Skip to main content

Animal Abuse: Soring

Horses can be loving, trusting, loyal creatures.

Horses can be loving, trusting, loyal creatures.

Animal Cruelty

Have you ever been sort of mindlessly surfing the net, when you come across animal cruelty articles and animal abuse articles? You don’t want to see the information, but some little voice inside your head compels you to click the links and read the disgusting narratives. Afterwards, you feel physically ill, wanting to kick yourself and wanting to strangle and muffle that oh-so-innocent voice. This very thing happened to me this evening, as I was led to an article about horse abuse. It was about the old practice of soring used in horse training for gaited horses, especially the Tennessee walking horse. As an animal lover, I abhor any type of animal cruelty or animal abuse, and I comfortably believed that such horse training methods had died, but alas, I was wrong. I had to do some more research and find more animal abuse articles dealing with soring, and the internet didn’t fail to provide.

Gaited Horses

Gaited horses are equines that have a smooth natural gait, or way of moving. Their gaits are different than those seen in other horse breeds. If you’ve ever ridden a non-gaited horse at a trot, you know how jostling it can be. It’s different with gaited horses. Many of them use a running walk, called “ambling,” or some other four-beat gait, instead. With the amble, only one foot is off the ground at any given time. Not only is this much more comfortable and enjoyable for the rider, it’s also pretty to watch.

The most popular gaited horse breeds in the United States are the American Saddlebred, the Spotted Saddle horse, the Peruvian Paso, the Paso Fino, the Missouri Fox Trotter, the Kentucky Mountain horse, the Rocky Mountain horse, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Racking horse, and the Walkaloosa, a gaited horse with Appaloosa coloring. Also, some Morgan horses of certain bloodlines are gaited, and a few Arabians are gaited.

To see an example of ambling, watch the following video.


Tennessee Walking Horse

The Tennessee Walking horse is often the subject of animal cruelty articles – this one included. It’s a real shame, too. This horse breed is known for its gentle temperament and trainability. They’re also strikingly beautiful animals, and a well trained Walker is a joy to ride. It’s like sitting in a rocking chair!

The Tennessee Walking horse is a truly American breed, originating on the southern plantations of Tennessee in the late 1700s. Plantation owners needed a horse that could cover a lot of ground quickly, while providing rider comfort at the same time. The first Walkers were the results of crossing Canadian Pacers with Narragansett Pacers, but since then, other breeds have been added to the mix. These include the Thoroughbred, the Morgan, the Standardbred, and the Saddlebred.

The Tennessee Walking horse is usually tall and leggy, measuring between fifteen and seventeen hands tall. The long neck is graceful, and the head is refined, with small ears. The short back gives the horse more strength, and this breed is known for its stamina. Often referred to as “the gentlemen of horses,” the Tennessee Walking horse is popular with beginners, with trail riders, and with riders who have back problems. Unfortunately, because of the horse’s exaggerated gaits, they’re also popular in the show ring. I have nothing against showing horses – in fact, I’ve participated in horse shows with my own animals. The problem arises when unscrupulous owners and trainers use animal abuse in their horse training methods.

After World War II, the Tennessee Walking horse and Walking horse shows became extremely popular. Spectators enjoyed watching the high stepping horses in the ring, performing the “big lick.” The big lick is the term used for the exaggerated action of the animal’s front legs. For the spectators and the judges, the higher and more exaggerated the big lick was, the better. In response, some trainers began to use horse training techniques that caused pain and injury to their four-legged pupils, making the horses have sore feet.

Tennessee Walking Horse and the Big Lick:

Sore Feet

Several methods have been used to give Walking horses sore feet. The most common is “soring,” but I’ll get to that in a minute. Other methods are almost as bad. Some trainers use horseshoe nails to cause pain. With regular shoeing, the nails that keep the shoes in place are nailed into the “dead” part of the hoof, so they’re painless. For sore feet, however, the nails or tacks are placed into the quick. Think of a horse’s hoof as your toenail. When you trim the dead ends, it doesn’t hurt, but when you cut into the quick, it’s a different story. Now imagine trying to support 1,000 to 1,200 pounds on four painful toenails.

Another method is to trim the hooves into the quick and then ride the horse for hours over hard surfaces. Also, some uncaring trainers place tacks or screws between the bottom of the hoof and the shoes, causing irritation and pain. Another way to achieve sore feet is to use heavy chains on the pasterns. Six-ounce chains are legal, but heavier chains are sometimes used for training. Sometimes, the chains are treated with caustic substances, too.

What’s the purpose of sore feet? A horse with foot pain will step higher, in an effort to avoid putting weight on the painful hoof. Every step the horse takes can be agonizing, and permanent damage can occur. When not in the show ring, some of these poor horses have difficulty standing and might spend much of their off time lying down.

A horse with sore feet  might find it painful and difficult to stand.

A horse with sore feet might find it painful and difficult to stand.

Soring - Horse Abuse

Soring is perhaps the most common form of achieving sore feet in gaited horses. For this practice, highly caustic substances are applied to the horses’ front legs. These might include mustard oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, croton oil, collodion, or salicylic acid. Sometimes a combination of substances is used. These caustics are so dangerous that the humans applying them have to wear rubber gloves, special goggles, and sometimes a respirator. Once the caustic is applied to the flesh, the legs are tightly wrapped in plastic, which causes the burning compounds to be absorbed deep into the flesh.

The caustics can actually eat into flesh and bone, as well as cause other problems elsewhere in the body. The list is long, but it includes kidney damage, colic, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, dizziness, convulsions, and nerve damage. Soring is definitely an example of horse abuse. Is it legal?

Soring is illegal, but sometimes it’s hard to detect. Some sored horses are trained not to react to pain when a show steward runs his hands over the lower front legs. This cruel horse training is done in the barn. The animal’s painful legs are squeezed by a handler, and when the horse reacts, it’s beaten or shocked. The animal learns not to react at all, so the show inspector doesn’t realize the horse has been sored.


Sore No More

I say, sore no more! I’m not in the minority here. The vast majority of gaited horse trainers don’t use or approve of soring. I think if the viewing public knew what was really going on behind the scenes, many wouldn’t find those exaggerated “big licks” so impressive. Horses are protected under the Federal Horse Protection Act, but evil trainers are becoming more savvy about hiding their soring practices. Another problem is that there simply aren’t enough inspectors to go around. Even when illegal practices are discovered, punishment is often little more than a slap on the wrist.

I’ll give you a prime example. Just a couple of months ago, a prominent “big lick” trainer was arrested for 52 counts of animal cruelty. 18 of these were felonies. Jackie McConnell, a trainer in Collierville, Tennessee, had allegedly been using soring methods for years. McConnell was widely admired by many in the gaited horse community, and his brother, Jimmy McConnell, was named Trainer of the Year and has won three World Grand Championships for training.

This wasn’t the first time Jackie McConnell was accused of horse abuse. He was found guilty of violating the Horse Protection Act and was placed on a five-year suspension by the USDA. Obviously, this action didn’t stop McConnell from continuing his animal abuse. If the initial charges and penalties had been more severe, perhaps McConnell wouldn’t have had the opportunity to cause more animal suffering. The trial hasn’t been set for his latest charges, but if he’s found guilty, I hope the penalty is a lot worse on the trainer. I think a fitting punishment would be for him to undergo the same treatments he used on innocent animals.

Humane horse training methods produce a much better mount.

Humane horse training methods produce a much better mount.

Animal Cruelty

I hate animal cruelty. As a former horse trainer, I firmly believe it has no place in horse training. Horses and ponies are wonderful animals – loyal, trusting, and intelligent. They respond well to kindness, consistency, and firmness – but not to fear and pain. I always used gentle training methods that were in line with natural horsemanship. I’ve been involved with dog training, too, and the same principles hold true for training canines. I suspect it’s the same with any type of animal training, but it might be even more important with horse training. Why? Because horses are prey animals, historically speaking, so they’re often fearful and rarely aggressive. When horse abuse occurs from a human handler, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the animal to ever fully trust the person again. In fact, this can be easily transferred to all humans.

Please take the poll!


Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on January 09, 2016:

Oh, MPosten, I agree! I know most owners/trainers of gaited horses do not use the practice, nor do they approve of it - as I mentioned in the article.

MPosten on January 08, 2016:

I find this a bit misleading. You elude soring for all gaited breeds. Soring I find are only for high stepping gaited breeds. Such as the big lick Tennessee walkers. Which is discusting. I am finding people hear gaited breed and assume soring which in some breeds would never happen. If it did would be very rare abuse.

Please make sure you are not lumping or promoting the lumping of all gaited breeds and people sore horses. I know many who are making the good fight to abolish the big lick horse. Even some brave enough to show world championship celebration with a stallion that did not have big shoes was very natural against all the mutallated big lick horses.

So please to readers gaited does not mean all sore their horse to gait. Most of these horses come out of the womb gaiting. The soring. Happens when they want the high step and the horse can not do it right naturally. So when people want to cheat to win.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 21, 2012:

Hi, Sis. Wonderful to see you!

Melissa A Smith from New York on May 20, 2012:

That would have to do with the nature of the crime being committed, which is what courts usually do (abiding by the Constitution). People seem to define 'torture' in different ways. In this case, the perpetrator should not be allowed to continue in this business, and maybe be disallowed from owning animals for a certain period. And fined.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

Thanks a bunch, Nare!

Angela Blair from Central Texas on May 20, 2012:

Excellent Hub, Holle -- as far as I'm concerned there's no punishment bad enough for animal abusers. As you stated -- animal abusers rarely have little regard for their fellow human beings either. Voted up! Best/Sis

Nare Gevorgyan on May 20, 2012:

This is such a meaningful topic, hubee. I love horses. Voted up and shared!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

Melissa, what do you think should be done with people who torture animals?

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

Teaches, many animal abusers have little regard for humans, either. So sad.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

Terrier, animal abuse goes on everywhere - unfortunately.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

Alexander, you hit the nail on the head.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

Doc, we def need more inspectors and tougher penalties for those who commit animal cruelty. Good to see you!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 20, 2012:

fpherj, animals are at man's mercy, and some humans don't seem to understand that creatures are living things will feelings. As long as the humans can make a buck, some don't care a whit about an animal's suffering.

Melissa A Smith from New York on May 20, 2012:

So many people often think animal abusers should 'suffer the tortures they inflicted'. Medieval-style cruel and unusual punishment ftw, I guess.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2012:

Nettle, soring is mostly used for the Tennessee Walking horse, but it's occasionally used with other gaited horses. What a shame!

Dianna Mendez on May 19, 2012:

Soring is such a horrible practice and one that should be banned from any show performance. Some people have little moral values in life!

Highland Terrier from Dublin, Ireland on May 19, 2012:

Thank you,

For such an informative article. Horse cruelty is world wide. Here in ireland there is hardly a month goes by but you don't read about some poor horse or donkey that's be deliberately injured.

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2012:

Bamu, that's exactly what I think should be done to these trainers!

Alexander Silvius from Portland, Oregon on May 19, 2012:

This had me cussing. Sometimes it's so hard to believe humans would do this to an innocent animal. I don't doubt the motivator is wealth.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 19, 2012:

I did not know about this despicable practice of soring before, Holle. I would condemn every trainer guilty of this practice to endure the same treatment and then be boiled in oil. And that would be too good for them!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 19, 2012:

Leader, most TWHs are awesome! Sounds like yours was.

Suzie from Carson City on May 19, 2012:

habee....I'm so glad you have done this hub. It has appeared to me that animal abuse has soared....but I thought perhaps it was just the availability of the many stories.

Personally habee, I equate this with human abuse (similar to "helpless children") What sort of deranged individual harms a living creature that is merely here as man's companion, to love & protect?

About 2 years ago, a big local story was a man who had beaten his dog to death with a chair leg. I caught this story a bit late in terms of WHO turned him in or HOW he was eventually arrested and charged. But I was privy to the Happy ending we all applauded. The beast got THREE years behind bars, fined $10,000 and 3 years of probation after release.


Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on May 19, 2012:

Very interesting article - I've heard of gaited horses (and would love to ride a Paso, but they're very uncommon in the UK. I had no idea people tried to make them do that weird big lick thing (it looks so ugly)and am really glad you're bringing these cruel methods into the spotlight.

Brittany from Buffalo, NY on May 19, 2012:

Thank you for this article. It brought tears to my eyes. I just can't comprehend human cruelty. I also don't understand why people insist on abusing their animals when it's clear that animals respond to love , kindness, and patience--just like human beings do. I'd like to dump chemicals on this trainer, wrap him in plastic, and see how he responds.

Leaderofmany from Back Home in Indiana on May 19, 2012:


I had a Tennessee walker growing up, so this just makes me sick. He was the kindest and gentlest horse ever. I broke him to ride and he was my friend until I left home. Men like this need to have their feet treated so they walk higher.

Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on May 18, 2012:

Habee, I forgot to underscore, also, that I DO NOT support dog racing..Grayhound racing...those poor dogs are just tools and then, when they are no longer useful, they are killed or neglected, abused...discarded. Some "trainers" (read greedy SOBs) are known to cut off the ear which carries permanent identification so that the thrown away dog cannot be traced back to the 'owner.' Sick! I could go on but, I know you understand. I hope everyone reads your hub..I'm going to share it!! kathy

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 18, 2012:

Kathy, we sure think alike. I chose #2, also! Sometimes I'm ashamed to be part of the human race. I get frustrated sometimes by people who would never actually engage in animal abuse, but they're willing to turn a blind eye to it. Thank you for your comment!

Holle Abee (author) from Georgia on May 18, 2012:

Nightsun, thanks for reading!

Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on May 18, 2012:

Hi Habee...I am thoroughly disguested with this practice. I had NO idea. I bet many don't. I never attend any kind of presentation/show/circus/etc. that involves forcing animals to perform. All too often, the example you have given us is the same type of practice used to 'train' lions, tigers, elephants, etc. I just don't think we need to involve animals in our never ending search for self fulfillment/entertainment. Greyhound racing uses live bait to make the dogs run faster. This might include rabbits or small cats/kittens. The more consciencious racers use inanimate objects. I know there are ethical you were...I have no doubt. But, as a lay person, one never knows what goes on behind the scenes..just as your excellent hub points out. It is an absolute shame and black mark on human behavior; our treatment of animals. Sick...I, too, run up against the sad, sick and disgusting information often found online about animal abuse...some promoting and participating in it; others fighting it. I am so disappointed in our own kind...we know better but, for some unGodly reason, we just can't seem to help ourselves.

Thank you for a wonderfully informative hub which, I am sure, is going to serve to educate many who, otherwise, had no earthly idea. BTW, I checked the second choice!


nightsun from northern california on May 18, 2012:

Very sad that people will do things like this. Abuse of the innocnet is absolutely heartbreaking. It's something I'll never understand. Thank you for the hub..

Related Articles