and sharp practice have not traditionally been divorced. But far uglier than
mere chicanery is the widespread and longstanding practice of purposeful injury
to that pleasant riding animal, the Tennessee Walking Horse (SI, Aug. 29,
1955). The torture, known and until recently condoned by inaction, is rarely
punished legally. Reprimand from the horse world itself amounts to little more
than a slap on the wrist. Only hostile public opinion to add force to the
overdue wave of indignation against abuses will limit, if not stop, them during
many of the major shows still ahead.
Horse's trademark, the unique running walk with its gliding hind motion, high
front action and busily nodding head, is its most famous gait. Some breeders
and trainers, aiming to add speed and showiness to this smooth gait, do so by
carefully selected bloodlines and conscientious training; others try short cuts
by torture, for if the horse's front feet are sore he will lift them quickly
from the ground, shift his weight to his sound hind quarters and take the
desired easy, gliding step.
The methods are
simple and sometimes hard to detect, particularly since the Tennessee Walking
Horse Breeders' Association, intending to protect the horse from possible cuts
or bruises from the overreach (the average Walker's hind foot will overstride
the front foot 14 to 22 inches), allows boots to be worn. But the protective
device is also being used to hide damage or inflict pain. Crudest methods are
to put tacks or chains inside the boots, or hog rings in the frog of the foot.
The most widespread techniques of cruelty are the use of lye around the
coronary band or a "blister" inside the hoof—but these can often be
detected the morning after by a tour of the barns. The horses which are too
sore to get up are those which have been treated with a dose of this
So it is often no
pleasure for the "world's greatest pleasure horse" to enter the show
ring. The desired effect—that of making him walk gingerly—is so generally
obtained by hurting the horse's feet that it is possible to read a proud
advertisement like this for a mare touted as walking "with the sore lick
without being sore. Examine those dainty, fast-flying feet and not a hair is
out of place, no nails are driven to quick her, no gadgets and no tricks. Just
pure, natural walking ability...."
ribbon-greedy exhibitor said to the Humane Society's Donald Coleman in New
Orleans, "I'll do anything I want to make my horse look good, and you'll
not stop me."
But this year
some steps are being taken to control the con men of the horse game. The
American Horse Shows Association now states in its rule book that "horses
must be serviceably sound and judges shall disqualify horses equipped with
artificial appliances such as wired ears, leg chains, wires or tacks,
blistering or any other cruel and inhumane devices.... White boots may be used,
but they shall be subject to examination by show officials. In the use of
boots, the inside must be smooth, and free from loose objects of any nature,
nor may they have any sharp edges or points which will touch or rub any part of
the horse's body, legs or feet."
This spring in
Athens, Alabama, Judge H. O. Davis applied the rule for the first time,
demonstrating that although these abuses had been ruled against, they had
obviously not been ruled out. Some 75 walking horses were examined, and others
were taken rapidly to the gate when owners realized they would be caught if
they did not retreat. Enough remained so that Ringmaster Sam Gibbons vows he
lost several inches off his waist from bending to unstrap the boots, but their
removal revealed that about 10% were being tortured and many more showed scars
from past afflictions.
became unpopular with this lot of horse owners, some of whom accused him of
grandstanding, while others demanded indignantly by what right he inspected.
Most, however, have applauded the action, including the Tennessee Walking Horse
Breeders' Association, which has instructed all its licensed judges to be on
the alert. The Association is also talking of forming a committee to work with
the Humane Society, which was instrumental in bringing about official
recognition of the wrongs, to police its own big show in September as well as
in properly supervising a show are often compounded by the absence of a
reliable veterinarian. Too often it is the veterinarian, with unswerving
dedication to the collection of the fast buck, who mixes and sells the blister
formula. Furthermore patrol problems, even with qualified help, are difficult,
for some forms of abuse are hard to detect. One horse show official who has
worked closely with the Humane Society for years commented ruefully that
"next to arson, cruelty is the most difficult act to catch and make stand
up in court."
S. H. (Wacky)
Arnolt, sports car dealer and horse enthusiast, reports that many breeders,
himself included, believe that a judge should order the quarter boots pulled at
the same time he asks the saddle removed for conformation inspection.