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The animal rights community has long been against the practice of keeping sore horses. But what is soring? Many may be ignorant about the practice of soring in horses, but it is something that everyone who cares about the welfare of animals should know about. Here are a few basic facts about horse soring.
From Thoroughbreds to Friesians, horses have been with humanity for a long time now, having been trained to suit our needs and entertainment. While there are acceptable practices regarding how to handle these animals, such as tacking, some bad actors refuse to provide proper care for these honorable creatures. One such abominable custom is called soring.
What exactly is horse soring? Put simply, soring is the practice of deliberately inflicting pain on the limbs of a horse for the purpose of exaggerated high-stepping motion--known as the "Big Lick"--in a show or exhibition ring. This procedure is often done by applying caustic chemicals, sharp objects, and other methods to sensitive areas of the hooves in order to desensitize them and increase the animal's gait.
Irritating a horse’s forelegs would accentuate its high-stepping gait (as seen in the Tennessee Walking Horse). Horses will instinctively pull their front legs up quickly to avoid pain. They will also shift their weight to their back feet. This movement produces the sought-after exaggerated gait.
Soring is not only cruel and inhumane, but it's also illegal. The Federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) was passed in 1970 in order to protect horses from this type of cruel treatment. Despite this law, this practice continues to occur throughout the United States and other countries.
The effects of soring can be devastating for horses, leading to infection and inflammation that can cause lasting physical damage if not treated properly and promptly. It can also cause emotional trauma due to fear, pain, and discomfort associated with the practice.
Soring is a cruel practice that involves deliberately inflicting pain on the lower legs and hooves of horses to create an exaggerated, high-stepping gait. This type of gait is favored by some American Saddlebred, Morgan, Tennessee Walking Horse, and Racking horse owners and exhibitors.
Horses can be sored both mechanically and chemically, both practices starting on young horses. Mechanical soring uses a variety of methods, including stacks (attaching weights to the front hooves), chains, pressure shoeing (attaching a shoe to a hoof filed nearly to the quick), and road foundering (the horse is pressure shoed and then rode on a hard surface).
Chemical soring is the application of caustic substances to the front legs to cause burning and blistering. Substances used in chemical soring include mustard oil, kerosene and diesel fuel, salicylic acid, and other harsh chemicals.
No matter how it's done, this inhumane treatment causes horses immense suffering and is illegal in most countries around the world.
Soring, unfortunately, has a long and painful history in the sport of competitive horse riding. It was initially used in the "Big Lick" Tennessee Walking Horse shows in the 1950s as a way to enhance the performance of the horse.
The exact history is unclear, but it is generally thought that sometime in the 1950s, it was accidentally discovered that a harsh chemical (either mustard oil as a hoof treatment or kerosene as a cleaner) applied to a Tennessee Walking Horse’s legs made the horse walk in a lively way. The audience at the show this horse performed at loved the style of walking, and the sad tradition was born.
In this time period, competitive riders developed increasingly extreme means of soring their horses’ legs, from using chemicals and mechanical tools to physically causing pain and inflammation.
These cruel practices caused serious damage to the horses' limbs and hoofs, leading to interventions from animal welfare organizations. Still, despite changes in regulations limiting which substances could be used for soring, and stricter penalties for those caught doing it, soring continues to be a major problem in competition today.
The outcry against soring began in the 1960s. The Horse Protection Act (HPA) was enacted by the US Congress in 1970, prohibiting the exhibition, transport, and sale of horses that have undergone soring.
The USDA is responsible for enforcing the law. Certification is provided to horse organizations and individual inspectors such as veterinarians to examine horses for any signs of soring.
The Horse Protection Act (HPA) forbids the utilization of equipment or "action devices," as well as chemicals and other substances that cause discomfort or pain to horses. Any horse showing an unusual sensitivity or inflammation in its hooves or legs is perceived as being sore under the HPA. Breaching the HPA is a Class A misdemeanor that carries a maximum fine of $3,000 for first-time offenders.
Unfortunately, some trainers have found ways to bypass inspections by training the horse not to react to pain by using topical anesthetics before inspections. A new chemical detection method similar to airport bomb detection is now being used.
The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) is responsible for enforcing the Horse Protection Act and has final approval over other rules regarding soring. In addition to the HPA, certain states also have laws against this custom, such as Tennessee’s “Horse Soring Prevention Act,” which serves to increase penalties for violations of the Federal HPA.
These laws are designed to be protective measures against horse abuse and provide punishment for violators in order to deter future negative behavior. Hopefully, this will lead toward more humane handling of horses across the board.
If you suspect or know that someone has sored their horse, it is essential to report it. You should declare any suspected or known cases of soring to animal control or law enforcement agencies to ensure that the horse is properly cared for and the perpetrator is held accountable. If you do not feel comfortable going to the authorities, you can also report the abuse to animal welfare organizations or local humane societies.
Bear in mind, it is vital to voice opposition to the mistreatment of animals and safeguard blameless horses from avoidable agony and distress. For further information on this matter, take a look at the website of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Pain and discomfort are usual signs in horses and can manifest through limping or reluctance to move, alongside irritation or sensitivity in specific areas like the front legs or lower limbs. Swelling or inflammation and unusual sweat or discharge may also be apparent.
A trained eye may be able to detect subtle changes in the horse's movement or behavior, such as a shortened stride or an uncharacteristic reluctance to perform certain movements. If you have reason to believe that a horse has been subjected to soring, it is crucial to promptly seek out veterinary care to mitigate any potential further injury to the animal.
Chemical substances are the primary way in which horses are subjected to soring. These substances, such as kerosene, diesel, or mustard oil, are administered as pastes or liquids to their legs and then wrapped in plastic to increase the intensity of the burning sensation. Some horses may also be fitted with chains or other devices around their ankles in order to amplify the pain.
The Tennessee Walking Horse breed is commonly associated with horse shows and is frequently targeted for soring practices. These horses are usually trained with high-action shoes with weighted pads, chains, or other devices that cause them pain and discomfort, leading them to lift their legs higher and create an exaggerated step.
The Missouri Fox Trotter and the Spotted Saddle Horse are among the other breeds of horses targeted for soring, although they are not as frequently observed as the previous one.