The American Veterinary Medical Association
What is soring?
Soring is the unethical and illegal practice of deliberately inflicting pain to exaggerate the leg motion of gaited horses (such as TN Walkers and Racking horses) to gain an unfair advantage in the show ring. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has condemned soring for more than 40 years.
How is soring done?
CHEMICAL METHODS – involve applying caustics (kerosene or mustard oil) to the lower leg of the horse. Then the leg is covered with plastic wrap for days in attempt to allow the chemicals to be absorbed into the skin. This process causes the skin to be sensitive to the touch and extremely sensitive to action devices and their hooves striking the ground. The horse will jerk his leg upward to avoid the pain and the gait is now considered exaggerated. Chemical methods often leave obvious scars, which may be burned off using a chemical stripping agent (which causes further pain).
PHYSICAL METHODS – cause pain when the horse’s hoof strikes the ground forcing the horse to lift the leg higher and faster off of the ground. Typically, physical methods involve grinding or trimming of the hoof and sole to expose sensitive tissues or removal of the normal support structures of the hoof wall; inserting hard objects between the pads and the sole to place pressure on this sensitive area of the hoof, over-tightening of metal hoof bands to cause excessive pressure; improper shoeing techniques that violate the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and purposefully causing laminitis which is an extremely painful condition of the hoof.
Why soring continues?
Unethical trainers and owners use various tricks to avoid detection including application of numbing agents that mask pain during inspection, but wear off by show time; use of harsh and painful training methods (stewarding) at practice inspections to teach the horse that flinching or reacting will casue worse pain; application of something painful in a location other than the hoof (distraction device) just before inspection; and providing a substitute horse for inspection (horse switching). In addition, some judges continue to use judging criteria that encourage soring practices. Allowing sore horses to win in the ring gives their owners and trainers recoginition and cash awards as well as future breeding and training fees. Finally due to budget constraints, USDA inspectors attend only a small percentage of shows held. This has led to a system of “self-policing” by Horse Industry Organizations, which is often compromised due to an inherent conflict of interest of many industry inspectors who are often actively involved in the industry as owners and trainers. Historically, even when ticketed, punishment of HPA violators has been lax.