High Performance Hoof Care - Hoof Trimming and Rehabilitation by Vickey Hollingsworth
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The greatest freak show on earth

Cruelty.... Suffering.....Agony.....Injustice


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When will the abuse stop?  Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses abused and tortured for money.

2009 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration Show - The largest number of cruelty violations on record - EVER


The Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration Show is

Quote from the Celebration website:

"The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration® is heralded as the "World's Greatest Horse Show" and has over 4,000 entries and gives away more than $650,000.00 in prizes and awards and is 11 days and nights of action packed and heated competition.

The Celebration® offers corporate sponsors marketing opportunities and corporate entertainment with different levels of sponsorship starting at $6,500.00 for a Championship Class to $250,000.00 for a Title sponsorship."

How will the abuse ever be eliminated with so much prize money involved? IT WON'T.

If the good ole' boys in the South do this because it's fun, and they love the horses, then take away ALL the prize money and let them do it for the pure thrill of the ride. I'd bet my bank account the industry would be desolate and abandoned within a year.

No prize money = no more big lick = no more abuse. PERIOD.

Walking horse soring abuse

The arena is dark, and the air is hot. Hints of delicious food mixed with pungent night air beckons your nose. A sense of camaraderie and unified purpose tickles the senses. The crowd sucks deep breaths of anticipation and thousands of onlookers scoot to the edge of their seats. Somewhere overhead a microphone crackles and jostles the mass to life. Spotlights shine from above and through the in-gate charges the one thing they’ve all gathered here to see… a creature of magnificence and power substantial enough to rival the seven wonders. The sight of him is stunning and makes the spine shiver. Sixteen hands of sheer power, with a coat as fresh spun silk. His muscles ripple as the huge black body charges down the rail. The silent air is split with roars from the crowd. Bright red ribbons in a marriage of black mane, flow like streams of red wine. Hoofbeats pound the earth and every footfall vibrates the seat beneath you. His magnificence charges forward as a warrior on a battle march. Chest muscles bulge and sweat beads up on that liquid black coat. As he rages past your seat you look into the whites of his eyes glowing like diamonds and the nostrils flaring red and hot. You will never forget the sound of his rattling breath as his body strains beneath the load. You are breathless as you behold the sheer power and magnitude of this animal. For a single moment, time stands still, and you know that you have beheld the glory and power of the most magnificent creature on earth. Your soul is shaken to its very core and you can never forget the awesome presence of the Big Lick horse.

When the awe passes I ask you to look harder my friend. Did you see anything else? Did you see the chains, the pads, the poultices and wraps? Did you see the plastic and turnbuckles and liniment? Did you see the blinders and bungee cords? Do you see the bits with frightening shanks? How about the pain, can you see the pain in the horse’s eyes? I can. And so can you if you’ll only look a little harder.

Just what is the Big Lick Walking Horse? The Big Lick horse (also called the Shod Performance horse) is a Tennessee Walking Horse which moves in an extreme and dramatic way. His front legs maintain a level of extreme activity while the hindquarters step deep under the body with a huge overreach. You might think this doesn’t sound so bad! Lots of gaited horses move dramatically with high knee action. Unfortunately, this isn’t the end of the story.

The signature trait of Big Lick horses is the padding and chains on the front feet. Layers of leather, rubber or plastic pads are nailed together to elevate the forehand of the horse and encourage more animation while gaiting. This arrangement of pads is sometimes known as stacks, and they can range from a couple of inches in height up to 5 ½ inches and in some cases, more. The horse’s toe is usually encouraged to grow very long, while the heels are kept under-run and contracted. This unbalanced foot is then fitted with stacks and the horse’s natural balance and leg conformation are severely compromised. Add to this the various mixes and concoctions of chemical and mechanical soring agents and you have a potentially dangerous situation for the horse involved.

The Method to the Madness
Soring can be accomplished either chemically or mechanically. Mechanical soring consists of actions such as positioning shoe nails in the sensitive laminae of the foot, concealing golf ball halves between the sole of the foot and the stacks, and even placing bits of glass or metal between the stacks and the sole of the foot. In some cases the horse is “road foundered” which means he is worked long and hard on unforgiving asphalt or gravel.

Chemical soring is more complex and difficult to detect. Agents such as Allyl isothicocyanate (mustard oil), is an extremely carcinogenic, kissing cousin to the poisonous mustard gas used during WWI, and quite possibly the most popular soring agent used because of its dramatic results. It is easily absorbed into the skin and causes extreme discomfort to the horse. Crotonaldehyde (Croton) oil is an very toxic, hazardous chemical which is known to cause 1st and 2nd degree burns to the skin. Croton oil is absorbed deep into the tissues of the foot and leg and causes inflammation to the sensitive tissue surrounding the bones of the feet and legs. It is often diluted with other chemicals such as kerosene. Diesel fuel is also a popular chemical for mixing with other, much stronger, agents. Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO) is used on the skin to open up the pores and encourage greater absorption of the soring chemicals.

Diesel fuel is another common substance found in big lick barns. Chains are soaked in diesel fuel to remove the gunk of "work grease" which is some type of petroleum base mixed with Kopertox. As we know, diesel fuel is oily and leaves a residue. These chains covered in residue are used on the legs, which further contributes to irritation. Some people believe that diesel fuel is used directly on the skin as well.

Salicylic Acid is a common ingredient in over the counter acne medications, but in the world of the big lick horse, it is used to remove scars from the horse's legs which are caused by chains and chemical soring. I read a thread on a popular Tennessee Walking Horse board giving detailed instructions on how to apply Salicylic Acid underneath sweat wraps the last few weeks before a big show to "clean the legs up." That thread was removed to the password protected archives shortly after it was created. I assume that is to keep it available only to those paid subscribers and away from the eyes of outsiders.

Don’t let the towering stance of a 15, or 16 hand horse fool you; the skin and tissue of a horse’s legs are very sensitive and delicate. This area of the horse is particularly susceptible to fungi and bacterial infections during times of dampness or wet weather. Studies at the University of Australia have also proven that the tissue on the cannon area of the horse’s legs is substantially more receptive to chemical absorption than many other areas of the body.

For generations, the Big Lick horse has been a main staple of the Southern states. This breed of horse is used as a mascot at sports events, high schools, and is a universal symbol of Tennessee. Having grown up in Tennessee, I rode at a Big Lick barn for one summer. Though the barn I was associated with did not endorse chemical soring, the care of the feet and legs was terrifying. In a typical big lick program, legs are wrapped in plastic wrap and sweated with a mixture of petroleum and Koppertox to "toughen the skin." Horses are trained in heavy (10 ounces +) chains which scar and callouse the skin if it isn't toughened up first. Salicylic acid is then used to remove scarring and calluses before shows. Horses are rarely allowed turnout because of the shoeing packages. Some are fed overdoses of grain and molasses to keep them hot for the ring.

Training methods include working horses with the legs tied together with surgical tubing (called stretchies or bungees), working the horse in full cup blinders to encourage them to "feel" the air with the front legs, spurring them in the flanks with long shanked spurs to encourage more action, and using a sort of gag device attached to the saddle which forces the head up in the air, and therefore, forces weight on the hindquarters, achieving the "crawling spider" look which is so popular.

They don't all do it
Only to be fair, some big lick barns do NOT use barbaric methods of training, do not sore, and do try to give the horse a more natural lifestyle. Some of them are turned out daily, hand grazed, and thoroughly loved. Their shoes are pulled when not showing, and they have a fairly normal life. These owners and trainers buy horses bred from champion lines, they spend years training, and they treat the horse as a respected athlete. Even so, knowing what we know about equine distal limb function, and anatomy, the shoes and pads alone are enough to cause tremdendous concern.

Government Involvement
Many horse people don't know this, but the United States Government is directly involved in the monitoring of Tennessee Walking Horses because the abuse is so rampant. All TWH shows must have Designated Qualified Persons (DQPs) to inspect every horse before every class and eliminate those showing signs of soring. The problem is that many of the DQPs are competitors and advocators of the big lick horse themselves. There is an obvious conflict of interest, and essentially you have the fox guarding the hen house. For this reason, the USDA monitors the DQP program and appoints Veterinary Medical Officers (VMOs) to oversee high publicity shows. In 2006, the World Grand Championship class at the National Celebration Show was cancelled because 7 of the 10 horses presented could not pass a governmental inspection. This rocked the big lick world, because this is the single most important event in the world of the big lick horse, owner, and trainer. Many of us see this as the final breaking point and only hope that the public outcry will be a slap in the face to those abusing these horses.

Sound supporters, such as myself, feel that the system is too lax, and allows too many horses to pass inspection that show obvious scarring and signs of abuse. The scar rules are so difficult to interpret that many times horses are passed through inspection just to avoid a conflict. The horse's legs can be deformed and growing wavy hair due to permanent folical damage, and still pass inspection.

I was once told on a public bulletin board by a long-time big lick competitor: "If the government shows up, I just pack up my trailer and leave." When I questioned her about WHY, her answer was "Because I don't need the government disrespecting me." There are plenty of reports of showgrounds that empty out when the VMO shows up. They're happy to be inspected by the DQP, because the DQPs are often on their side! But you get the USDA involved with their VMOs and everybody gets scared. Flip on the lights and the cockroaches run.

"Sniffer" technology is relatively new. It is a machine that has the ability to detect the smell of foreign substances on the horse's legs. Trainers and owners complain because compounds such as fly spray and show sheen are detected as an ilegal foreign substance. Some of us feel this is a GOOD thing because as it gets tougher to sore with traditional chemicals, who knows what other common irritants can be used.
Soring is not the ONLY Problem! As despicable as soring is, unfortunately it is only one frame in the nightmare. The performance TWH industry is notorious for questionable training tactics, bad riding, and abuse in all forms. Even when a horse has not been sored by mechanical or chemical applications, the shoes and stacks themselves, the chains on the legs, the bits, the horrible equitation, the denial of turnout time, the appliation of pressure shoeing on "lite shod" horses, the tail sets - all of it combines to make life very painful and miserable for the animals involved.

Big lick horses are sometimes worked in blinders to encourage them to "feel the air" with their front legs. Trainers believe that just as person lacking vision will use their arms to keep from running into walls, and to feel their surroundings, horses will do the same, thereby exagerating the dramatic movement even more. (I don't believe the horse in the photo though is a big lick horse, because they are not typically ridden in a double rein.) They're also worked with bungee cords (or surgical tubing) tying their legs together, which forces them to use extreme strength to take a stride. I've never figured out why, but most big lick riders are very tall/large men who should be mounted on much larger horses. They sit over the horse's loins, and their rowel spurs jab the horse in the flanks every stride.

And the infamous green goo..........the green color you see on walking horse legs is Kopertox (the common thrush treatment.) Kopertox is used combined with petroleum jelly to create what is known as "work grease." No one can quite agree on what "work grease" actually DOES or what it's FOR, but the explanations I have been given are this: (1) The horses sometimes hit themselves while working at gait, and the Kopertox is there as a preventative to guard against infection in these cuts. The petroleum is used as a lubricant so the chains will slide up and down the fetlock. And (2) The Kopertox causes mild irritation and increased sensitivity of the skin, which increases the discomfort of the chains and creates more action up front.

This "work grease" is always used underneath plastic wrap to intensify the effect.

Big Lick performance horse sporting Kopertox and plastic wrap on the legs.  Training shackles on a big lick walking horse.
Above: "Work Grease" under plastic wrap and chains, and training shackles used to build muscle in the forehand.

Links Below: Blinders are used to make a horse "feel the air" and improve the big lick gait. Most people would think it is deplorable and abusive to blind a horse for riding, but this is common practice in big lick world. The second link: A horse decked out in his standing wraps and tail set. Horses live in stalls with these devices in place which are undoubtedly irritating and uncomfortable. The tail is an extension of the spine which is meant to hang down from the dock. The tail set forces the bones up into the air, and when combined with severed ligaments, the tail can be trained to rise up from the dock before falling. The problem is that the training does not last and the horse has to continually wear the tail set throughout the entire showing career.

LINKS (Click):

1. Blinders sold by National Bridle Shop under their Training section (NOTE: National Bridle Shop does not support the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses. They support the sound and happy horse. They sell this blinder hood because it represents many different useful purposes. However, the hood is used by Big Lick trainers to make the horse "feel the air" while being ridden)

2. Tail set sold by Bedford Tack

Big Lick performance horse 
Photo Credits: Dr. Steven O'Grady and Lessiter Publications

But what about Lite Shod Horses? Even "Lite Shod" horses wear shoes that weigh several pounds, and cover the entire sole. The shoes are not seated out to relieve sole pressure - in fact sole pressure is DESIRED. It causes pain, inflammation and bruising which further exagerates the horse's gait. Golf ball halves, nails, metal, and glass have all been found between the shoe and the sole in an attempt to increase pain.

Keg shoe on a Lite Shod Tennessee Walking Horse  Keg shoe on a Lite Shod Tennessee Walking Horse 
Photo Credits Left to Right: Dr. Steven O'Grady, and USDA

Pressure Shoeing Device

Heel spring with attached pressure device

This device was presented by a southeast farrier in reference to pressure shoeing. Although he agrees there has been huge changes in the gaited horse community since the government has stepped in he encourages any farrier who finds something of this nature to seek the proper authorities. Furthermore he also notes any farrier who would take part in anything to cause even unjustified minor pain to horses should not be allowed to practice hoof care. He also feels the gaited horse community should not be judged by a few bad apples in the bunch. There are many law abiding and upstanding gaited horse farms that do not practice this type of foolishness.

A Look at BITS . . .

Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse abuse.

The bit on the left is a Big Lick walking horse bit and it boasts a whopping 12 1/2" shank length, with double twisted wire mouthpiece. It can be purchased for a mere $34.95. Pardon me for saying so folks, but a torture device THIS severe should carry a price tag equally severe. At least that way it would keep it out of the hands of the newbies, and the backyard idiots just looking to beat up on a little 2 year old colt. The second bit can be ordered with a double twisted wire mouth and 12" shanks from Grissom Bits. You can even order it with a nylon rope mouthpiece so if that little colt gives you a hard time, you can just light him up with a good rope burn across the tongue. That should whip that sucker into shape in no time! And the grand finale is the third one - The description on this bit says "This bit has a 12" shank length with a longer purchase that is curved to enhance leverage." Ahhhh, yes....because we all know that 12" of shank length is not sufficient leverage. I don't think we can "quite" brake the jaw bone in half yet, so lets enhance that leverage!

This popular Big Lick bit boasts a whopping 12 1/2 inches of shank length.  This popular Big Lick bit boasts a whopping 12 1/2 inches of shank length.  This popular Big Lick bit boasts a whopping 12 1/2 inches of shank length.

CANTER - A gait of cruelty . . .

Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse abuse at the canter.

At what point does the natural gait of "canter" become abuse? When the horse is shod and bitted for big lick performance..........The horse struggles to get off the ground while the rider yanks on the reins with every stride. The weight of the shoes combined with the momentum of the gait causes the limbs to hyperflex and suffer extreme exertion. The horse becomes hollow through the body and is forced to throw their head up and back to get their shoulders airborne. This is often assisted by the rider giving a hefty yank on the rein that corresponds with the limb coming off the ground. Watching videos is the best way to get a feel for this. The rider alternately yanks the left and right rein, which causes the horse to throw the head and neck up higher.

Lets face it, nothing we do with our horses is naturally what they would do in the wild, but cantering the big lick horse crosses the line of unnatural and moves easily into the cruelty and abuse category. If big lick performance can't be banned, at least the cantering of these horses should be.

The horses labor, pant, and break out in a lathered sweat after only a few minutes of work. These horses are in agony and the terror in their eyes is proof.

I have literally watched hundreds of hours of both video coverage and live performances of these horses in the show ring and can count on one hand the number of times I've seen a rider pet a horse on the neck, or give the horse a pat or ANY kind of reassurance or praise. If the rider pauses for a moment to do anything, it is to reach up and check that the curb chain is tight (usually by grasping the tail of it and administering a swift jerk, to which the horse responds by throwing the head up), to switch the whip from one hand to the other, or to readjust their own top hat or clothing. Two videos show a horse stumbling badly (in one video the horse actually fell down.) In both cases, the rider simply gets the horse collected back up, and spurs them on down the rail. Ordinarily, when a horse falls down during competition, it is customary for the rider to excuse themself from the ring to check the horse over for injury and to determine the cause of the fall. The lack of care and compassion for the horse in the Tennessee Walking Horse show ring is shameful and disgusting.

Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse abuse at the canter.
This horse was struggling badly during the canter. Notice the grotesque angle of the left hind leg. This horse was flailing all over the place, stumbled a couple of times, and was severely laboring under the heavy handed rider. At one point the rider reached up and jerked on the tail end of the curb chain, then stood up in the stirrups and plunked back down on the horse's back so hard that he dipped his back to get away from the pressure. The rider flipped the tails of his coat a couple times, spurred the horse on, and finished it off with a few hard jerks on the horse's bit as they sped off down the rail.

Performance TN Walking Horse in Blinders

Big Lick Walking Horse Video

Big Lick Walking Horse Video of Hocks

Big Lick Horses - See It Through My Eyes: Big lick abuse

Big Lick Horse - CANTERING video. (And this is one of the better riders I've seen. The really nasty "good ole boys" offer the horse no mercy at this gait. At least this woman seems to have a shred of compassion and tact.)

It is important to understand the gravity of the big lick situation. Some supporters of the sound horse have been issued death threats, had their barns burned down, and threatened with lawsuits by the "good ole' boys." One particular flat shod competitor required police protection at the Celebration Show back in 1999. Big Lick isn't just a hobby, a discipline, or a way to have fun with your horse. It's big money business. For this reason, the photos below have been cropped to show only feet. It's unfortunate that I had to crop them, because the real shock is the look in the horses' eyes. In almost every photo, the eyes are rolled back white, mouth gaping open against a 10" shanked bit. The overall picture is terrifying. As you can see in these photos, there is much more wrong than just the shoeing. The bit shanks which are out of control, the size of the riders on 2 year old babies, the length of the rowelled spurs, chains banging the legs every stride, the wavy, permanently damaged hair on the fetlocks and cannon bones, the complete lack of concern for the comfort and happiness of the horse...
Even the babies are in big trouble:
Tennessee Walking Horse Foal with BAD LEGS.

And once they grow up a little, their hooves will look like this:
Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse - wearing stacks and bands

Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse - hyperflexion

Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse
Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse
Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse
Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse
Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse

A note of interest: Most of the photos above are of 2 and 3 year old horses.

For comparison, this is what a NORMAL/HEALTHY Tennessee Walking Horse hoof
looks like. This is a TWH I trimmed.

Healthy, barefoot Tennessee Walking Horse hoof I trimmed

What do we do about it?
Having the knowledge we do about the biomechanical and physiological function of the equine distal limb, it is impossible to ignore the grotesque methods by which Tennessee Walking Horses are shod, trained, and maintained. But what can we do about it? There is plenty! Visit the following:

USDA - Horse Protection Act

Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH)

Equus Special Report - Why Soring Persists

The Sound Horse Conference - TONS of great info here!

Photo of a stacked hoof sheared off a horse

Silver Phoenix Ranch - Promoting Sound and Natural TWHs!

Lessiter Publications - Radiographs of stacks showing all the nails and bands

A look at how World Grand Champions have changed from beautiful horses into crawling spiders.

For The TN Walking Horse Blog - first hand accounts of the terror and pain these horses suffer.

If you are as outraged about this as I am, I encourage you to contact the Mayor of Shelbyville, Tennessee directly and tell him you want padded horses eliminated from the Celebration Show. Also contact FOSH, join the group, and support the sound horse movement. Take every opportunity possible to speak out against this abuse being committed in our own backyards.

So with that, I ask you:
Who will cry for the horses? Who will fight for their cause? Who will ease their suffering? Who will not sleep sound on their pillow until this barbaric torture is stopped? If we don't, THEN WHO WILL??????

Big Lick Performance Tennessee Walking Horse - sored and stacked