Monday, August 22, 2016

Opinion: Rider explains dangers of soring horses

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently held forums in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Lexington, Ky., and Sacramento, Calif., to seek comment on proposed regulations under the Horse Protection Act that would ban soring, the use of chemicals and physical abuse to induce high steps in show horses. An additional forum will be held Sept. 6 in Riverdale, Md., with a call-in meeting on Sept. 15. Comments can be submitted online by Sept. 26.

Jo Ellen Hayden
Jo Ellen Hayden, a prize-winning dressage rider from Lexington, explains the methods and dangers of soring in an  op-ed for the Lexington Herald-Leader: "Soring is, without question, the most cruel training practice I have ever seen or heard about in the entire horse world. Don’t know what soring is? You are not alone. It ranks right up there with dog fighting, but it requires a bit of explanation. It’s used by a hard core of trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse world, and involves putting caustic chemicals on the horse’s front legs, wrapping the legs in plastic wrap and bandages, and letting the chemicals 'cook' into the flesh."

"After several days, the bandages are removed and chains are fastened around the ankles of the horse, biting into the injured flesh. Extremely heavy, tall shoes ('stacks') are then attached to the front hooves with metal straps," she writes. "The effect of this painful process is that the horse tries to remove all weight from his front legs, adopting an exaggerated sitting position when moving and flinging out the front legs in a movement that is referred to as the 'big lick.' Among a very entrenched group of aficionados, the Big Lick is the pinnacle of show-horse movement."

Hayden says USDA "has finally developed a set of regulations that have (somewhat) more teeth than the original legislation proved to have" in 1970. "The new regs will eliminate the tall stack shoes (but not all weights in shoes), and also address a key problem in the inspection process at shows by mandating the use of USDA-approved inspectors—up to now, the industry paid its own inspectors, with predictable results."

"Soring advocates" contradict themselves, Hayden writes, by "insisting that soring either does not happen anymore or that only a tiny number of trainers use these methods" but also saying "that the proposed regulations will have huge economic impact. . . . The solution is obvious: Stop training for the big lick. Do what many others do—train for a natural movement, which these beautiful horses are bred for. They will start to see spectators in the stands again, instead of empty seats. Charitable sponsors will come back. And they and everyone else won’t have to see billboards about horse torture. People will come back to this breed, instead of turning away from it."

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