The USDA, by extending the comment period concerning its proposed regulation eliminating stacked shoes, action devices, the private inspection schemes called HIOs, and, after a clarification which would also reduce acceptable shoe sizes in three breeds, walking, racking and spotted saddle horses, to keg or “conventional” shoes, has done sound horse advocates and activists a favor. Those extra days gave more opportunity to gather support for the proposed rule and by extension to encourage new supporters to go online and leave affirmative comments. Lift every voice, both old and new, and remember that how we achieve something is just as important as what we achieve.
It’s easy to forget, caught up in the moment of making things happen, how long some of the old timers have been fighting this battle and fighting it on an ethical level. With currents of positive energy surrounding the fight, being brought to the issue by new faces, the veterans can surely take satisfaction in knowing that new faces, as well as those working with established organizations, will persist in continuing the fight until the war is won. It is an all- hands on deck effort and every hand is needed.
Long before the days of social media, back before wide- spread use of the internet, back before there were cell phones, the anti-soring folks from decades ago , depended on the communication vehicles of the time: interviews in newspapers and television stations, appearances in public gatherings, paid anti-soring advertisements in magazines like Equus and, in time, Voice, while also buying space in smaller regional equine related publications, even starting their own advocacy groups--- all of this was done to start the momentum forward to bring an end to the reign of the people who sored and abused horses for performance.
Those people are now either senior citizens (or well on the way) and many of them are around, still making the same anti-soring arguments, still insisting on the necessity of changes through law that will both protect the horses and in protecting them also promote the breed. Their adversaries, too, are still around and now senior citizens, running businesses and still in the saddle, introducing their grandchildren to a "family tradition" that is not compatible with modern times and animal welfare as we understand the term in the 21st century. Yet, they persist.
Over the years the adversaries have shown more stick- to- it-ness than have some of the people who have come and gone in the fight against the sore horse. This is because it's been a fairly discouraging slog to persist year after year, decade after decade, gathering evidence, getting it before the public, focusing on being fact- based and civil, while pushing back against the dog whistle call of being labeled dangerous radicals and now "computer jockeys".
Some of those folks who are no longer with us were “work within the system types” until they discovered that the system had no interest in working with them; some were motivated by seeing their own names in lights once they became identified as “ experts”; some were realists, with good horses that they couldn’t get tied against horses trained by dubious means, thus demanding change and, when it didn't come, leaving the breed; some were moralists, disgusted by what they saw as clear cronyism at TWHBEA and the buying of influence in opposition to animal welfare positions in the House and Senate, spending time and money tilting at the sore horse political windmill before going home bloodied and in disgust.
The elected officials fighting progress and using the rules of the Senate and House to do it, were young, once, too; now they are senior citizens and still in politics. Having crawled and clawed their way to the top of the influence heap they continue to do favors for those in support of the big lick horse, the people who helped pay their campaign bills over the years.
Meanwhile, another elder statesman, the author of the original Horse Protection Act, Senator Joseph Tydings, no longer speaks against the abuse of walking horses from the floor of the Senate but continues to speak out with a powerful voice as a private citizen, a necessity because the problem he hoped to stop cold in the 70s has continued to exist and for many years actually grew and prospered.
One of the groups that has been around for decades , begun specifically to address the problem of soring and to provide education and alternative experiences for people with walking horses, is FOSH. It was founded in Tennessee in the heart of walking horse country because that was the epicenter of the problem. Its intent from the beginning was to focus on the issue and not on the people involved in the issue, either in support or in opposition. The message was that the fight against soring was a people’s fight for all horses, not a personal crusade that would benefit one person or another, one trainer or another, one group or another. FOSH began as a volunteer organization , where the volunteers paid their own expenses and did not use the soring issue to fund raise. Obligated to no one, FOSH’s strategy was its own.
FOSH first tried to work within the system. When it became apparent that trying to work with the breed registry wasn’t going to have a good outcome while trying to convince the opposition that modifications in shoeing and the action device should be made based not only on issues of animal welfare but also public opinion , FOSH next started an assertive external public outreach as well as its own show circuit and its own versatility program, understanding that you can't take something away without providing a viable alternative, believing that education is a tool in bringing about change.
Almost 20 years ago, now, FOSH was the first organization to put up billboards in Shelbyville during Celebration time, billboards that read in part“ Show your horse in the division of your choice, but show him sound.” It started a judging program with objective rather than subjective standards. It started an HIO so that the sound horse voice would be heard at USDA meetings and (also to be assured that what was being conveyed as happening at those meetings was actually what was happening). It started a horse show circuit with the first classes for gaited dressage ever seen in competition. It began The North American, which, in its first year, was the third largest show by entries in the entire walking horse business. FOSH worked outside and inside to bring about positive change.
FOSH also took its message directly to middle Tennessee. In May, 1998 the organization ran a back cover essay on a widely distributed publication called Horse Country, targeted to this particular edition because it featured advertising from most of the state’s professional performance horse trainers, ran show coverage, and intentionally gave a generally upbeat view of the local equine business.
If you haven’t been involved with the anti-soring issue since the late 90s you may have missed this little piece of history paid for by people from another century speaking to the issue. The text of that back cover follows.
Read it; think about what the industry’s response in 1998 was; think of the time that has passed and the horses that have suffered because of determined resistance to change; you’ll know why the USDA must implement its proposed rule and why these last 8 days matter.
May 1998 published in Horse Country, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
“ It’s not a sensitive issue anymore. It’s a Sore Subject
For more than 40 years too many people have sored Tennessee Walking Horses to produce the exaggerated gaits that win ribbons and make crowds cheer. People have profited from this sad state of affairs. The horse has not been so lucky and the reputation of the breed has suffered across the nation.
We don’t help our situation when prominent trainers tell us in the newspapers that they don’t sore horses and they don’t know anyone who does. Anyone that has been involved with the Tennessee Walking Horse industry knows that whether you fix horses a little or fix them a lot, that doing so is a violation of the Horse Protection Act, a federal law. If no one is fixing horses why do we have people on the NHSC suspension list and on federal suspension? Certainly they can’t all be victims of false allegations.
We don’t need to hire public relations firms to fix our image problem. What we need to do is come clean and clean up the industry. If all we have is just a few bad apples, to quote the past president of TWHBEA, whose own trainer just made the federal suspension list, then it shouldn’t be hard to prune those trees.
Our problem is not one of performance horse versus pleasure horse. The problem is one of sore horses versus compliant horses and an industry in a state of denial. Blue ribbons shouldn’t come with scars and horses shouldn’t have to be treated with kerosene and diesel fuel to provide entertainment to crowds of fans. Horses shouldn’t be pressure shod to make them light on their feet. If you’re one of the people that doesn’t know what’s being done to horses in the name of “showmanship” , make it your business to know.
After years under the Horse Protection Act, it’s time to say no more soring, no more abuse. Show your horse in the division of your choice but show him sound. It’s wonderful that horse shows contribute to charities and to the economy of the area. We believe that people will still turn out to watch horses perform honestly and on an even playing field. But, if they won’t, that doesn’t justify abusing animals so that the money continues to roll in. Acceptance of abuse is abuse; that’s the bottom line.
For information or to find out how you can help, contact FOSH, The Friends of the Sound Horse Society, Inc. "
Ironically, the one change that the industry did make after years of FOSH talking about the need for a compliant horse, meaning a totally sound and scar- free horse in accordance with the Horse Protection Act, was to hijack the term “compliant” and start using it to mean a horse that could, one way or another, pass inspection. Compliance and compliant derive from the same root word, but the meaning between what FOSH was promoting and what the performance folks are still trying to sell was and is quite a difference.
May, 1998, it was spring time, then, and now in 2016 comes yet another fall, this timewith a 26th October deadline for comments on the USDA website. There’s still time to use these final days of the USDA extension to mobilize every friend, every family member, every horse person you know and ask them to take a moment to submit a comment to the USDA in support of the proposed rule. Urge them to do the same with their own family members, friends, and fellow horse people. It's the right thing to do; pass it on.
Make it your business in this moment to push the number of those affirmative comments to new heights. Do it now. ( Some of the nameless veterans of the movement likely don’t have another 20 years to wait to see justice for our horses done.)