No sportsmen have practiced such systematic cruelty to horses for the sake of a blue ribbon as is being perpetrated today. Shamefully brutal treatment of the Tennessee Walking Horse is generally practiced by breeders, trainers and exhibitors and is tolerated by the ASPCA, a society founded primarily to protect the horse. Worst of all, it is ignored by the American Horse Shows Association, the governing body of the sport, which is currently meeting in Detroit. I say worst of all because the AHSA could stop most of it this week if it chose to do so.
When I first described these abuses (SI, July 23, 1956), I was optimistic that measures were going to be taken to halt this horse torture. The various associations concerned piously expressed a desire to aid in the cleanup, rolling their collective eyes heavenward—apparently to avoid the ugly sight of quarter boots covered with blood, for they have taken no real action and the situation is now far worse than it ever was.
The quarter boot, designed to protect the horse against injury as he executes his unique running walk with its long-reaching hind stride, is still being used either to injure or to cover up deliberately inflicted injuries. Unfortunately for the breed, it was discovered that if the horse's front feet are sore he will lift them quickly from the ground, shift his weight to his sound hindquarters and take the much desired long-striding step. This "soreing" usually is done by using chains or tacks inside the quarter boot or by applying a burning agent to the pastern area, which is covered by the boot. These agents vary, but of the two most common, one, an oxide of mercury salve, is known as creeping cream, and the other, an oil of mustard mixture, is called scooting juice. The so-called "big lick" so coveted for show ring purposes is now almost completely the "sore lick."
One Walking Horse breeder hotly asserts that most of the recent world champions were made with a hot iron. A few others, among them the president of the American Walking Horse Association, H. Karl Yenser of Washington, D.C., are also incensed. Yenser recently sent an open letter to his members which read in part:
"The feeling against the continued soreing and chaining of horses has reached a point where something must be done to correct it.... Perhaps getting back to more closely defined gaits as a standard for judging would do the job.... Exhibitors have decried the use of inhumane devices for years and yet allowed their trainers to continue their use. Judges have been criticized for tying [placing] 'sore' horses, and yet the judge's hands were tied. In my own personal experience if I had disqualified all of the sore horses shown in front of me, I am afraid I would have wound up many times with no horses in the class to judge. So I, too, am guilty of accepting, even though I did not condone, the 'sore lick.' I know, too, that every Walking Horse judge has been confronted with the same situation."
Yenser received some lively and approving response from his membership. But C. C. Turner, of Broadway, Va., a vice-president in Yenser's organization and also a vice-president of the powerful Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association, received anonymous and abusive mail after acting as a judge at Dallas. Turner removed the boots in the ring and examined the horses for soreness. He judged the class accordingly, with the sorest farthest down the line. Apparently awakened by this show of courage, the ASPCA attempted to intervene, but J. Glenn Turner, boss of the Dallas show and president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association (and no kin to C. C. Turner), refused to allow an ASPCA inspection.
EXPEDIENCY VS. PRINCIPLE
Recently C. C. Turner and John H. Amos, chairman of the executive committee of the TWHBA, plus the other directing officers, held a meeting to seek agreement on corrective recommendations to be proposed at the current Detroit session of the American Horse Shows Association, which controls more than 400 recognized shows. Amos advocated the complete elimination of boots and severe punishment of owners or trainers who use any torture device. (Some defenders of the boot contend its elimination would lead unscrupulous trainers to drive nails or wedges into the tender frog of the hoof, a method of soreing difficult to detect.) But as is so often the case, the interested parties were forced to act on the low ground of expediency rather than the lofty plateau of principle, and one of those compromises was reached that seem to satisfy all sides and actually settle nothing.
The group agreed to recommend a new boot that reveals the front of the hoof, protects the tender coronet band, and, because of an extra long hinge, drops back when the horse is at rest to expose the pastern area for inspection. The only other recommendation—that a judge be authorized to penalize or even disqualify offenders—would, even if adopted, amount to no more than a tap on the wrist in a situation where a hard blow to the heart (perhaps I should say pocket-book) is indicated.
And even these mild suggestions may not get into the new rule book of the American Horse Shows Association. For one thing, J. Glenn Turner, who is no enemy of the trainer, has been selected as the new chairman of the Walking Horse Committee for the AHSA. Turner has never shown any disposition to change the present rules, which are either so vaguely worded as to be uninterpretable, or simply misstate the situation. For example, the rule book says: "Horses must be serviceably sound." Under present practice, that means only that if they don't fall down they can show. The book also says: "Judges shall disqualify horses equipped with artificial appliances such as...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." Which officials? In practice, the manager leaves the job to the steward (the person who must be present at every recognized show to see that the association's rules are upheld), and the steward passes the buck right back to the manager or to the show veterinarian or to the judge. If, by some chance, an offender is caught he is disqualified from the class, but he is free to ship his horse off to the next show.
If the AHSA had the nerve to make the punishment fit the crime, a lot_of trainers would be on crutches. The trainers, of course, blame pressure from the owners, and the owners say the trainers are at fault. (One owner quoted his trainer: "Just don't watch while I put the boots on—you'll feel better when you ride up to get that ribbon.")
So, despite the courage of men like Yenser, C. C. Turner and Amos, there is little to be hoped for from the self-interested, ribbon-seeking trainer or owner. That leaves the matter squarely in the hands of the American Horse Shows Association, which has yet to enforce or even clarify its own tepid rules. If the AHSA at its current meeting fails to redefine its rules, make clear who is responsible for enforcing them and provide stringent penalties for offenders, a few courageous show managers are ready to drop the Walking Horse division entirely. This may seem a drastic remedy, but the various Walking Horse societies have had ample time to clean their own stable. They have failed to do so. The AHSA must have the courage to do it for them.
Why don't you do something about it
If I don't do it he'll do it
It's not within my jurisdiction
I don't want to do it but he asked me
It's up to the National Organization
It's always been this way
It's up to Local Chapter
I'm bucking a stone wall