As the gaited horse show season starts in America a shocking video has just been launched, revealing the truth behind a barbaric practice used on walking horses.
Known as soring, it inflicts pain on the horse’s forelegs by irritating or blistering them using caustic chemicals or mechanical devices, which results in an exaggerate gait.
“It’s time for this egregious form of animal cruelty to end,” said Dr Rene Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), which produced the four-minute shockumentary.
Chemical soring involves applying irritants such as kerosene, diesel, WD40 oil or mustard oil to the horse's lower leg, and then covering it with plastic and a bandage for several days to allow the chemical to soak in.
‘Action devices’, which are bracelet-like chains used around the pastern are then put on. These chains are permitted by the Horse Protection Act in training and at shows, as long as they are no heavier than six ounces. Under normal conditions these would not cause the horse any pain, but after soring they rub and inflame the sensitive skin, causing the horse to produce a chest-high stride, known as the ‘big lick’.
Mechanical soring is where the hoof is trimmed in such a way as to cause sensitivity (eg making the hoof wall shorter than the sole) or applying hard or sharp objects between the shoe and the sole. Other methods include causing laminitis, which is referred to as a ‘natural fix’ and poor shoeing.
Soring has been illegal since 1970, however it is still prolific. In 2011, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported 587 cases, while attending 62 gaited horse events. There were in excess of 650 shows held that year, which means that nearly 600 went unregulated.
According to Dr Rene Carlson, USDA inspectors are doing all they can to spot soring before horses are allowed to compete, but tight budgets mean that are only able to attend a small number of shows.
To make matters worse the prosecution of soring offenders has been met with strong political opposition, and those found guilty have simply carried on with the practice.
“For that reason, America’s veterinarians are standing right beside USDA inspectors in urging the strengthening of the Horse Protection Act,” Carlson said. “Everyone – inspectors, judges, trainers, riders and even spectators at these shows must take responsibility for ending soring. A zero-tolerance policy being promoted by these shows would set a significant tenor for the entire show season.”