Friday, August 29, 2014

The Plight Of The Tennessee Walking Horse

It's no secret that my biggest passion in life is my involvement with horses.  As a life long equestrian, I love learning, training, caring and riding.  There's almost no greater soul soothing experience for me than being astride my partner, Guinness, as we meld together; our thoughts, emotions and senses becoming one.

Yes, it really is that magical.  Now, not every equestrian is as bat-shit horse crazy as I.  I don't care for and converse with my horse just because I like horses. I do it out of an emotional NEED.  I've tried to do without in the past, and it was one of the most miserable years of my existence.

Some are much more casual in their approach to horse ownership, and as long as they educate themselves at least enough to properly care for their horse and take care of basic needs, that's fine by me.  They own horses simply because it's a fun hobby, and there is a sense of satisfaction in being able to say that they own horses.  

Then there are those who seek fortune and fame, at all costs, and at the expense of the health and well being of the horses that they claim to 'love'.  Abusive training practices, using pain and fear to get better performances quicker, rather than taking the time it takes to develop a horse along in it's training in a humane way.

There are abusive trainers and owners in every aspect, of every walk of life.  Cheaters are around no matter what your drug, be it auto racing, cycling, baseball, football, or showing any breed or species of animal:  cats, dogs, cattle, and yes, horses.  This brings me to where my personal conviction and fight for injustice lies:  The Tennessee Walking Horse Performance Division, AKA The Big Lick, perpetuated, protected and encouraged by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeder's and Exhibitor's Association.

My horse Guinness, as you may recall from previous posts, is a Tennessee Walking Horse.  I have no papers so I do not know his lineage, but his conformation, gaits and temperament are unmistakable markers as to what breed he hails from.  


I was given a B.S. story as to why he did not have any papers when I bought him, and I knew it at the time.  I suspect what his life was like before coming to me at 8 years old, but I have no papers to trace him with (quite convenient).  This is the way of the Big Lick.  If they don't 'make it' in the show ring, shred the papers and dump them at an auction or pass them off as a trail horse....whether they've ever seen a trail or not.

Let me explain the Big Lick:  Pictures are worth a thousand words.  

"Big Lick - Big Lie"
That, is the Big Lick.  A high stepping stride in the front, rear feet reaching well underneath the horse.  The above picture is the exact moment in time that the Big Lick supporters like to use to promote their chosen way of using a horse.  In this exact moment, it looks graceful, elegant.  Once you get past the horrific 10" or longer shanked bit that causes more than enough pressure in the horse's mouth to crack a walnut, the gigantic stack of rubber pads that weigh on average between 5-10 lbs....which is heavy enough to have to use a metal band around the top of the foot, as nails will not keep them on the foot.  You've also got chains wrapped around the front legs to hit them in the sensitive, bony part of the leg and cause pain so that they will pick the legs up higher than they normally would, even with the horrific shoes on.  

Since the chains by themselves do not create enough of a reaction from the horse in lifting higher, caustic chemicals are applied to the front legs where the chains lie in order to create an incredible amount of pain each time the chain strikes the pastern when the horse takes a step.  This is called Chemical Soring.  There are many, many methods that the Big Lick 'trainer' use to sore a horse in order to get them to perform the Big Lick gait.


Here you can clearly see the bands used to hold the 'stacks' on.  Side note:  They can also over tighten them using the adjustment screw to purposely hurt the animal.  This is one method of 'pressure shoeing'.
Chains around the front legs, used in conjunction with chemicals used to burn the horse's skin where they strike. 
Caustic chemicals 'cooking' under saran wrap to burn the skin and make the chains hurt enough to make them pick up their legs higher.

Skin peeling off from chemical burns.

If the stack does come off.....the use of the band means that it breaks the whole hoof off.  If the horse trips, this is what happens.  Once the entire foot is ripped off, usually the horse must be put down.
So, you have the prettied up version (if you can still call it that), and then you have the rest of the story.  These are other moments in time that don't portray quite the image that the Big Lick crowd would like to look at on their wall:

This horse's front feet and legs hurt so bad, it's trying to put as much weight on it's back legs as possible to try to alleviate the extreme pain that standing on his front legs causes.

You know what's even better than pictures?  Videos!

Isn't this pretty???   Side note:  The Walking Horse industry doesn't let people embed their videos.  Guess they don't want people to see it if they can help it.  Notice the disclaimer that these horses were 'inspected'?  That's right, these horses are supposedly protected by the HPA - Horse Protection Act.  They have to endure inspections designed to determine if they have been sored or not.  (Trick question - they're all sored.  The key is, have them sore enough to win a class, but not sore enough or be able to hide it well enough to pass inspection.)

So, the horses have to tolerate this in addition to being in excruciating pain:

Notice the horse's leg flinching when the inspector starts palpating the leg?  That's a no-no.  A Big Licker never wants their horse to respond to pain during inspection, because it means trouble for them - as in, it being obvious that their horse is sore.  In order to prevent the horse from reacting to pain and making it harder to detect the fact that the horse has been sored, they "steward" the horse:

Because of the fact that soring or 'fixing', as it's called within the Industry is not only illegal, but is also feeling pressure from society as no longer acceptable, all trainers deny that soring is going on in this day and age, and all but a few sorers have been eliminated!  Their horses are sound and clean as any horse on the planet!


This next video features Jackie McConnell.  The man in the stewarding video, shown beating his horses in the head with a 2 x 4, using a cattle prod to electrify the metal bit in the horse's mouth, applying caustic chemicals to the legs, when the pain is so bad that they just lay there in agony to lesson the pain, he whipped the crap out of them to force them to stand back up, and using a pair of scissors on a horse that has been sored and twitched to cut the ligaments in the tail so that the tail can be held more upright.  No pain medications required, of course, to cut the ligaments in the sensitive underside of the tail.  Just twitch it hard enough to where it won't kick you.

Jackie was convicted of conspiracy to violate the HPA, as well as animal abuse at the State level.  In Tennessee, it's a felony to sore horses.  He was required by the court to make this video.  Now, you DID watch the video of how he treats horses, right?  Watch now as he STILL tows the party line, saying how he's seen SO MUCH CHANGE recently, and how only a few trainers are still soring horses, and his biggest regret is how much he's embarrassed his family, and at about 5 minutes into the video, he TEARS UP and says just how much he "Loves them horses".  

WHAT???  Come on.....

What a total waste of human flesh.

Now, I'd hate for anyone to think that the Big Lick is the only thing that can be done with Tennessee Walking Horses.  Quite the contrary.......they can do anything.

It's estimated that the Big Lick segment of the breed only consists of about 3% or less of the total Walking Horses worldwide.  The rest of us enjoy them the way they are naturally.  Athletic, smart, very forgiving, and stoic.  The same traits, unfortunately, that make them easy targets for abuse........because they will tolerate it.

Here's how the rest of us enjoy our Walking Horses:


^They can be classy and elegant on the rail^

^Dressage, anyone?^

^Endurance, too!^

^Jumping to the Moon!^

^Barrel Racing!^

The real question is - What CAN'T you do with a Tennessee Walker?  Well - nothing, actually.  ;)  They can do it all with class and smooth as glass.....and they deserve way, WAY better than the BIG LICK BIG LIE.

There is currently a bill in Congress waiting on a vote called the P.A.S.T. Act.  Prevent All Soring Tactics.  This is an amendment to the HPA or Horse Protection Act of 1970, and it would make those giant stacks and chains illegal to use for showing horses.  Of course, the sore horse advocates that are in support of the Big Lick are kicking and screaming and doing everything they can to keep it from getting voted on.  They'll be able to take those stacks and chains when they pry them from their cold, dead fingers.  Fine by me.

Ride safe all, and don't be an abusive a-hole.

~The RoadQueen

Monday, August 18, 2014

Soggy Hogs and Purple Riders - Cuyahoga Valley National Park

This past weekend I finally got to go camping with my pony in tow for the fourth time this year.  (pathetic)  This time out, we attended the annual State Hog Roast held at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park - hosted by Medina County OHC.

Friday night was COLD.  I believe the temps went into the low 40's.  It stayed cold until Saturday afternoon, and after some early morning shenanigans in camp, we finally headed out for a ride around 1:30 after eating breakfast with the neighbors.

WONDERFUL people.  Love them.

Headed out of camp, just myself and Mom.  About a mile and a half into the ride, we met up with some friends of ours.  Things started out ok, but quickly disintegrated because of mixed herd dynamics and adrenaline.  We have ridden with these friends in the past with no problems whatsoever, but for some reason this year our horses have decided that this cannot be done anymore without much rearing, racing, spinning, and all sorts of other undesirable behaviors.

At one point a massive tree fell in the woods as we were riding by.  After quickly assessing my horse's ability to handle said scary situation, I bailed and ended up getting hung up on the saddle horn in the process.  Thus, the Purple Rider:

Mom ended up splitting off from the group, as one of the mares really didn't like her horse, and I believe that the feeling was mutual.  The rest of us took a break to let the horse's adrenaline wear off, and then started out again once the horses were about to fall asleep.

The ride was cut short, because we had all had enough of the stress and mess and were pretty well beat up.  I only ended up riding a total of just over 5 miles.  (pathetic)

Saturday evening was the much anticipated hog roast, which was fantastic, as usual.  A few fellow horsemen are members of an old timey blue grass band, so they got out their instruments and played for us after the feast.  They were really good!  

I'm always intrigued when I observe people participating in other hobbies that are unrelated to their normal activities.

Sunday morning we awoke to rain, so we packed up and headed home.  I'm really disappointed that we didn't ride more.  Oh well.  Maybe next time.

Ride safe all!

~The RoadQueen