High Performance Hoof Care, LLC
Vickey M. Hollingsworth, DAEP 

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Tennessee Walking Horse soring.... a cruel history of abuse, politics, and insatiable desire for money and fame.


The Tennessee Walking Horse breed represents a rich history of wealth, power, and dignified representation. The power and presence of a pure gaited walking horse is hard to deny. The proud, high neckset, the smooth body of muscle, and the distinguished footfalls of the running walk or rack, no doubt the Tennessee Walking Horse is a breed like no other.

There, however, is a dark side overshadowing the breed, the registering organizations, the trainers, and owners. A deep and lurid history of severe abuse in the name of money and power has threatened to abolish any positive light the breed may hope to enjoy. The practice of soring has been alive and well since the 1960s and despite the best efforts of the United States government, little headway has been made to control or abolish the horrific practices known as soring.  Soring involves mechanical manipulation of the horse's lower limbs and hooves to create pain. Chemicals such as mustard oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, and other caustic agents are applied in a "blistering method" to sore the sensitive tissue of the horse. Chemicals are saturated to the skin, then the legs are wrapped tightly with cellophane and vetwrap, covered in quilted leg bandages and left to "cook." The horse is worked in chains applied around the pasterns of the sensitive skin, which further creates pain and sensitivity.  The horse's natural reaction is a very exaggerated high stepping gait known as "The Big Lick." To further exaggerate the horse's movements, heavy layers of pads are affixed to the horse's feet, known as "stacks."  The stacks can weigh up to 10 pounds, and nailed to the feet, then secured with metal bands.

The husbandry of big lick walking horses is tailored to create very hot horses with a lot of show ring presence.  They are denied all turn-out and live in barns their entire show careers.  They leave their stalls to be worked or to haul to shows.  They are ridden in long-shanked leverage bits and are often subjected to practices such as road foundering, working in blinders and training bungees.  The show horses have the supporting ligaments of their tails cut and then placed in tail sets which encourages a tall kink at the dock of the tail.

Trainers in the deep south known as the "good ole' boys club" win money and blue ribbons with sored horses, which in turn gets them more business and clients. In the bigger and more well known shows, owners and trainers can win thousands of dollars for winning classes.  There is a lot at stake when you're playing with the big lick club. 

Although the practice of soring with chemicals and mechanical pain devices is banned by governmental law, it is next to impossible to regulate or eradicate the practices. Horses continue to suffer while trainers and owners cash in on the pain.

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals... They are not our brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life...”   
Henry Beston, The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod

Yin and Yang...a study in opposite sides of the same coin

So what then does a healthy, happy and sound Tennessee Walking Horse look like? What picture does this majestic animal present that is so vastly opposite from the cruelty we see in the big lick world?  The breed is known worldwide for it's smooth gliding stride, friendly temperament, trainability, and trusting nature. When these traits are preserved and nurtured, the end result is a magnificent riding companion that is built for the long haul.

On the left is my ex-big lick TWH, Pendragon. He has adapted beautifully to life as a trail horse! He is bold, fearless, sure footed, and loves going out on trails either alone or in groups. He suffers some permanent damage which may never resolve (his tail has limited mobility, coronary band swelling and scarring, as well as being extremely headshy). To the right you can see the typical big lick walking horse wearing blinders, tie-down, tail wrapped and front legs sored with wraps, chains, and stacks.