Soring is the unethical and unlawful habit of deliberate application of pain to alter the movement of gaited horses (like Tennessee Walking Horses, and Saddle Horses) to attain an unfair advantage over other competitors in the show ring. The American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA) has condemned this act for more than 40 years.
How It All Started and Why It Was Done
In the late 1940s and 1950s, Tennessee Walking Horses gained so much popularity in the public, and those that are victims of soring were particularly attractive. Some horses that were “light shod” could achieve such an approach through intensive training; however, while “big lick” attracted the attention of judges, trainers began to use other practices to improve movement. They began the use of weights shoes, stacked pads, and heavy chains, and the methods quickly became more aggressive. These objects (chains, tacks, etc.) placed near the sole of the hoof cause pain to these horses. These aggressive procedures are called “soring,” and the result is a horse snatching its feet off the ground to mitigate pain and putting its hind limbs underneath itself as much as possible to reduce weight on its forelimbs.
How Soring Is Done
One method of soring is the chemical method, and it includes the use of caustics (such as kerosene or mustard oil) on the lower leg of the horse; the leg is then covered with plastic and leg covers for several days to allow the penetration of the chemical through the skin. The chemicals make the leg of the horse susceptible to action devices, and the hoof is responsive to any slight impact with the ground. Obvious scars are left on the horse when this method is used. These scars can only be removed using chemical stripping agents which causes more pain to the horse. The physical methods of soring cause pain when the hoof of the horse hits the ground. This makes the horse lift its feet higher and faster. Physical methods of soring include grinding or scraping of the hoof to expose sensitive tissues or removing the normal support structures from the hoof wall, inserting hard objects between the pads and the sole to exert pressure on this sensitive area of the hoof, tightening the metal hoof bands really hard to cause excessive pressure, the use of inappropriate horseshoe techniques that violate the Horse Protection Act (HPA), and causing laminitis deliberately, which is a very painful condition of the hoof.
Signs of soring include:
• Standing with the feet close together, and concentrating the weight toward the back legs;
• Granulation tissue or scars on the pastern region;
• Darker hair on the pastern region;
• Outward twisting of the hocks during movement;
• Lying down for a long period of time and reluctant to standing up;
• Reluctance to hooves handling; and
• Difficulties in walking and falling (walking pattern is similar to prayer mantis)
What Can You Do to Stop Soring?
Educating the equestrian community
If you’re a horse rider, talk to your friends and fellow riders. Let them know that soring is not just cruel and illegal, but, unfortunately, widespread. Ask them to join you in forwarding letters to legislators, seeking strong enforcement of the Horse Protection Act.