occurs within the Big Lick segment of this breed,” said Keith Dane, a specialist on equine issues for the Humane Society of the United States.

Dane and other PAST Act supporters see the prevalence of substances used to hide soring as rigging the Horse Protection Act compliance statistics cited by bill opponents.

Jeffrey Howard, spokesman for the Shelbyville-based Performance Show Horse Association, one of the major groups representing the industry’s Big Lick faction, declined to answer questions about the results for banned substances, saying they were based on “fundamentally flawed” information coming from “other parties,” a reference to groups like the Humane Society and the USDA itself…(CONTINUED)

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9 replies »

  1. Has anyone seen the McDonald commercialpolice officer riding on top of a horse eating a sandwich while the horse is doing the big lick , couldnt tell if he was sored or not , but he is making some huge step ups ??????????


    • I haven’t seen the commercial, but I did just see where human meat was found mixed in with McDonalds beef. I have avoided McDonalds for years just because their food is disgusting. You don’t know what you are eating there. I’ve seen the distorted, awkward looking Big Lick at a horse show and felt so bad for the horse who was forced to perform this unnatural gait. I thought that the rider looked like an idiot and got the impression that maybe he was making up for his own shortcomings, if you know what I mean.


  2. horrible… the people that do this are nothing more than scum.. low life.. jerks…I hope that some of our so called representatives will make a move and stop this disgusting practice.. and let the poor animals do what they were bred for in the first place.. a smooth lovely way of going… this looks awful and the idiots on top look even more awful.. all for a ribbon.. really is your life that boring.. thats all you can do


  3. Hate to bring this up: these masking drugs and agents do NOT have a withdrawal period and they are still Not on the listvof substances banned from meats from slaughterplants. Second. United Horsemen and Calvary Group have had an on going campaign of undercover video and compliance complaints trying to undermine the validity of the compliance checks by implying that the USDA is trying to frame people for being out of compliance. They are also subsidizing other complaints to be devalued by claiming harrassment. The fact is the soring of these horses is being covered and they want it to stay that way. Meaning The supporters of fancy show soring and in doing so they are also ruling these horses out of their horsemeat drug free argument. If you follow these circles please stand in the center and yell whoa. These offenses towards the Walking horses are perpetrated knowing these horses will never live a life of comfort and natural life retirement and they will be destroyed once the useful show gaits are done and injuries are too severe. The horsemeatindustry far too often is touted as in compliance but when you read the Hidden things listed above there is NO literal way to control this in horse meat negating their argument but also creating more concerns for deep humanity towards horses. The fact that this type of thing does not happen in cattle to get them to walk prettier is another reason why horses are not meat while cattle are. The process of abusing horses to get the max out of them happens in all industries its just so deeply rooted in the Old School Walker people they segregate and divide within their own industry over this argument polarizing people who want to restrict the soring. Its blatant disrespect of the breed…the followers of the shows…and the humane care of horses is still gleaming with every reported coverup. The Walkers are a Magnificent Breed and Need people who will embrace the wealth of who they are instead of perpertrate injuries upon them. If you disagree with my opinion thats fine….but we are all entitled to have an opinion on what happens within our industry. Apparently some people have reduced themselves to threats against people who are anti soring. Thats ridiculous and obscene…punishable legally and with lawsuit….sad we have seen it come to this. The slaughter plants leading the lame horses around the arena and out the back door from a championshipwere the owner gets a prize and horse is shot repeatedly and has a photo in a magazine to show the owners who while he suffered and died in a slaughter plant.


  4. Absolutely NO excuse for this kind of abuse! Power & Greed – that’s all it is. There is abuse in every discipline of the horse industry – but frankly this is put right out there in our faces every time they brag & holler about the GD Big Lick!


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