Soring To Win

By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.
On February 29, 2012 a federal grand jury returned a 52-count indictment against Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Jackie McConnell and three others, re-opened the wound of soring, termed cruelty to animals. McConnell, 60, Jeff Dockery, 54, and John Mays, 50, all of Collierville, TN, and Joseph Abernathy, 30, of Olive Branch, MS were charged with conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and Substantive Horse Protection Act violations. The documents filed with the court allege that the substantive violations occurred at the annual National Walking Horse Trainers Show held in March 2011 in Shelbyville Tenn; at the Spring Fun Show held in May 2011 in Shelbyville, Tenn.; and at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August and September 2011. Members of the public are reminded that an indictment constitutes only charges and that every person is presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt. (March 1, 2012, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of TN) “Among other charges, McConnell and three other defendants are accused of soring, in which some trainers use chains, bolts, acid, kerosene and other techniques to make a walking horse’s feet and legs so tender, they’re forced to change their gait. The pain causes them to lift their front feet higher and land with less force, exaggerating the high step that’s prized in walking horse competitions.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012) McConnell is considered a top trainer, who rode the famed Walking Horse Generator’s Santana to the 1997 World Grand Championship.

In 2011, a federal grand jury returned a 34-count indictment against Tennessee horse trainer Barney Davis Christen Altman, Jeffery Bradford, and Paul Blackburn, charging them with violations of the Horse Protection Act and related financial crimes. (U.S. District Court document posted here,
Davis was further charged with fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. He pleaded guilty to several counts last November, and a federal judge sentenced him in February to serve more than a year in prison. (HSUS press release) “In February Barney Davis, a Shelbyville trainer for a spotted saddle horse, was one of four co-defendants sentenced for federal charges related to horse soring. Davis, 39, received one year in prison. His co-defendants — Christen Altman, 26, and Paul Blackburn, 35, both of Shelbyville, and Jeffery Bradford, 33, of Lewisburg, TN — were sentenced to probation, fines and required to participate in anti-soring education through the USDA.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012)

Articles in the March 8, 2012 edition of The Tennessean included an Op-Ed piece by former Senator Joe Tydings, author of the Horse Protection Act, enacted in 1970 to stop intentional soring of Tennessee Walking Horses (TWH). However, data show the practice still persists in spite of USDA inspections at shows, pressure from animal humane groups, and efforts of organizations within the Walking Horse “community” to curtail the practice. When McConnell was indicted, he was already serving a five-year federal suspension from showing, the result of previous violations of the Horse Protection Act.

To understand why the illegal practice persists, it is necessary to examine the possible factors that reward soring, including a variety of means to escape detection at inspections. It is important to ascertain the extent of the practice and the consequences of its continuance. With those questions in mind, the Mid-South Horse Review consulted numerous experts on the physical aspects/trauma to the horse; legal experts on  the HPA, including former U.S. Senator Joe Tydings, author of the legislation; official documents from the U.S. Attorney’s Office; databases of HPA suspensions from USDA/APHIS and FOSH; interviews with individuals training, showing, and inspecting Tennessee Walking Horses including Veterinarian Dr. Steve Mullins, President of S.H.O.W.; TWH organizations; and sociological studies.
What is soring, as defined by the Horse Protection Act?

“The term ‘sore’ when used to describe a horse means that—
(A) an irritating or blistering agent has been applied, internally or externally, by a person to any limb of a horse,
(B) any burn, cut, or laceration has been inflicted by a person on any limb of a horse,
(C) any tack, nail, screw, or chemical agent has been injected by a person into or used by a person on any limb of a horse, or
(D) any other substance or device has been used by a person on any limb of a horse or a person has engaged in a practice involving a horse, and, as a result of such application, infliction, injection, use, or practice, such horse suffers, or can reasonably be expected to suffer, physical pain or distress, inflammation, or lameness when walking, trotting, or otherwise moving…”

The full text of the HPA is available at these sites: USDA APHIS. The Horse Protection Act: USDA APHIS. The Horse Protection Act Factsheet:

Background Information on soring from American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is another comprehensive resource, available at:

The AVMA defines: “soring is the unethical and illegal practice of deliberately inflicting pain to exaggerate the leg motion of horses to gain an unfair advantage in the show ring. The chest-high stride achieved by soring is known in the industry as the ‘big lick.’Tennessee Walking Horses commonly suffer from the practice of soring. Other gaited breeds, such as Racking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses Rocky Mountain Horses and Missouri Fox-Trotters, may also suffer from soring. Soring is done by irritating or blistering the horse's forelegs through the injection or application of chemical irritants or painful mechanical devices.

Chemical soring involves the application of a caustic chemical to the hair and skin of the horse's lower leg, then covering the leg with plastic and a leg wrap for several days to allow the chemical to "cook" into the skin.” The most common chemical devices include “kerosene, diesel, croton oil, GoJo hand cleaner, WD40 oil and mustard oil. These chemicals can produce obvious skin scars. As scrutiny on scarring violations has increased another cruel practice has emerged: owners and trainers apply a chemical stripping agent to the horse's legs to burn off scar tissue.
“Action devicesOne action device per limb is permitted by the Horse Protection Act. The action device must be made of lignum vitae (hardwood), aluminum, or stainless steel and must have individual rollers that are smooth and uniform in size, weight and configuration. The device must not weigh more than 6 ounces.

“Mechanical/Physical soringThis type of soring involves trimming the hoof or applying devices that cause the horse's hooves to be painful and force the horse to pick up its feet faster and higher.
Some of the methods used include:
  • Grinding down the sole of the hoof to expose the spongy, sensitive tissues underneath the sole;
  • Making the hoof wall shorter than the sole. The hoof wall typically bears all of the weight on the hoof, removing its support causes the sole to bear all of the weight. This is called rolling the sole;
  • Inserting hard objects between the shoe or pad and the sole to cause pressure and pain;
  • Standing the horse with the sensitive part of their sole on a block or other raised object for long periods of time (called blocking);
  • Purposefully causing laminitis (commonly called founder), which is a very painful inflammation of the tissues within the foot. This is often called ‘the natural fix;’
  • Over-tightening of the metal bands that wrap around the hoof. This causes pain from excessive pressure on the hoof wall.
  • Improper shoeing techniques that violate the HPA include:
    • Extreme wedging with pads to cause an inappropriate heel/toe ratio;
    • Metal hoof bands placed too high on the hoof;
    • Excessive weight added to the pad/package (e.g., lead).”
The American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) official document on soring, (2008) “Putting the horse first: Veterinary Recommendations for Ending the Soring of TWHs,” is available at: Their article, “The Horse Protection Act—a case study in self-regulation” was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association April 15, 2000, Vol. 216, No. 8, Pages 1231-1262.
How widespread is soring?

What is the population of soring practitioners? Among the population of potential practitioners, what percentage actually sore their horses?

 Reports of the prevalence of soring vary. “Veterinarians with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the agency that enforces the Horse Protection Act — found violations of the act in 90 percent of padded horses but only 10 percent of nonpadded horses in agency-inspected shows from 2008 to 2010. The agency attends between 7 and 10 percent of all Tennessee walking horse shows annually.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012)

“The USDA website shows that in the past two years, 98% of the horses presented for pre-show inspection at SHOW affiliated events were HPA compliant. SHOW President Stephen L. Mullins said that inspection of horses is a serious matter. ‘We do everything in our power to make sure that each horse is inspected in accordance with the Horse Protection Act,’ he said.” (The Tennessean, March 8, 2012)

The American Farriers Journal (AFJ) published a 4-part series on soring, by Frank Lessiter, Publisher/Editor. ( In part 1, Lessiter explains how soring got started, the Horse Protection Act, enforcement measures and limits of enforcement, variability in suspension rates, and describes in detail the chemical and mechanical soring techniques.

In part 2 of the AFJ series on soring, Lessiter notes: “The public’s perception of the prevalence of soring is certainly not helped when major show participants pack up and leave once USDA inspectors arrive on the scene.” In the MSHR July 2009 article on USDA inspections at the Germantown Charity Horse Show the same phenomenon was observed.
In 2011, “AFJ editors conducted two e-mail surveys on soring and pressure-shoeing issues. One survey went to a number of farriers who had indicated that they work with gaited horses. An identical survey was sent to leaders of horse groups working toward a ban of soring and pressure shoeing through the Friends of Sound Horses. Both groups were asked to estimate the percentage of TWHs competing at the breed’ s major shows this year that are likely to be sored or pressure shod.

“For farriers, the average estimate was 33%, with a range from 1% to 60%. The advocates of banning soring, on the other hand, estimated that 82% of these show horses are pressure shod or sored, with estimates ranging from 50% to 100%. The soring advocates also felt that 20% of flat-shod horses competing in major events may be sored.”
The AAEP called soring “one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline and issued strong recommendations for eliminating soring. Even though soring is prohibited by the federal HPA of 1970, AAEP says that it has continued, as documented by USDA.” A nine-member task force, consisting of equine veterinarians with specific knowledge of the TWH industry and equine welfare issues, developed a white paper of recommendations, suggesting radical changes to current practices within the industry. The result was their 2008 white paper, “Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for Ending the Soring of Tennessee Walking Horses.”

Two main databases listing HPA suspensions are available. Data at www.hpadata.usare useful for historical analysis with data dating back several years. The USDA’s database was created more recently, and only tracks data prospectively from the time of its creation: primarily covers 2010 and 2011. Other data used are the 2010 foreign substance results, foreign substance violations, trainers show 2011, fun show 2011, and TWH Celebration Part 1, all Excel spreadsheets from USDA/APHIS. The USDA 2010 HP Activity sheet lists 2010 shows attended by USDA.
The HPAData is available from the Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) website: the soring tab and get an entrance code). Data are listed by name, number/percentage by state, number/percentage by violation, HPA suspension listing for DQP (Designated Qualified Person), and names on suspension multiple times. This is a reliable source of information for persons who have been officially suspended for soring. By nature, it does not include the entire population of practitioners; only those who have an official record of suspensions. The following are shown in this database:

In number and percentage of suspensions by state, Tennessee leads with 3292 suspensions, 33.9% of all. Kentucky accounts for 13.2% with 1283 violations; Alabama for 7% with 677 violations; Mississippi for 5% with 488 violations.
Number and Percentage by Violation Type shows “unilateral sore” accounting for 28.8% of all violations (2801). “Scar rule” accounts for 28.2% (2741); and “bilateral sore” for 14.6% (1415). Foreign substance was 2.3% of violations (227); illegal chains 2.3% (225); bad image horse 0.7% (67). Pressure shoeing was 0.1% of violations (8).

Names on “Suspension Multiple Times” in this database include far too many to list in this article, but do include the accused: Jackie McConnell of Collierville, TN; Jeff Dockery of Collierville, TN; John Mays of Collierville, TN; Edgar Abernathy of Olive Branch, MS (Joseph Abernathy is not listed) and Barney Davis of Shelbyville, TN. Davis’ violations are listed as pressure shoeing, bad horse image, and unilateral sensitivity. He has incurred “lifetime suspension from horse show/sale grounds.” Suspension dates are 7/31/2010 to 1/01/2099. His fine was $1200 and is shown as “fine not paid.”
How do TWH trainers fare with HPA suspensions?

The HPAdata ( were used to compare persons listed with HPA suspensions with leadership personnel in the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) listed on their website:
Jimmy McConnell was the 2010 Trainer of the Year; yet he was listed on the FOSH “Suspension Multiple Times” list. Nearly all the 2012 WTHA Officers and Board of Directors members are listed on the HPA Suspensions database, many of them with multiple suspensions. Reasons for suspensions include: scar rule, bilateral sore, illegal chains, and unilateral sore. (data from

An analysis of recipients of Trainers of the Year awards found: “In 33 years of this Tennessee Walking Horse industry award, only 5 recipients have no recorded violations. 23 of the honorees have been ticketed for HPA violations; 18 of them with Federal cases. Five of these HPA violators were honored more than once.” (source and detailed list at:  

However, the WTHA lists a Code of Ethics, by which “individuals licensed by the Walking Horse Trainers Association shall accept and abide…” It includes the promise to “Treat all horses in their care humanely, and with dignity and respect. Trainers shall use proper care in training, handling, and showing them, And shall not utilize techniques known to inflict pain for the purposes of performance enhancement.” (
S.H.O.W., an acronym for Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspection, and Winning Fairly, is a Tennessee Walking Horse organization and one of several inspection organizations at TWH shows. SHOW lists a “Penalty Structure” for HPA Soring Suspensions and also has a Suspension List:
Dr. Stephen Mullins, Veterinarian and President of SHOW, told the Horse Review: “Historically soring has been an issue in the TWH industry. In the spring of 2009 at the request of the owners and trainers associations the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration activated the SHOW HIO. The TWHNC has committed a substantial amount of money to help SHOW HIO in order to insure that this HIO gets rid of the sore horse and punishes any trainers found in violation of the Horse Protection Act.  In June of 2009, SHOW HIO hired two AAEP veterinarians, Dr. John Bennett and Dr. Stephen Mullins, to run SHOW HIO. In the fall of 2009, I gave up my private practice of almost 30 years and became President of SHOW HIO.”

Although there are problems with soring within the walking horse community, Mullins said, “There have been improvements, and eliminating some controversial methods may cause unforeseen problems. His organization, SHOW, has documented an estimated 600 ‘underground’ or ‘backyard’ shows that are unaffiliated and have no monitoring to prevent horse abuse.”

Other sources interviewed by the Horse Review, who attend saddle club shows around the mid-south area and show walking and racking horses, also reported witnessing numerous instances of soring at these shows. They named particular competitors who blatantly sore their horses and consistently win at saddle club shows. They also told the Horse Review that inspectors don’t usually come to these smaller shows, but some wished they would.
SHOW Judges are listed on their website (Judges tab). In this investigation, names of judges on this list were compared to the HPA suspension database(, which includes all reported and available Horse Protection Act-related suspensions and suspensions imposed by Horse Industry Organizations (HIO) and the USDA over the past 20 years. There are over 9,500 records to date in the database, and they are grouped reviewed by name, state, etc.

A comparison of the two databases showed that a majority of SHOW judges have incurred HPA suspensions for soring and related suspensions. Out of 140 judges, 77 (55%) had records HPA suspensions, many of whom were inspected by SHOW. Records were matched as closely as possible and names were not included if: names were listed with multiple addresses, listings included multiple names.
Training Techniques

The March 8, 2012 Tennessean article raised the question of “whether Tennessee Walking Horses can be humanely trained to achieve their unusual gait. Walking Horse enthusiasts and the U.S. Department of Agriculture say they can be. However, the Humane Society of the United States says it’s impossible without the cruel practice of ‘soring’ — injuring horses’ front legs to make them lift their feet higher and step farther. “Soring dates back to the 1950s within Tennessee Walking Horse and some other breeds.”

The Chattanooga Times Free Press also raised the question of whether “current methods to halt abusive practices of horse soring are effective or if the entire sport needs an overhaul.”

Critics of soring Nathanael and Jennie Jackson of Cookeville, TN argue there’s a better way to train Tennessee Walking Horses without soring them. Jennie told the Chattanooga Times Free Press that she once bought into the practice of soring her horses, as did nearly all of her competitors. “It’s very addictive. It’s a quick fix and it works.” The Jacksons and other critics claim that the “big lick” is not possible without soring. Nathanael Jackson said, “There’s no way in the world you get that without soring” although trainers may claim otherwise. Jackson’s wife has developed and shows Dressage En Gait, an alternative to the high stepping “big lick.” (see additional article on Dressage En Gait)
Veterinarian Mullins with SHOW and others say the step is possible through breeding and training and the use of legal pads and chains. Whether the pads cause pain is a hotly debated topic in horse training circles. “Most important is the genetics have caught up with the horse,” Mullins said. “The horses are able to do a lot toward the big lick on their own.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012) “SHOW is absolutely dedicated to getting rid of the sore horse,” Mullins told the Horse Review. “SHOW was based on the AAEP TWH White Paper and SHOW has started several initiatives which have never been used by any industry inspection process in the TWH Industry.” He then listed all the initiatives in SHOW. “The main take home from the list is that SHOW uses DQPs who are not conflicted inside of the TWH industry. SHOW also uses a fair appeal process which has resulted in at least two lifetime suspensions and over 100 one year suspensions over the last 3 years. SHOW also is in charge of licensing its own judges and holds judges accountable if they fail to excuse non standard horses while in the show ring. There are many owners and trainers inside of the TWH industry who are committed to eliminating the sore horse from this Industry. No one should judge the entire Industry by the actions of a few individuals.”

Cultural characteristics

Is there a climate of acceptability of soring? Is it a norm, rather than a deviant act? What are the rewards of winning with a sored horse, financial and social, compared with horses in competition that are not sored?Why is the “big lick” so important? Is it possible to achieve the “big lick” without soring?
The AAEP white paper on soring, “Putting the Horse First,” mentions “a culture of abuse,” but does not actually describe how or why the practice is deemed acceptable.

Part 2 of the AFJ articles on soring, “Pressure Mounts to End Soring,” describes some of the motivation behind soring. Enforcement measures and other efforts to eliminate soring have failed because “the highly popular ‘Big Lick’ gait remains unchanged. Dr. Stephen O’Grady maintains that the exaggerated gait is essential for a top placing. Unfortunately, with the current ‘Big Lick’ judging requirements, the easiest way for trainers to get it is with soring or pressure shoeing. ‘If the industry wants to eliminate soring, the judging standards must be changed,’ says the equine veterinarian at Northern Virginia Equine in Marshall, Va., a member of the AAEP task force.

“He’s convinced that trainers rather than farriers are doing most of the soring and pressure shoeing. ‘Top-notch farriers in the TWH industry will not do it,’ he says. ‘But a major problem is that many trainers are doing their own shoeing work. Owners are demanding it to win, breed and sell horses. If a trainer does not do it and the owner needs it to win, he’ll move the horses to a different barn.’

“While much of the controversy centers around TWHs with pad-and-shoe packages, O’Grady is also convinced that soring and pressure shoeing occurs with some major-event flat-shod TWHs, when the exaggerated gait is desired.”
“Prestige and money associated with the competitions have grown since their 1939 inception and the higher the step, or ‘big lick,’ the more likely the horse would take home the title of world grand champion, leading to lucrative prices for the animal’s offspring.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012)

Part 3 of the AFJ series devotes attention to cultural reasons for soring, quoting Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the United States (USUS). “He says the industry’s reasons include an addiction to the artificial Big Lick gait and breed leaders who won’t admit that soring takes place. There are also numerous conflicts of interest and the fact that violators are allowed to participate in shows while under HPA suspension. ‘There’s no public knowledge of soring violators and no stigma associated with soring violations among participants,’ says Dane. ‘The HPA only applies to show grounds and transport. Judges can be — and are — past violators. In addition, the presentation of horses is less graphic than in the past, leading to a perception of improvement.’”

A study published in the journal Deviant Behavior, “Tender feet and high stepping: Soring in the Tennessee walking horse industry” by Terrance A. Mizell & Howard Robboy (1980) focused on the role relationships between owners, trainers, judges, and federal inspectors in the Tennessee walking horse industry. The paper deals with the practice of soring, or blistering, to alter the gait of the animal and its continued practice despite outcry from humane groups, other horsemen, and the federal government. Trainers are subjected to enormous pressures to win, which means they believe they must “sore” their animals. Because this practice is illegal, they must act in a manner contrary to legal mandates, while giving firm lip service to supporting antisoring guidelines.

FOSH states that “soring is practiced to get gaited horses to artificially enhance their step to win in shows. A winning image is rewarded with ribbons, cash, recognition, future breedings and training fees.”

Part 2 of the AFJ series also looked at the situation from trainers’ point of view. “Among a number of gaited horse trainers who responded to the first article in this series was a man who has been training TWHs for more than 30 years and starts over 50 colts each year. He maintains the TWHs that must rely on mechanical devices to get the proper gait won’t win anyway. “He pointed out that the TWH trainers’ association agreed three years ago to work with USDA to solve the problem. ‘USDA is trying to do the right thing and we are supporting them in cleaning up the breed,’ he says. ‘There’s no room in this business for people who do this — they should be weeded out. But give trainers a little bit of credit for trying to clean up the problem caused by a few bad apples in the industry. Plus, the problems aren’t the same as they were 50 years ago. We love these horses and trainers take a lot of time in developing them to their fullest capacity,’ he adds. ‘Most of us are doing everything in our power to do the right thing and eliminate this problem.’”

Part 3 of the AFJ series addresses the financial reasons. “While there’s a relatively small minority of the TWH industry that has much at stake financially with soring, many don’t want to change. ‘In the middle-Tennessee area where the industry is strongest, local newspapers protect the status quo rather than advocate reform,’ says Keith Dane. ‘The negative impact of the stigma of soring is ignored — not to mention animal welfare concerns. Many of these folks believe that without the extreme gait, the TWH would no longer be exciting and would not attract crowds, participants and customers.’”

A special report in Equus, “Why Soring Persists” by Joanne Meszoly, also explains the competitive edge of “fixing” a horse. ( She noted how many TWH trainers and exhibitors left a show when USDA inspectors arrived, the “cat and mouse” game between government inspectors and exhibitors. “To be sure, selective breeding has helped to shape the modern Tennessee Walking Horse's gaits. But most accounts suggest that soring grew out of the desire to find a quick and easy means of achieving the sort of animation that would win in the show ring.

“Soring generally has been done at home rather than at the show grounds. In some circles, the techniques for mixing and applying solutions have been passed down through generations. Don Bell, who began training Tennessee Walkers 45 years ago, says, if a horse wearing chains didn't lift his feet high enough, the soring mixture might be applied to the front of the pasterns. Or, if his gait broke too high without enough outward reach, the solution would be concentrated in the pocket of the pasterns.

Pam Reband, who showed Walking Horses for 30 years through the late 1990s and has served as vice president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA) said, “After 35 years, it's apparent that governmental intervention has helped to eliminate the most obvious evidence of soring, but it has failed to end the practice.”

“Bell acknowledges that there appear to be improvements in the way show horses are treated, and that ‘pasterns are cleaner than they used to be,’ but he asserts that the practice of soring is still pervasive. ‘The problem today is that trainers have become much more sophisticated in their methods of soring to avoid detection by the USDA inspectors,’ Bell says. He estimates that within certain Tennessee Walking Horse organizations as many as 80 to 90 percent of show horses are sored to some degree, but enforcement efforts focus on only the most flagrant violations. The end result, Bell says, has been the establishment of ‘an acceptable level of soreness.’
Consequences of Soring
What are the consequences to the both horse and human from the practice of soring?

To the horse:

Physical short-term injury and pain from chemical skin irritants and mechanical methods. “Some of the damage caused by soring is minor and a horse can recover with rest and training. More severe damage can cause a horse to founder and later cripple the animal. Some experts said the mental trauma was almost worse and harder to untrain.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012)

FOSH’s Soring Fact sheet describes the practices done to sore a horse, methods used to detect soring, and tactics used to avoid detection, three of which also involve pain to the horse. (

) The practice is called “fixing” the horse and FOSH divides soring into two categories: pressure soring and chemical soring. The most common chemical used is mustard oil, and chains work in conjunction with the chemicals – adding further irritation to an already sore, tender place. Removing the scaring from soring is also a chemical process, using chemical stripping agents to burn off old scar tissue.

Information on soring compiled by Rhonda Hart Poe (, details the caustic chemical agents and the mechanical agents of soring, “stewarding” to mask pain, and more effects to the horse. She writes, “Probably the most popular soring agent is mustard oil, or allyl isothicocyanate. It is a highly toxic carcinogenic (cancer causing) mutagen (agent that causes inheritable genetic alterations). It absorbs through the skin and into the tissue beneath almost instantly, causing blistering and severe burning. Clever ‘trainers’ combine it with Dimethyl Sulfoxide (DMSO, an absorption enhancer) to help it absorb through the skin even more quickly, and then wrap the area with plastic wrap, covered with leg wraps, to let it ‘cook,’ usually overnight. Exposure can cause convulsion, muscle contractions, gastrointestinal changes, rapid heartbeat to heart attack, fertility problems and fetal death. In people, a good whiff can cause coughing, pulmonary edema, headache, nausea, vomiting and worsen asthma.”

A study in the Oxford Journal Chemical Senses “investigated the response, acute effects and time-course of sensitization and desensitization to allyl isothiocyanate (mustard oil) nasal stimuli in healthy subjects.” (source:
To the human:

Research data on allyl isothicocynanate ( toxic effects in humans (section 4.2.1): “allyl isothiocynanate irritates the mucous membranes and induces eczematous or vesicular skin reactions (Gaul, 1964).”

More information on Allyl isothiocyanate: Chemical Properties, Usage, Production at: Health Hazards listed are: “TOXIC; inhalation, ingestion or contact (skin, eyes) with vapors, dusts or substance may cause severe injury, burns or death. Bromoacetates and chloroacetates are extremely irritating/lachrymators. Reaction with water or moist air will release toxic, corrosive or flammable gases. Reaction with water may generate much heat that will increase the concentration of fumes in the air. HIGHLY FLAMMABLE: Fire will produce irritating, corrosive and/or toxic gases. Runoff from fire control or dilution water may be corrosive and/or toxic and cause pollution.”
Detection and Organizations Involved
The newest methods used by the USDA for detection of soring include thermography, pressure algometry, pastern/coronet band swabbing, digital radiography, and measuring skin response to pain. But the costs of enforcement and use of these detection devices is extremely high. These methods are shown and discussed in Part 4 of the AFJ series on soring:

  “Throughout Middle Tennessee, most Tennessee Walking Horse shows are affiliated with SHOW, a federally sanctioned Shelbyville-based organization whose primary purpose is to inspect horses and ban those that don’t comply with the Horse Protection Act. SHOW President Stephen L. Mullins, said ‘We do everything within our power to make sure that each horse is inspected in accordance with the Horse Protection Act,’ he said. ‘It does not matter who the owner is. It does not matter who the trainer is. It does not matter what the horse’s reputation is. And at many of the shows where we inspect horses, there are USDA veterinarians watching our inspections. If they do not think we are being stringent enough, they pull the horses over and do an examination themselves.’ 

“Humane Society’s Dane disagrees, ‘A number of horses that pass inspection have been sored,’ he said. ‘There is a fine line between a sound horse and a compliant horse.’ (The Tennessean, March 8, 2012)

“The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) works tirelessly to educate our members on the Horse Protection Act and the importance of compliance with the law,” WHTA President Jamie Hankins told The Tennessean after McConnell’s arrest. “We continue to dedicate more resources to the education of our members as it relates to the welfare of our great horse and proper training techniques.”

On March 21, 2012, the Humane Society of the United States filed a legal petition asking the United States Department of Agriculture to treat the use of illegal numbing or masking chemicals on horses’ legs as a felony under the Horse Protection Act. “These banned substances are used to hide evidence of illegal abuse of horses through the application of painful caustic substances on the horses’ front legs to achieve an artificial high-stepping gait for show competitions,” HSUS spokesperson Keith Dane said.

The Shelbyville Times-Gazette reported March 16, 2012: “Changes are coming to how the USDA enforces the Horse Protection Act (HPA), with new rules concerning mandatory penalties in the Walking Horse industry and the process by which inspectors are licensed and trained. According to a USDA spokesman, the federal agency is set to enhance its enforcement of the HPA this year, while increasing its oversight of the designated qualified person (DQP) training program. DQPs are walking horse industry inspectors who are tasked with inspecting horses, since the USDA inspectors cannot attend most horse shows.”

The USDA Audit Report (2010) “presents the results of our audit of the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Administration of the Horse Protection Program.”  (

“Concerning the treatment of show horses, we found that APHIS’ program for inspecting horses for soring is not adequate to ensure that these animals are not being abused. At present, horse industry organizations hire their own inspectors (known as designated qualified persons or DQP) to inspect horses at the shows they sponsor. However, we found that DQPs do not always inspect horses to effectively enforce the law and regulations…“Given the DQPs’ clear conflict of interest, we found that they did not always inspect horses according to the requirements of the Horse Protection Act. Given the problems we observed with DQPs and the conflicts of interest, we are recommending that APHIS abolish the DQP program, and instead provide independent, accredited veterinarians to perform inspections at sanctioned shows.

“USDA inspectors are so unpopular with horse owners and trainers, who fear soring citations and subsequent suspensions and fines, that participants sometimes flee events if the USDA is reported to be there.

“Since passage of the Horse Protection Act in 1970, APHIS’ budget for the Horse Protection Program was set at no more than $500,000 yearly, and the program’s funding limitation has remained unchanged for almost four decades.” Many argue that the lack of adequate funding severely hampers APHIS’ ability to enforce the HPA.

Political influence accounts, in part, for the lack of APHIS funding. An article from the Lexington [KY] Herald Leader, by John Cheves, explains: “Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pressured the U.S. Department of Agriculture for years to back off its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, even threatening to cut the agency’s funding, according to documents obtained by the Herald-Leader.

“McConnell has supported the Tennessee Walking Horse industry in its battle against USDA inspectors who look for evidence of soring. McConnell backed the industry’s demand for its own inspectors — paid by the industry, drawn from the ranks of horse owners and trainers — to have a greater role in soring inspections, rather than the independent USDA veterinarians. At the same time, the industry gave McConnell tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations and hired his Senate chief of staff, Niels Holch, as its Washington lobbyist and attorney.”

“Winning is the only thing” has become the mantra and goal in many sports, human and equestrian, with some participants going to any means necessary to win. Soring is all about winning – the use of chemical irritants and mechanical devices to create the exaggerated action of the horse’s front limbs. The wins result in tremendous financial gain for owners, trainers, and exhibitors.

An in-depth examination of other equestrian sports would likely reveal the use of artificial means to enhance performance. Some means are termed cruelty, and if you critically examine your own equestrian sport, you may find cruel practices toward the horse within it.

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