by Sharon Rondeau

2013 National Celebration World Champion “I Am Jose” wearing “stacks” and chains

(Dec. 22, 2016) — On Thursday, The Post & Email contacted the National Celebration, an annual Tennessee Walking Horse show which takes place at the end of the summer, to ask whether or not inspectors are routinely on hand to determine whether or not horses entered into the contest have been abused in any way to produce the high-stepping gait known by its opponents as the “Big Lick.”

The show began in 1939 and takes place in Shelbyville, TN.  According to Wikipedia, the prize for the World Grand Champion winner is $15,000.

Other classes of horse shows also take place at the Celebration.

The Tennessee Walking Horse, which originated with what was called the “Tennessee Pacer,” is known for its smooth “running walk” in which “the back foot glides over the track left by the front foot.”  They are known for their gentle dispositions, sure-footedness, and long necks.

The Facebook page of posted video which it reported was taken at this year’s Celebration depicting Tennessee Walking Horses placing their weight on their back legs while bringing their front legs higher than what might be considered a normal gait.  The riders are seen leaning forward, which critics say damages the horse’s kidneys, and the horses appear to be equipped with platform shoes, or “stacks,” and chains around their ankles as they move to organ music in the background.

Stacks and chains are part of a method reportedly used by a number of horse trainers primarily in the South which involves “soring” the horse’s pasterns, or lower legs by applying chemical agents such as mustard oil, kerosene, WT – 40 and other substances to purposely irritate the skin.

Video produced by the Humane Society of the United States depicts the application of bandaging to the horse’s chemically-treated legs in order to “cook in” the substances for maximum pain with the purpose of forcing the horses front legs to touch down and be lifted differently than they would were the process not utilized.

Although the Horse Protection Act of 1970 prohibits the showing of any horse found to be “sore,” not all horse shows are attended by “DQPs,” or Designated Qualified Persons, to inspect the animals prior to showing. The horse show industry has also proven unreliable in policing itself to prevent soring, which the Act states is “cruel and inhumane.”

A writer for Equisearch more than a decade ago stated that she observed “many horsemen” leaving the show before it commenced “without ever unloading their horses” because a USDA inspector was present.

The writer, who reported that she had grown up with horses, said at the time that “About 50 years ago, the running walk seen in the show ring underwent a striking transformation, from sweeping and ground-covering to high-stepping and showy.”

On a budget of less than $500,000, USDA inspectors reportedly appear at only a very small percentage of horse shows in the United States.

The 1999 National Celebration winner “RPM” can clearly be seen in the following photo wearing stacks and chains while placing his weight on his back legs (Wikipedia):

Earlier champions of the Celebration may not have been equipped with stacks and chains.

The APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) division of the USDA is currently reviewing comments submitted over the summer through October 26 to determine whether or not a new “rule,” or regulation, should be issued in furtherance of prohibiting the practice of soring.

Using the contact form at the National Celebration’s website, our communication was titled “SORING INSPECTIONS – NATIONAL CELEBRATION” and reads:

Is there an inspector at the National Celebration to examine all horses entered in the competition to determine whether or not they have been sored?

I have a statement from Corinne Gould of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture saying that “The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) does not support soring or abuse of any livestock for any reason at any time. Equine associations governing all breeds of horses and disciplines require that show horses be sound. The concern for soundness crosses all sectors, regardless of any style of shoe or equipment used in the ring.”

There is also a statement from former trainer Barney Davis who was sentenced to a year in prison for animal cruelty that the Tennessee Walking Horse will not perform the “deep walk” without having been sored.

The TWHBEA has not responded to my several requests for comment on soring in the industry.

I would appreciate a response.

Thank you.

Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email
P.O. Box 113
Canterbury, CT 06331-0113

After submitting the email, we received a confirmation of its receipt.

TWHBEA” refers to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, which we tried to contact on several occasions.

On Monday, The Post & Email contacted the Trump transition team on the issue of enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, particularly in light of the fact that Trump has not yet chosen a nominee for Agriculture Secretary.

The email attributed to Corinne Gould was a response to a second set of questions The Post & Email posed in regard to the state of Tennessee’s position on soring and “action items.”  The entire response reads:

Good afternoon.

The responses to your questions are in green below.

From: []
Sent: Wednesday, December 07, 2016 7:06 PM
To: Corinne Gould

Thank you very much, Ms. Gould, for your response.

If TWHs did not wear “stacks” and chains in the show ring, would there be concern about their “soundness?”

The Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) does not support soring or abuse of any livestock for any reason at any time. Equine associations governing all breeds of horses and disciplines require that show horses be sound. The concern for soundness crosses all sectors, regardless of any style of shoe or equipment used in the ring.

Why is the “industry” experiencing challenges in its longevity if horse shows are an intrinsic part of Tennessee culture? Why would horse shows not be as popular as they have always been?

Per my statement, horse shows are an intrinsic part of agriculture, and a critical economic driver in many of our communities. That statement is not specific to shows for Tennessee Walking Horses. A variety of venues host horse shows for a variety of breeds and disciplines throughout the year across our state. We do not track data on individual horse show participation, so I cannot speak to the participation numbers at all horse shows. If you’d like to reach out to various breed associations, they may be able to provide an overview.

Are horses equipped with “action items” such as stacks and chains experiencing pain as they walk?  Can a horse be trained to lift its front legs so high without painful treatment? Why the stack shoes?

Science-based data was used to establish federal law and limits for construction and weight of the pads and action devices with the conclusion that devices below those limit thresholds do not cause pain or unsoundness. I am not a horse trainer and therefore cannot speak to training methods or equipment use.

Of course, I am seeking answers to these questions from the TWHBEA, but they do not respond.

Thank you very much.

Sharon Rondeau, Editor
The Post & Email

Our initial questions to Gould and her responses can be read here.

On December 2, The Post & Email interviewed “BillygoBoy,” or Clant Seay, a former horse owner and retired attorney who agreed with the convicted trainer, Barney Davis, that a horse will not be induced to exhibit the “Big Lick” gait without its having been subjected to soring.

A more complete synopsis of our interview with Seay will be presented in the near future.

“A horse will not walk on his hind legs unless he’s sore,” Davis told the Humane Society at 9:53 in the referenced video.  “The only way to win the Celebration is ‘sore.’ “I’ve showed at the Celebration three, maybe four times.  I trained ’em myself, and they were sore…all of my horses were sore,” he said.

The Post & Email will publish any response it receives from the National Celebration.

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  1. Thanks for investigating this Sharon. An abominable practice. I cannot understand why the USPCA does not look into this. Maybe they are only interested in abused dogs.