Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse – Part 2

Now grab a tranquilizer, a box of tissue and your barf bag as I relate to you the tragic tale of the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse (TWH). They are used and abused for no other reason than to win big bucks in the show ring.

The Big Lick show circuit is a multi-million dollar industry which benefits everyone but the poor horse. The bigger an exhibitor’s “sponsorship” the more likely he is to win. If that sounds to you like the judges are being bribed, you have the picture.

Just ask Ross Perot who has won countless championships at the Celebration – the most “prestigious” Walking Horse Show in the country. The Humane Society of the United States calls it “the cruelest horse show in the world.”

The Walking Horse is the only breed in the country that is required by law to have U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors monitor the horse shows. The Horse Protection Act was passed in 1970 to prevent the exhibition of “sore” horses.

“Soring” is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves in order to force him to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait known as the Big Lick. The pasterns are “treated” with an abrasive chemical such as hot mustard oil, salicylic acid, fuel oil and other petroleum products.

To produce an even bigger lick, unethical trainers also use pressure shoeing. The hooves are cut painfully short, almost to the quick, and a foreign object is inserted between the hoof and the shoe – something like a golf ball. This places a tremendous and painful amount of pressure on the hoof.

Metal chains and weights are also strapped on the pasterns to affect the desired gait. They rub against the already sensitive skin, increasing the horse’s pain so that he picks up his feet more quickly and lifts them even higher. To escape the pain in front he shifts his weight to his hind end.

“Stacking” is another form of shoeing. Stacks can be made from rubber and plastic and can be as high as five inches. These are nailed to the hoof. To keep the stacks on, metal bands are used across the hoof which increases the pain. When removed the entire hoof is torn off.

In a newer kind of pressure shoeing, trainers force a horse to stand on concrete with blocks of wood or other hard materials taped to the sensitive surface of his hoof until she is in so much pain that she can’t bear weight on her front feet.”

Yet another “training method” is stewarding. A horse’s handler will deliberately hurt a horse to get him to stand still during inspection. The theory is that if pain is inflicted on another part of the body, he won’t notice the pain in his feet. Pipes are often used for this barbaric practice.

The Horse Protection Act (HPA) established a designated qualified persons program, to inspect horses at the shows. This is like letting the fox in the hen house. While many of them are caring and ethical, far too many lie like some of our politicians and are crooked as many of the judges. Money talks.

More and more organizations are protesting these medieval practices. At great risk to their persons and property former Big Lick trainers are speaking out against an industry that mistreats horses just to win the blue. Barns have been burned, people beat up and horses killed or stolen.

The announcer says "some" trainers sore. "All" Big Lick trainers sore. The trainers say they "used" to sore. They still do.


  1. I've reposted this one on FB and twitter. I had no idea. I've sat a hunt seat myself... an that were years ago. But this is just terrible. I appreciate your schooling on this. :-)

  2. Thanks Gwendolyn. This is a bit long but I could write a book about this horrible practice. There's abuse in all breeds, especially with gaited horses, but Big Lick owners and trainers should be locked up for life.

  3. I almost fainted before I got through the post. I honestly believed laws were in place to prevent such cruelty to animals. What are you doing, ther in the state, to protest and prevent this?

  4. This abuse is enough to make you cry. There has never been a reason to develop an artificial gait that requires such torture.
    I was very discomforted when watching a Lippizan horse show in which the horses' heads are kept in such an unnaturally tucked position. The bits had several lines attached and as the show progressed the horses were just slobbering salvia and I could see their tongues working constantly. I believe the type of bit and its application must be very uncomfortable or even painful.
    I recall my sadness and disgust years ago when coming across horses and ponies whose mouths had been ruined by the misuse of hackmore bits.
    What makes no sense of course is why an inspection by the USDA would not shut the whole operation down for good. Expect that graft money is pread pretty thick all over...

  5. TN is not the only state that allows soring. Every state in the south, along with Texas and Calfornia, allows it. It is big, big money. The TWH Assns. In Colorado and some other western states don’t even allow quarter inch pads. Protection has to come from the Feds.

    This is a multi-million dollar industry and everyone from the top to the bottom lies through their teeth. I don’t know if you watched the second video, but former Big Lick trainers who are now actively against soring talk about the threats they’ve received. They’re very, very brave.

    Tomorrow I’m going to post my final and very brief piece on how a certain senator has profited from the TWH industry. It may interest you.

  6. I completely support the termination of Big Lick classes from TWH shows as the abusive practices seem midieval.

    However, I completely disagree with two points made by "rockync" in her post. First, Lippizaners "slob saliva" and "work their tongues constantly" when they are properly trained in the bridle. This white saliva means that the horse is concentrating and communicating with its rider/handler. A "working tongue" demonstrates that the jaw is soft and not rigidly locked against the rider's hand. The saliva is not the result of improperly used bits. In fact, at most Dressage competitions trainers give their horses sugar cubes prior to showing to create this effect. White, foamy mouths are a good thing in all horse sports, not a negative effect of abuse. udges worry when they don't see that foam!

    Also, horses and ponies cannot have their mouths "ruined by the misuse of hackamore bits" because these types of bridles actually have no bits! While I agree that bits can be and are used as severe weapons, we must keep our facts straight as we speak out against abusive practices so as not to appear foolish.

  7. CM: You're obviously a horse person who's had a lot of experience and knows quite a bit about them. But, I think rocky was merely speaking out of concern and love for the horse. The only breed I really know anything about is the TWH.

  8. Leslie I can see now why you were so upset writing this! I could not read it all, I'm sorry I just can't, I wouldn't be able to get the pictures out of my mind. There are so many sports that abuse animals for man's pleasure, it's a pitiful thing and it happens all over the country.

  9. Leslie I don't know much about dressage so I'm glad to know the Lippizans are actually not being injured.
    As for hackamore "bits", I guess I should have been a little more clear. The hackamore can be used in a very abusive manner causing injury to the nose and jaw.
    And we may be talking about different types of hackamores. There is a type used with western style riding that has metal shanks.

  10. Sue: It's been a real struggle even though I've known all about this for years. The research alone was bad enough but when I started writing, I had to take it in very small steps which is why it's taken so long.

    Rocky: I have to confess that I know nothing about hackamores and such, so it was a learning experience for me. Knew a little about the slobbering. Hell my dogs does that. When he runs, he has goobers coming out in long streams that wrap around his nose.

  11. Leslie: I am a horse lover and this broke my heart. [I also read part 1, which was a nice story; Gracie is a beautiful horse!] I know there is big money in these shows/contests and that’s exactly why we need Federal regulations! And I don’t say that lightly as I’m one of those “smaller govt. type of people”! But where we have animal abuse, we need laws, because animals cannot speak for themselves thus need protected against evil, greedy, and heartless people who physically harm them for profit. We also need more women, like the ones in the 2nd video, who aren’t afraid to speak out, despite being threatened! What courage!

    I’m looking forward to your 3rd installment. I only hope it doesn’t make me want to cry!

  12. While the soring is the biggest and worst part of the story, there are so many layers - crooks, greased palms, more cruelty - that what I have written is only the tiniest tip of the iceberg. The whole industry is corrupt and they have national politicians on their side.

    Horses will go around the ring with bleeding feet. One dropped dead in the show ring.

    The trainers who are featured in the last video used to train Big Licks. It's worth listening to just to see what they have gone though in terms of threats from the big guys.

  13. Pam: Maybe I should do something on the laws?

    The next brief post should be of special interest to all of us political animals.

    Drum roll ; )

  14. tnlib, I'm glad you posted on the Big Lick. After your first post, I was hoping you would post on this barbarism. Most people don't know this exists, but it's been done for years.

    The Tennessee Walkers you showed in your first post - wonderful to see, nice natural gaits. But the Big Lick - it takes a hell of a lot of hell on those horses to get that freakish gait to come out.

    Thanks again for posting on the ugly side of the Tennessee Walker industry.

  15. Thanks, Bee. Only a breed as loving and docile as a TWH would let this kind of thing be done to them. A Thoroughbred would kick them in their family jewels. Even after all these years I get very angry and emotional when I think about it.

    You seem to know quite a bit about this breed. Do you ride or . . .?

  16. I was wondering if anyone had looked into the Saddlebred's for this same practice. I know in some states it was banded but I also know that it is practiced among the Saddlebreds as well. The movement of the Saddlebred is not as exaggerated as the Tennesse Walker but still needs the same motion in the front end, high and expressive. The back end does not need to extend as far as with the TWH, only to be picked up higher. The gaits do not look as freakish in the Saddlebred as it does with the TWH. Why would anyone in their right mind think this is grand? It doesn't even look comfortable for the rider and isn't the whole point of owning the TWH is for the smooth gait that allowed the rider to sit comfortable and float on long rides? I think the show circuit has lost it's mind as to what comfort and beauty truly are in a horse. Who wants to ride a freak?

  17. There are plenty of abuses with the Saddlebred show horses (and the Quarter Horse, and, and and. . .). They are all horrible. The main difference with the TWH is the soring and being the only breed used for show that requires federal inspectors. However, I think their days may be numbered. At least I hope so but it's taken a heck of a long time to get the TWH industry regulated at all and so much more needs to be done.

    No, they aren't comfortable to ride and it defeats the whole concept of "smooth." If you read/watched the piece (pt. 1)about the flat-shod TWH, you will notice that the rider's head moves in a perfect horizontal plane. The Big Lick can't offer that kind of ride. Plus the riders are sitting way back and pushing their rears down to force the horses to lower their back ends even more.

    Both breeds are kept in dark stalls and the only exercise they get is riding up and down the aisles. This is so when they get in the show ring they're hot, more animated.

    It's all about greed and money. Criminal. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  18. The third picture shown is not of a "stack" but of a heavy plantaion shoe with caulks and a band that has a partialy torn off hoof probably due to the band being chronically to tight thus cutting off normal blood supply and normal development of the growing hoof.
    Just some of my techniques and veiws:
    Heavy shod plantation shoes, in my opinion, are just as bad as stacks in many ways and soring also occurs in that style. The Heavy shoes for Heavy shod plantation can not exheed 1 1/2 inches wide and 1/2 inch thick but they are weighty. Action chains are used but not normaly shown in (which I also dont like over 4 oz) some chains are heavier than 16 oz and add a chemical soring agent to that heavy chain and you get a high stepping miserable horse. I have seen heavy logging chains be used. Rediculous! Big LIck I beleive can be shown with chains weighing up to 8 oz. I ride and show and train lite shod and flat shod TWHs (lower levels). All of my horses get turned out for several hours at a time. Show horses get mostly turned out at night to keep the sun from bleaching out the coats. It keeps them happy, sane and even helps with muscle development amongst others. "Big Lick" and heavy shod horses cannot be turned out due to the heavy shoes and length on the feet. In lite shod or flat shod the horse is shown in a natural state (shoes not to exheed 3/4 inch wide and 3/8 thick) with a squared up gait and collection and should be ridden on the bit from the rear not pulled into the bit from the front. I put in many training hours, do not begin to ride the horse untill he is at least 3 years of age and put in many a wet saddle pad. Some Big Lick horses are began as late yearlings and stacked up as early as such. WAY TO YOUNG. Many suffer joint problems. I love the TWH breed and its signature run walk gait and if the horse is performing something other than the run walk (wich many TWHs carry different gaits other than the runwalk) and is more comfortable in that gait I will work with that gait and put the horse into a different class. I had a Great TWH mare that paced and was more comfortable in that gait. I trained her for the best slow western style jogging pace that I have ever ridden. We won many classes at lower level shows in Pleasure pacing classes both english and western styles. If the horse is hard core racking then I work with that and so on. Oh those horrible bits used in the upper level shows. How come I dont have to use those horrid bits in my TWHs? I refuse to use anything with more than a 6 inch shank (average length of a regular curb bit). I have reformed a few horses that had ruined mouths due to nasty bits and heavy hands. Those 10 to 14 inch shanks should be outlawed. The longer the shank the more the torque placed on the curb and the poll. ASB ppl should also be watched and scrutinized for some of thier so called training techniques. Pressure shoeing is a pretty prevelant thing with the ASB groups as well as cheeky "tricks" to put some soreness into the feet for a snappier gait. These horses are normally unable to be turned out also due to hoof length and shoe weight. They spend thier miserable lives locked up in a "cave" (usualy dark stalls) 23/7. (1 hour left for riding or ferrier work.) I have worked on the ASB curcuit for a short while, I hated it for what I saw. Just some teaching information: Foam coming from the mouth is a good thing when being ridden and is being worked well on the bit. Some bits are made from certain metals that encourage salivation to keep the mouth moist which helps with signal receiving from the riders hands on the reins. A dry mouth does not transfer minute signals as well. A "set" jaw doesnt either.
    There are good trainers and TWH horse owners out there that do things right and preserve the wonderful aspects of the breed. We good ones are out there, look for us, our horses are usualy healthy, sane, well adjusted and happy.

  19. Thank you for your concern for horses being trained in this abusive manner. However, I would like to mak it clear that not all gaited horses are treated like this. For example, the Rocky Mountain breed has a natural four-beat gait. It is prohibited by the Rocky Mountain Horse Association to use any cruel training to make these outstanding horses step higher. While witnessing a RMHA show, you may see some horses that step high in the classic classes. These horses are NOT abused to preform this way; this beautiful gait is the product of careful breeding. So, please, remember that not all gaited horse owners are criminals.

  20. Thank you for your comment and I'm well aware that not all gaited horses are treated in this way, thank goodness. I was addressing only the Tennessee Walking Horses. I grew up in TN and had several natural gaited walkers while living in CO, so have a deep love for and interest in the well-being of this breed. But yes, the Rocky Mountain is indeed beautiful and I'm very familiar with the strict rules preventing the abuses that are found in the TWH industry - and which continue to this day despite claims to the contrary.

  21. I just get sick when I see this done to the TWH. I have 2 TWH and one QH. Both my Walkers have such peronality and they love to be loved. Will do anything I ask, even if they are not sure... I can't imagine doing such cruelty. But their willingess to do what is asked of them allows our fellow "human beings" and I use the term lightly, to abuse them. I don't know why these shows are still being allowed! Money talks I know that much, but enough is enough!

  22. Thanks, Anon. They are lovely loving horses and I'm glad you care about them and how they're treated. Get active to help expose this industry because the cruelty just doesn't stop.

  23. What a crock of S%$#!!!!! This guy is so one sided he couldnt walk a straight line. Not all trainers sore, not all walkers on pads were sored. Open your eyes. The USDA only focus on this breed, but the horse act law was written for all breeds and all equine. I can see the last comment on this was way back on 2011. What about the drugs in the AQHA, the cruely behind certain dressage trainers and their horses. Now that is cruel. Those poor horses stand with their chins tied back to their chests for days. Most of this guys info is so outdated its unreal. You need to go to some real training barns and get your facts straight!!!!

    1. Straight from the mouth of convicted horse trainer Barney Davis (8/26/12):

      The TWH shows are the ONLY breed shows that are required to have inspectors.

    2. Mr. or Ms Anonymous..if you have any balls you'd put your name out here and let us rip you apart one by one. But you hide in the shadows just like the trainers do, sore horses, hurt horses then try to blast people that HAVE GONE into trainers barns and HAVE gone to shows and got documented proof of the consistent and constant abuse. Yes there is cruelty in most all horse events but THIS out does anything anyone else is or has done. The focus is ON YOU not other horse events at this time. Maybe one day their time will come but for now you better keep on hiding.

    3. Thanks, Jeannie. Normally I don't even publish comments from Anons but on this subject, I can see why some would not want their names published. Who wants their barn burned down? In this latest Anon post, though, I felt it was important for more honest, more humane and more knowledgeable people to be able to respond appropriately. Good jobby.

    4. Same old song and dance that's been repeated by every horse abuser in the country for 78 years.

      Why do people believe them? People who torture horses don't often tell the truth, especially when the torturing is the only job in the country they're qualified to do.

      In 1970 Auburn University, Alice Higgins of Sports Illustrated and The Portsmouth Times knew and reported that a minimum of 90% of all competitive Walking Horses were being sored.

      When the Horse Protection Act was passed the media actually promoted the money these people were making and how the bill was left with thousands of loopholes. This brought every uneducated heartless piece of garbage to the industry and after 43 years of society pretending it would go away- I'm here to assure all of you - -----

      ---- Outside private investigators, investigative journalists, people inside the industry, politicians, police and animal rights groups agree....... nearly ALL (100%) of competitive TN Walking Horses ARE being tortured.

      The above stat does not include the shows which do not allow or promote the big-lick.

    5. Thanks for these stats. The soring is the most gruesome aspect of the Big Lick's life in the show ring but it isn't the only form of cruelty that befalls these poor creatures. It's a sorry industry.

  24. and race horses die on the track..