Op-Ed: Oops! Tennessee Walking Horse Soring Study Foils Deniers

The results of the Detecting Soreness in Horses Consensus Study Report are in. Candace Wade weighs in on the ramifications of this report for Tennessee Walking Horses and the PAST Act.

Soring chains. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Yes, I am snarky regarding the results of the latest professional pushback on the Big Lick show ring. My brain shudders incredulous that a ban of the obvious soring of Tennessee Walking Horses must still be analyzed, pondered and “noodled around.” Yet, here’s another study. I’ll outline in digestible bites.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine  (NASEM) released its consensus study report in January 2021. A Review of Methods for Detecting Soreness in Horses is the short form. This independent study was conducted at the “joint request of APHIS (U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service), the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders Foundation (an entity whose representatives all have ties to the Big Lick, aka the industry) and the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine to help ensure that HPA (Horse Protection Act) inspection protocols, including protocols for compliance with the scar rule, are based on sound scientific principles that can be applied with consistency and objectivity.”

Yes, Virginia, the industry joint-requested the study — and they helped pay for it.

But, they didn’t get the results for which they hoped. With a history of paying legislators to keep bills like the authentic PAST Act from getting to the House and Senate floor for a vote, the study turned out to be an “oops!”

Dutch, a TWH, in the kill pen, still wearing his stacked shoes. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Timing adds spice to the saga. As this peer sponsored study edged to completion, the bastardized “compromise” PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Techniques) was un-successfully rammed (lobbied) at Congress, greased by a slick media blitz that smacked of previous industry propaganda. A threesome, of what I will call “anti-soring turncoats” hungry for a win no matter what the horse suffered, had joined forces with the industry crew. A non-negotiable position by the industry and agreed to by the three was that the industry would never give up the Big Lick horse.

One must understand the specious inspection goals of the failed compromise to understand the impact of the NASEM Methods Study.

  • Visual examination would have been predominant.
  • Inspectors would not have been required to touch horses during inspections.
  • The USDA’s scar rule would have been eliminated.
  • Would have been a yellow brick road to de facto self-policing by the industry.

Note:  The compromise bill was opposed by every major national veterinary, horse industry and animal protection group. They mobilized to speak against it.

The Consensus Study Report (that the industry co-sponsored, remember) does not support the inspection elements of the failed compromise. Repeat, does not support. It calls for:

  • Palpation of horses in inspection to detect pain, the gold standard.
  • The use of thermography to show unusual patterns of heat (soreness) and cold on the pasterns.
  • Recommends random drug testing using USEF protocols.
  • Addresses physical signs of pain that manifest in other ways than just palpation.
  • Recommends only licensed veterinarians, not industry preferred lay inspectors, conduct HPA inspections.

Dutch, a former Big Lick horse. The white hair line above his left front pastern is from being wrapped too tightly in plastic wrap in his previous life. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Historic behavior exposed the industry aim in contributing to fund the study was to have input in establishing the study parameters. Long-time-long-term goals have been to change the inspection protocol and get rid of the evidence of abuse by eliminating the scar rule. The hope was that NASEM would legitimize the long fought for goal.

Read the simple, two-page report Review. It’s not mind-numbing. It exposed the need for adequate detection methods in enforcing the HPA. The report is a positive for the need more meaningful inspections and to expose the pain deadening medications currently used to slip horses through inspections.

According to a source, an owner/exhibitor of a World Champion Walking Horse was in the process of burning scars off her Big Lick horse with salicylic acid. She then readied to wrap the area to tenderize the scars so they would peel off. The procedure is known as “setting a horse up” in scar treatment. When confronted, her response was, “If you people weren’t so determined to enforce the scar rule, we wouldn’t have to do this.”

“Scurf” from chemicals used on the back of Dutch’s pasterns. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

Earnest people — horse people — have fought for the well-being of TWHs for decades, without financial, personal or political benefit. I wandered through the looking glass into the shocking world of pain of the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse five years ago as a clueless observer. I followed the grueling rehab of Theo, the devastated ex-Big Lick Tennessee Walker show horse (see Saving Theo for that story). I found myself in meetings, hearings, horse shows, a breeder’s barn and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’Exhibitors Association headquarters. I moderated panels. I learned about the economic lies and the political struggles on the backs – and hooves – of these horses.

My snarky question is:  “Why must I continue to write about this issue?” Just stop injuring horses. A half-blind person — who doesn’t like horses — can see the Big Lick is an unnatural gait and is injurious to the horses.

Any lingering doubt about the need to finally get the real PAST Act passed can be dispelled by Eric Swafford’s (Tennessee state director of the HSUS, lifelong TWH owner and former state legislator) piece in The Tennessean. Look at the pictures.

The Detecting Soreness in Horses Consensus Study Report is one more anguishing inch towards stopping this animal abuse. I’m thrilled with the “oops.”