Is Soring and Big Lick by Proxy Abuse?

An X-Ray of a Tennessee Walking Horse wearing the boots used in Big Lick.

An X-Ray of a Tennessee Walking Horse wearing the boots used in Big Lick.

Ina Bakkar, Writer

*Here is a video of Big Lick by Billy Go Boy on Youtube*

What is Big Lick? Big Lick is a “sport” in the equestrian community where Tennessee Walker horses are shown with an exaggerated gait. They lift their front legs, raise their chest, and step outwards while their back legs lower to the ground, creating a dramatized, slanted, and to some, elegant gait. Unfortunately, this gait is not natural and is achieved in a process called Soring.

Spring is a form of abuse where the pain is inflicted on the horse’s legs to make them step off higher. When a horse’s leg is in pain they step higher to try and avoid whatever it is, they also move quickly to avoid placing weight on the affected area. When questioned, Horse Trainer, Competitor, and owner Linsay (No Last Name Given) stated “A horse’s Legs are extremely sensitive, especially the area inside the hoof [the frog], continual damage to the nerves could result in lifelong deformities and an inability to live normally,”

There are many methods of Soring, the most common being inducing sores and burns in the horse’s legs. 9/10 times the horses are sored even while in stalls, they use harmful chemicals to burn and raw the skin, causing pains similar to chemical burns in people. “They rub the blistering agents like mustard oil, diesel fuel, and kerosene into the horse’s leg below the knee and above the hoof, they then wrap the leg so the chemicals can soak into the skin and cause pain.” The Humane Society stated when asked how the Soring Process works.

Another common form of soring cited by The Humane Society “is called “Pressure Soring”, this process starts with cutting a horse’s hoof almost to the quick and tightly nailing on a shoe or standing a horse for hours with the sensitive part of his soles on a block or other raised object.” This is the equivalent of exposing your nail bed, then having to wear gloves that constantly put pressure on the nerves, causing pain that the horse can only escape by laying down.

These soring techniques are used even when the horse is not training, they are constantly in pain, in both their legs and hooves as most Big Lick Competitors use a combination of both Soring Styles to get the “optimal results” from the horse’s pain. When in the show these horses also wear chains, which agitate the sored legs and cause pain on top of the boots they wear. These padded boots also hold the horse’s leg at an unnatural angle, causing them to step higher, which creates the exaggerated overstep that is required in Big Lick. These boots would be like wearing 8in platform heels even though your feet are blistered and burned.

This is not something that causes the horse a lot of pain and discomfort, so why isn’t it banned? While Big lick was banned in the early 1970s by the Horse Protection Act, the USDA doesn’t have the proper funds to constantly check every Tennessee Walking Horse Show. There are also plenty of people within the U.S. Department of Agriculture that benefit from Big Lick and other practices (such as Thoroughbred Racing) that make a lot of money. Their vested interest is in making the cash, and not taking care of the horses, so they get around that was found made it so private companies that run the shows, can hire private evaluators. Unfortunately, these Private Evaluators are often in the Big Lick industry, to begin with, and overlook serious signs of Soring and pain in the horses to get a paycheck.

While Soring is extremely awful it is also extremely common, there are a lot of abusive practices within the equestrian community that need to be talked about. In showjumping there are electric spurs and too harsh bits, dressage has Rolkur, and Spanish riding uses Spanish Nosebands that have small spikes that dig into the horse’s face and can break the nasal bone. The point is that as you advance in skill level for equestrian sports, the worse the horses are treated. There is a lot that the equestrian community needs to do to keep our horses safe, there are plenty of good trainers but 8 bad ones to match. In short Big Lick being considered a sport will only continue the abuse of Soring as it’s necessary to achieve the gait needed to compete.