Friends of Sound Horses
FOSH?? What on earth is that?
FOSH is an acronym that stands for "Friends of Sound Horses". FOSH is incorporated as a public benefit, and is a humane and educational organization.
Its purpose is to provide information to the public about the humane care, treatment and training of gaited horses, with a special emphasis on the Tennessee Walking Horse, and to promote the exhibition of the flat shod and barefoot Walking Horse at competitions designed to showcase the natural gaited pleasure walking horse. They also educate people about a deplorable practice that has been in use for years and is every gaited horse's worst nightmare: Soring.
What is soring?
Soring is a process of intentionally causing pain to a horse's front legs and hoofs to enhance a gaited horse's movement in the show ring. Soring is illegal and inhumane, but is still being practiced today in pursuit of that all important blue ribbon.
How did the whole thing start anyway?
Would you believe by accident?
Soring began quite by accident back in the early days of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed. Shortly after the breed association was established in 1935, Walking Horses became one of the most sought after breeds on the market. Prices soared as their popularity increased.
In the 1950s, the Walking Horse industry hit a slump. It was about this time that a trainer discovered that mustard oil (a caustic agent) applied to his horse's legs, caused him to step livelier. At the next show, his horse all but flew around the arena with his feet snapping off the ground as if they were on fire. Eyes rolling, he would barely set his foot on the ground before snatching it back up again. The crowd absolutely loved it. People quickly began experimenting, and before too much time had passed "everybody" was doing it.
The spectators went wild for the action and the judges clearly favored those horses with the flying feet. It didn't take too long for this vicious cycle to become "the new norm".
If'n he trains with chains... - Thars a shor nuff lack of brains.
Throw in a little bit of a blistering agent, add some plastic wrap and presto! - You have a nicely sored horse, ready to show - and isn't it pretty??
Inspection and Detection - Photo courtesy of USDA
In 1970 the Horse Protection Act (HPA) was passed which made the practice of soring illegal. Sadly, this practice continues even today. The USDA has inspectors which attend some of the shows to discourage this practice, however, budget constraints severely limit their ability to "police" all but a small number of horse shows.
Initially, inspectors could simply palpate a horse's forelegs as a means to detect soring; their touch would cause the horse to flinch (indicating he had been sored) and the inspector would then know to disqualify the horse.
To avoid detection and disqualification, trainers began practicing what's known as "stewarding". The trainers would palpate the horse just as an inspector would, and any undesired reaction by the horse (such as flinching) would result in a severe beating. Other methods include the use of alligator clips on the tongue or testicles to distract the horse from reacting to the touch.
Radiographs (picture above) are now being used to detect improper treatment, but the problem of soring continues to plague the industry.
Spectators and participants at these Walking Horse Shows will fall into one of two categories:
1. Those that don't know.
- or -
2. Those that don't WANT to know.
The Tennessee Walking Horse Gaiting Naturally
To help you see the difference, look at this picture of a Walking Horse. Pay careful attention to the hocks (the area I've circled) and notice in particular the angle of both his back legs; this is what it should look like.
NOTE: Horses carry 60% of their body weight on the front end. A sored horse, however, will shift as much of his weight as possible to his back end in an attempt to alleviate the pain in his front feet and forelegs. The flashy gait known as "the big lick" occurs as a direct result of the horse literally attempting to throw off or climb out of the shoes that are causing him so much agony. If you have ever seen a show, you'll notice it doesn't take very long before these poor animals are all but staggering around the ring. This is due to the overwhelming strain placed on the hind legs; which are not designed to support the bulk of a horse's weight.
Shifting the weight to the back
Although I've only circled one, you can clearly see the difference in the angles of both back legs. Added to that, his back has a definite downward slope instead of being level. You can see by the flared nostrils and overall body language that this horse is under a horrendous amount of strain to perform.
The Big Lick
Many of these horses collapse in their stalls - unable to stand - following a show. The amount of suffering this horse is enduring is clearly evident in his tortured expression.
Some excellent sites to visit
- AMERICAN HORSE DEFENSE FUND
Dedicated to the protection, conservation and humane treatment of horses and all equine species.
- BIG LICK - THE GREATEST FREAK SHOW ON EARTH
This is written by a farrier, and contains some excellent photos regarding the TWH debacle.
- THE SADISTIC TREATMENT OF TENNESSEE WALKING HORSES
This article is one of an excellent series written by Bonnie Erbe (for USnews.com).
- ABC News
This story on the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and soring broke in May of 2012.
Wondering if all this stuff is for real? - Don't take my word for it - watch the Humane Society's video instead:
Pay particular attention to the back legs of these horses; they should not be as shaky as they are here, nor should a horse's hind end be so much lower than the front. Personally, I happen to think that the riders look like a great big bug perched up there...a cockroach perhaps?
Just sayin' ;o)
Under Cover: Creating the Big Lick Horse - WARNING: Graphic Footage
This video was taken by someone working under cover for the Humane Society at the barn of a well known big lick "trainer". This man had already been brought up on charges of abuse, but was continuing to sore horses under someone else's name.
So tell me...
Had you heard of soring before this lens?
This lens is dedicated to Shadow because that was the way his life began...
(and from whom I have learned so much)
The Lord has richly blessed us with you, Shadow, and I will never cease to be amazed that your traumatic experiences in life have not adversely affected your heart...
It remains full of love and as big as the world :o)
P.S. His 'toon is also our "mascot", did you notice?
More good information on this topic - can be found by following the links below:
- Guest Post: TWH "Stacks" - A Shoer's Perspective
Fugly Horse of the Day offers snarky commentary on the breeding of poor quality horses, silly or abusive training techniques, and pretty much anything else that annoys us!
- For the Tennessee Walking Horse
This gal's blog is terrific. It keeps us all up to date on what's going on in the Walking Horse Industry; she doesn't pull any punches either.