Horse Shows Where “Big Lick” Abuse Runs Rampant Begin Soon

Tennessee Walking Horses need your help to end “soring,” and the artificial high-step known as the “big lick.”

New York Times headline on September 4, 2006, read “Horse Show Ends in Uproar Over U.S.D.A Inspections” reporting on the failure of the judges at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration to crown a World Grand Champion in Shelbyville, Tennessee for the first time since 1939.

You see, the Tennessee Walking Horse breed has been plagued by recurring abuses of the animals at the center of the enterprise – a practice known as soring, the intentional infliction of pain to horses’ front limbs in order to achieve an exaggerated high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.”

The “big lick” can only be produced by inducing pain: trainers apply caustic chemicals such as diesel fuel, kerosene, mustard oil, and croton oil to the pasterns and skin of the horse or insert sharp objects into the horses’ hooves. Abusers place large stacked-up shoes as tall as six to eight inches high, and ankle chains on the feet to exacerbate the pain. Nearly every top “trainer” in the walking horse industry has a list of violations of the Horse Protection Act that would make even the most hardened animal exploiter blush. The abuse has become systemic and the big prizes the trainers and owners seek come at the World Grand Championship event that seats about 30,000 people. It’s something likened to the games of Ancient Rome held in the Colosseum or Circus Maximus, but with less than 10,000 or so in the stands these days.

The ranks of reformers pressing to end soring are swelling: Alyssa Milano, Kesha, Willie Nelson; Monty Roberts, “the man who listens to horses,” and his daughter Debbie Loucks; Donna Benefield, a movie producer who has performed at the Summer Olympics, and who has worked for more than 30 years to eradicate the scourge of soring; Carl Bledsoe, a former “big lick” world champion trainer who’s now completely centered his life and practices around natural horsemanship; Mark Miller, the lead singer of the band Sawyer Brown who I worked with on building his walking horse bloodstock many years ago; Ben Tydings Smith, whose grandfather – my late friend U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings (D-MD) – authored the Horse Protection Act of 1970; and countless others have been working on a variety of avenues to end soring.

Next month, the “big lick” shows and games are set to begin again at the so-called “Heart of Dixie Spring Showcase” in Philadelphia, Mississippi amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the authority to deploy federal inspectors to these shows, but they’ve done very little to curb the abuse for more than half a century. It’s a boon for horse soring, and even trainers who’ve signed consent decisions related to soring are being allowed to continue showing this year: given just a slap on the wrist and a future suspension set to begin when they’re ready to retire.

The horses need your help.

Please take action today by using this form by Animal Wellness Action asking USDA’s APHIS Administrator Kevin Shea to send inspectors to the upcoming shows and crackdown on one of the worst forms of horse abuse that endures in the United States. We can help deliver the horses from this evil.

Marty Irby is a former 8-time world champion equestrian who currently serves as executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect horses. Follow him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby.

34 thoughts on “Horse Shows Where “Big Lick” Abuse Runs Rampant Begin Soon”

  1. BAN this Terrible Cruel practice!!! Hold trainers and anyone who does these TERRIBLE CRUEL ABUSIVE CRUELTY TO HORSES ACCOUNTABLE for this TERRIBLE TREATMENT of these beautiful Horses !!!

  2. How can people abuse horses like this… And it continues under your purview. Please end this horrible practice once and for all!

  3. Can’t believe anyone would do this to any animal for any reason, it is cruel and disgusting. I SEE NO REASON FOR IT , they are beautiful horses just the way they are. Can be shown naturally and win or lose without torturing, if you can’t do without cheating then find something else to do. Maybe you should see how high you can step/walk with high heels on and spike nails running up into you feet when the skin has been made raw. Needs to be outlawed and if some owners do it take their horses from them, PROTECT THE HORSE, and don’t allow them to have anymore animals !!!

  4. A mindset from the past: ignorant, cruel, carried on by the vapid, and selfish. Should have seen its demise with that of slavery. It is of the same cruel inhuman nature.

  5. This is a terrible thing to do to horses for our entertainment. If horses were meant to perform this gait then they would have been born with the necessary structure ti do so. Please stop this form of snimal abuse.

  6. Look at this horrific, unnecessary and torturous act towards a fellow creature. Who in their right mind would do this to any living being? Stop it now!

  7. What kind of person would do this to a poor horse? Anyone that condones this practice needs to be put out of their misery! This cruelty needs to be OUTLAWED!!!

  8. I am totally disgusted with the soaring of horses and the shows are still going on it needs to stop permanently people need to be fined humongous amounts of money have their farms in their animals taken away from them they need to be thrown in jail this is totally not acceptable it is abuse it is torture and I think it needs to be inflicted on the people that are inflicting it on these animals they ride the horses when they’re too young they cripple them these are loving animals they give unconditional affection and are beautiful this just needs to STOP

  9. The perpetrators of this horrific abuse are cruel and inhumane, and so are the spectators who attend these shows. Supporting something barbaric like this is no better than cock-fighting or dog racing. Politicians who turn a blind eye and let this continue should be removed from office immediately.

  10. It is time for all those who oppose soaring to protest any Tennessee Walking Horse trainers, owners, and riders by picketing at these events. The contests should be banned by the Federal Government as extreme animal abuse and it must issue huge fines and jail sentences strong enough to make continuing the practice both painful and nonprofitable for the perpetrators. It is shameful that most of these self-indulgent, narcissistic competitors can find this terrible example of animal torture something to revel in just to pretend they themselves are worthy of praise. If this is the depth to which they must sink in order to feel special perhaps psychiatric help would be in order. Anyone who would resort to such acts of cruelty should never be permitted anywhere near a horse or other animal let alone a vulnerable human like a small child, an elderly person, or any other innocent being. I am sure serial killers or other psychopaths would love front-row seats to these abhorrent exhibitions of cruelty.

  11. Stop this now!!!! You people who support this should have you and your children go through the same torture you inflict on these innocent, beautiful animals just for your entertainment. SHAME ON ALL WHO SUPPORT THIS BARBARIC SPORT.

  12. Protect the horses from this cruel and unnecessary practice. STRENGTHEN AND ENFORCE ANTI-CRUELTY LAWS THROUGHOUT THE WORLD NOW!!!

  13. This is a major miscarriage of justice. Horses are not here to entertain us and be forced to prance around like this. This is nothing but indecent and abhorrently cruel. It must be abolished.

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