Bridlepath Hall of Shame: the “big lick” TWH industry

24 09 2006

(Hello Gaits of Gold readers! I hope you enjoy my blog, and feel free to leave a comment 🙂 )

The 2006 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was cancelled after USDA inspectors disqualified six out of nine horses in the championship class for soring. Soring takes many ugly forms, but one common practice is the application of caustic substances (including: mustard oil, kerosene, crotonaldehyde, salicylic acid, diesel oil, collodion) to the coronet band and fetlock in order to get a more animated gait. You’d be throwing your feet around too if they looked and felt like this:

“Big lick” TWHs can also be subjected to having chains around their fetlocks, or heavy stacks or pads nailed onto their feet to “enhance” their gait:


Mike Walden, the owner of a horse named Private Charter, was disqualified and he was later banned from the Celebration for two years after he reportedly offered three three trainers $10,000 each to withdraw their horses. Meanwhile, an organization separate from the Celebration event – the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association – announced its plans Thursday for another event to be held Nov. 24-25 in Murfreesboro.”As far as I am concerned, we won’t be there,” trainer Bill Bobo said about his horse, Rowdy Rev. “The world championship has come and gone. This is just another horse show.” C’mon, Bill; put your big-girl panties on and face reality. According to this site, you were not only Walking Horse Trainers Association Trainer of the Year in 1989, but you were also fined and suspended on three separate occasions for soring violations. (I guess you’re in good company, though; in 33 years of this Tennessee Walking Horse industry award, only 5 recipients have no recorded violations. 23 of the honorees have been ticketed for HPA violations; 18 of them with Federal cases. Five of these HPA violators were honored more than once. Startlingly, Rowdy Rev was one of the three horses who passed inspection at this year’s show, so I guess you’re making progress)

Just to add to the fun, a horse stabled at the Celebration tested positive for rabies. Boy, that takes a caring owner, doesn’t it? Good for you, 4J Land and Cattle Company! Routine vaccinations are for wimps!

I found an interesting video on YouTube (I won’t embed it here because I don’t want the sick mofo to think I’m endorsing it) which shows the general melee after it was announced the show was cancelled (fast forward it about a minute or so). The uploader, “utlaw97” says “Rides made after last class of 2006 Walking Horse Celebration was canceled. 9.2.2006. Not the best video, but you get a good idea of what happened. Takes me a minute or so to get to a spot where I could see, and then a little more time before moved camera to get a better view. Gives a good feel of the atmosphere after the show.” His rote response to other YouTubers (heh) who commented on the abuses? “Go hug a tree.” Classy.

On the one hand, it’s wonderful to see that the USDA inspectors actually did some good by exposing the abusive practices which are still going on, but the stubborn “good ol’ boy” mentality still seems to prevail. Never mind what they’re doing to a horse’s legs and heart; much more important to get that damn ribbon. Are we seeing a pattern here, dear readers? Yes, I think we are.

There are some wonderful, caring and brave TWH owners out there. The Jackson family saga is particularly instructive: they took their beautiful stallion Champagne Watchout to the 1999 Celebration, aiming to show him in the World Grand Championship class as a flat-shod horse. They were thwarted at every turn but did manage to enter him in the end. Watchout and his young rider Natalie Jackson were roundly booed; people tried to spook the horse, and in the end they needed a police escort back to their trailer. You can read about the whole sorry mess here; be sure to watch the videos.

Don't they look nice?

Natalie Jackson and Champagne Watchout

Just to be clear, there are plenty of owners and trainers who use ordinary keg shoes on their TWHs and would never subject them to such abuse; those fortunate horses live happy lives and are well-loved and cared for. These people deserve our applause and support. In the meantime, kudos to the inspectors who pulled the show. It’s gotten a lot of attention even in the non-horsey press; maybe the days of abusive, cheating, racist hicks dominating the breed are finally numbered. The horses deserve no less.

Further reading:

Linda Polk at the Houston Chronicle site has blogged about this too: The ugliness around us, Hoping for the best, When does it end? Also see this post at Horse Training Success, and Katie Allison Granju’s letter to the editor. (The comments are particularly…enlightening)

The Sore Tennessee Walking Horse has more information, including some hard-to-look-at photos.

Lots of good info at The Soring of Horses.

Understanding Soring and Helping to Stop It has some good photos showing the odd posture and gait of sored horses.

Tennessee Walking Horse Heritage Society promotes calm, steady trail horses with little or no breeding from padded bloodlines.

Update: (9/26)

A published report in Chattanooga says two of the three judges who were going to judge a new Tennessee walking horse show in Murfreesboro have pulled out.

Brian Martin told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he got “all kinds of calls” telling him National Horse Show Commission bylaws prevent him from judging noncommision shows. Texas resident Martin says it takes a lot of work to earn a judging license and he doesn’t want to start over.

Allen Forman of Georgia cited the same restriction in canceling his agreement to judge the Murfreesboro show.

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville ended in August without naming a national grand champion after several horses were disqualified by government inspectors. They cited evidence the animals had been “sored” to make them exaggerate their natural strutting gait.


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