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January 6, 2009

Equine Vets Condemn Soring

The AAEP takes a stand against this abusive practice

A horse and rider at a Tennessee Walking Horse event

The HSUS

Tennessee Walking Horses are known for their gentle dispositions and smooth gaits—but for many, the road to a blue ribbon is paved with suffering and abuse. They, and other gaited breeds, are often subject to a cruel practice known as soring—the intentional infliction of pain on the limbs and feet of a horse to create an exaggerated gait.

Soring has historically involved the application of caustic chemicals and heavy chains to the front pasterns of a horse. (The pastern is between the fetlock joint and the hoof.) In recent years, there has been a rise in pressure shoeing, a particularly egregious form of soring that involves cutting a horse's hoof almost to the quick, causing an extreme amount of pressure every time the horse bears weight on the hoof.

AAEP report raises concerns

These horses gained an ally last year, when the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) issued a white paper condemning soring and calling for industry-wide changes to eliminate this practice.

AAEP calls soring "one of the most significant equine welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline," and reiterates that despite passage of the Horse Protection Act of 1970 (HPA), which was meant to eliminate soring, spotty enforcement and under-funding of the law has allowed this cruel practice to persist, predominantly in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

Major concerns raised in the report include: a broken enforcement system that allows industry insiders to inspect horses at the majority of shows; stewarding by trainers to teach horses not to react during inspections, even if they are in pain; and the lack of a central governing body. To help eliminate soring, the veterinarians suggest modifying Tennessee Walking Horse judging standards to reward the natural elegance of the breed instead of the exaggerated, artificial gait performed by sored horses. The report also encourages the increased use of new technologies like thermography and digital radiography to detect soring.

Additionally, the report recommends the immediate implementation of drug testing at horse shows; 24-hour security personnel and inspectors in the stabling areas of show grounds where violations are known to occur; and the establishment of much more severe penalties for Horse Protection Act violations than in the past.  

Time to stop the abuse

"The soring of Tennessee Walking Horses is one of the most egregious forms of equine abuse, and it is time for it to be brought to an end," said Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The Humane Society of the United States. "Ending soring is a top priority of The HSUS, and the AAEP paper echoes many of the same concerns we've raised and the changes we've been recommending. We are very pleased that AAEP has taken a stand for the welfare of the horse and believe its influence will be a valuable asset in the continued fight to end soring."

At the 2008 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, USDA inspectors found more than 180 violations of the HPA. However, since the inception of the Act, enforcement efforts have been plagued by lack of funding, and pressure from industry insiders and politicians. Industry participants have been known to harass, intimidate and threaten inspectors at horse shows.

Currently, funding limitations allow USDA inspectors to attend fewer than 10 percent of Tennessee Walking Horse shows each year. The rest of the time, horses are inspected by Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs)—personnel who are trained and licensed by Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs). The HIOs are largely comprised of industry insiders who have a stake in protecting the status quo. The AAEP report calls for the complete abolition of this system, giving inspection duties to veterinarians who are not involved in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

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