Sunday, June 28, 2009

Plagues of the gaited breeds

I initially planned on including all the gaited breed (and in particular, Tennessee Walkers) plagues in with a previous blog concerning the atrocities that exist in the everyday show world, however the list grew too long, so I felt it necessary to seperate the gaited atrocities from the rest. Same follows for the racehorse industry, which I have already touched on lightly in another previous blog regarding racehorses (there is so much more there, however I really only know the half of it - unless you work on the track for a number of years and in various trainers' barns, you're only going to see the tip of the secretive iceberg).

Here is what I have dug up on the gaited horse community. It is very limited and only skims the surface - though I have provided a lot of links (bottom) that will enable anyone reading this blog to do their own research. This blog is just meant as a quick little blip to pique one's interest and spread awareness of what is going on out there. Take note that my experience with gaited horses is rather limited to seeing them at expos, talking with breeders at shows I've attended, and riding one beautiful mare in particular (a TNW, Mornin's Miracle aka Mira, from Crystal Star Ranch) last fall at the Harvest Festival up in St.Paul, Alberta when I competed (and won!) at the Trainer's Challenge, so a lot of the following info is based on what I have heard, what I have seen, and what I have researched, but from outside the industry. To gain a proper full perspective, I believe one would have to be involved in all aspects of the industry. So, if you have any experiences of your own, feel free to comment! Anyway, this is what I have found, and my opinion on things:

Chemical Soring
This involves chemicals being rubbed into the sensitive tissues of the coronet band - chemicals such as mustard oil, croton oil, salicylic acid, diesel oil, etc. These agents burn and blister the horse's skin, causing intense pain to the horse, who therefore raises its fronts for the big front end action sought for in the show ring. Furthermore, these chemicals are often carcinogenic and very toxic.

One side-effect of using chemicals is scarring. Therefore a horses' lower legs may be soaked in an acidic bath and left in its stall - likely unable to stand and in excrutiating pain - to recover as its skin desintegrates. The hair later regrows, and in this fashion any soring scars are left invisible.

Another side-effect of soring "stewarding". As horses may be palpated prior to entering a class; a sore horse is likely to flinch when pressure is applied to sored areas. So, prior to a show, a trainer may palpate the horse himself, beating the horse any time he flinches, thus teaching the horse to forego flinching when palpated prior to entering the ring. Another way of avoiding detection is to use a temporary freezing agent over the sored areas.

Mechanical Soring
Though only 6-ounce chains are permitted in the show ring, much heavier chains are often used in training at home. In addition, the 6-ounce chains hitting against old bruises and sores beneath from heavier chains or chemical means can still cause intense pain to the horse. Not to mention that even a 6-ounce chain, worn consistently, is still going to cause bruising and discomfort (think about how it would feel around your ankles).

Another method of mechanical soring is driving nails or screws up into the hoof wall, up against the sensitive white line. These are detectable, if the officials have the correct equipment at the show, and if the owner/trainer does not remove the nails/screws during inspection (then replace them afterwards).

Pressure Shoeing
This practice encompasses filing down the hoof wall to the sensitive quick, then shoeing the horse. Every time the horse places a foot down, he is forced to bear weight on the injured quick, resulting in pain with each step. Pressure points may also be created through using shoes higher on the inside than the outside, using a shoe with a raised metal edge/rim that digs into the hoof, etc. Foreign objects such as golf balls (cut in half), screws, etc may also be placed between hoof and pad to cause pain to the horse. These tools create pressure on the horse's hoof every time he bears weight down on it, resulting in a snappy step with very little time on the ground and more air time.

Road Foundering
This practise involves riding a horse on hard roads until his feet are so sore that he gets that snappy step sought for in the show ring.

These can reach 4-5 inches in height and are akin to platform shoes for humans - which, as we all know, are harmful. So how is it any different for our horses? For one, the angle of the hoof (often with a long toe) is push far beyond nature intended; a variance of over 3 degrees from the norm can be detrimental. Second, the actual height the horse is forced to stand at is...well...also unnatural. Thirdly, the clamp at the front of the shoe (partially missing in this photo), necessary to hold the pads to the horse's hoof, can dig into the horse's pastern and tear up the skin. All of these factors combined result in stressed and damaged tendons and ligaments. As any human with bad feet knows - your feet have a huge impact on your back, knees, hips, etc - your entire body. Horses, surprisingly (insert rolled eyes here), are not exempt.

All the above practises are by far not necessary to successfully show gaited horses; something I believe a lot of people do realise. On the other hand, there just is not enough manpower to efficiently inspect and thus protect these horses (well, not yet anyways). Corruption within the associations also feeds these vicious practices. Violations continue to be common and many more are not caught, even at the highest levels of competition. Hopefully with work these practices can be erradicated over time. Here is one example of a trainer who has won a World Championship, David Lichman, who works his gaited horses naturally.


Soring the Gaited Horse This is a highly informative site that includes the history of soring

Stop Soring

Friends of Sound Horses

Soring TWH's Wikipedia

For the Tennessee Walking Horse A blog with information, articles, and up-to-date info on the practices of soring

Natural Horse Talk Source-backed info on gaited practices

One final note: these practices are certainly ot restricted to the gaited world such as Tennessee Walkers and Saddlebreds. I have personally seen Arabians undergo some of the above methods and I understand Morgans are not exempt either.

1 comment:

OldMorgans said...

I wonder just how much pressure from the general public it will take to eradicate these practices. The people doing it certainly do not care about the horses at all so appealing to their better natures has little chance of success.
I've seen David Lichman's video and it is nice to watch.