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.”
A 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 Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby.