“You cannot have a big lick without pain”
In an effort to stop soring — the brutal practice of injuring horses’ feet to make their walk more “attractive” — North Carolina has ended a 30-year-old state fair show that features Tennessee walking horses performing their token exaggerated gait.
The breed’s already distinct walk is often amplified into a “big lick” gait for performance competitions, usually by adding heavy platforms to the horse’s front shoes.
However, advocates argue that such competitions encourage the illegal but all-too-common practice of soring, an inhumane process where horse’s feet are cruelly injured. The pain causes them to lift their feet up quickly and emphatically, creating a more dramatic walk.
One common method of soring involves burning horses’ feet with toxic chemicals such as diesel, kerosene and mustard oil, then wrapping their legs in plastic wrap and leaving the chemicals to blister the skin.
Another method, called pressure shoeing, involves trimming a horse’s hoof almost to the quick to cause excruciating pain. Some trainers also hammer nails and tacks into sensitive areas of the horse’s hooves.
Though no one’s being charged, the decision to ban the walking horses from the North Carolina State Fair comes after protests at last year’s event and an online petition that garnered nearly 20,000 signatures.
Soring was banned under the U.S. Horse Protection Act of 1970, but the practice is still quite common because it gives an advantage in gait competitions. Many judges still use criteria that favors sored horses, and trainers are often skilled at hiding soring from show-mandated veterinary inspectors.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, some trainers may apply numbing agents to horses’ feet so they don’t flinch when they’re handled by vets, and some even beat horses during staged practice sessions so the animals learn that flinching will only lead to worse pain.
A bipartisan group of congressmen and horse enthusiasts have rallied around the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, which would increase USDA oversight, increase penalties and ban the use of devices associated with soring. The bill should be reintroduced this year.