Monty Roberts, world-renowned horseman and author of The Man Who Listens to Horses, continues to the lead the charge against the practice of ‘soring’ in the highly competitive world of Tennessee Walking Horses. He is joined by other high-profile supporters of change including Marty Irby, the executive director of Animal Wellness Action and a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association.
For those of you who don’t know, soring refers to the cruel practice of inflicting pain on the Tennessee Walker’s feet in order to achieve the desirable gait known as the “Big Lick” movement. Tools of the cruel trade include large stacked shoes and ankle chains to create lingering pain so the horse steps higher and snappier.
Further indignities for the sake of “aesthetics” include the horse’s tail tendons being severed, and the horse having to endure living with a tail set in a device that maintains a full break. The horses are then forced to endure further pain with the use of a “U” shaped stand under the tail to keep it in the high-crested shape that the breed is known for.
For the past 15 years, fans of the horse’s natural beauty and gaits, as well as animal welfare advocates, have stepped up efforts to have such practices banned. In 2013 the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act was introduced into the House of Congress in Washington. It passed in 2019 with an overwhelming vote of 333 to 96. However, the bill has since languished in the Senate since July 2020 when it was read and sent to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for review. Roberts says the political reality is that the bill is “dead in the Senate.”
Now Roberts and allies are going to put forward another bill with the hopes this one will pass all the way and become law. According to press reports, the revised bill is still being worked on but will include eliminating chains, a 50% reduction in the use of weighted shoes, having science-based and objective inspections to replace the industry’s self-policing program, assessing felony-level penalties, and eliminating entirely the use of tail braces that have been in use since 1939.
While certain Tennessee Walking Horse trainers stubbornly adhere to these inhumane methods, there is increasing support to embrace a natural way of going, including the introduction of trail pleasure classes which have been very popular.
“We applaud those who are stepping up for the Tennessee Walking Horse, and we are grateful to all of the people who have joined together to finally end the scourge of soring,” Roberts wrote in an article in USA Today. “We firmly believe there are no bad Tennessee Walking Horses. It is only the human element that has caused the Big Lick discipline to be a bad one.”
Watch a video posted by the voice for the breed, the All American Walking Horse Alliance in 2015 to promote the previous PAST Act (Caution: disturbing images):