August 11, 2008 -- Calling it one of the most significant welfare issues affecting any equine breed or discipline, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) issued recommendations August 7 for eliminating the abusive practice within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry known as soring. Soring is the infliction of pain to create an extravagant or exaggerated gait in horses for training or show purposes.
Even though soring is prohibited by the federal Horse Protection Act of 1970, some within the industry still abuse horses. Its continued practice is documented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's issuance of 103 competitor violations during the 2007 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, the industry's championship event.
"As an organization with the primary mission of protecting the health and welfare of the horse, the AAEP is strongly opposed to soring," said AAEP President Dr. Eleanor Green. "This wonderful breed must be preserved and protected in a climate in which its future is not challenged by the practice of soring. The true measure of success will be that soring no longer exists because the Tennessee Walking Horse industry itself brought it to an abrupt end."
Key points in the white paper, "Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for Ending the Soring of Tennessee Walking Horses," include:
- Immediate institution of drug testing at every competition.
- The abolishment of the Designated Qualified Persons (DQP) Program and the establishment of a corps of independent veterinarians to conduct horse inspections and impose sanctions for violations of the Horse Protection Act.
- The development of objective methods to detect soring in order to eliminate the current practice of conditioning horses to tolerate pressure applied to the limbs.
- Establishment of a single industry organization that has governance responsibilities and sets and enforces uniform standards and regulations.
- Reevaluation of judging standards so that the innate grace and beauty of the breed are valued instead of rewarding the currently manufactured exaggerated gait.
The recommendations in the white paper were developed by the AAEP's Tennessee Walking Horse Task Force, a group with specific knowledge of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and equine welfare issues. Dr. Midge Leitch of Cochranville, Pa., chaired the Task Force.
"The white paper is not intended to be a revision of the Horse Protection Act," explained Dr. Leitch. "We know we are suggesting radical changes to current practices within the industry, but if industry leaders are intent on solving this issue, they will give serious thought to the recommendations that have been made."
The AAEP recognizes that it has no regulatory authority over the Tennessee Walking Horse industry but intends its white paper to provide guidance and support to those within the industry who are working to permanently end the soring of horses.
"On behalf of the AAEP, I express gratitude to Dr. Leitch, who chaired the TWH Task Force, and the other dedicated AAEP members who accepted the charge of this task force and were so thoughtful in the development of the white paper," added Dr. Green. "I also want to thank the members of the various Tennessee Walking Horse industry organizations (HIOs) who came last year to the first TWH Summit in Lexington. These groups encouraged the AAEP to develop this white paper and they have a unique opportunity to eliminate the practice of soring."
The white paper is available at www.aaep.org.