The Savagery of Soring

In all discussions of soring, we have to remember that there are many trainers who work with gaited horses in a humane way without having to resort to torture; indeed, I believe that knowing what the sored horse goes through, they are ashamed of what their fellow trainers do for ribbons, money, and prestige. Several years ago, a prominent local citizen told me that he had given up showing his Walking Horses, even though he had trained them with kindness and patience, because he couldn’t stand seeing the other horses that had been the object of savagery.

The techniques of soring as seen in the damaged hoof above, are bad enough, but it doesn’t stop there. As discussed on the Protecting Horses page of my web site at, The Horse Protection Act of 1970 was designed to eliminate soring, but political pressure from influential business people in the horse industry, inadequate funding from the federal government, and the arrogance of those who sore their horses and who will not stop have hobbled the enforcement of the law for almost four decades. The law involves inspection of horses. And here is where the afflicted horses suffer more. In “The Cruelest Show on Earth,” the Humane Society says that some people train their horses not to respond when inspectors palpate their ankles and legs to find out if they have been sored. How do trainers do this to their animals? By beating with blunt instruments or attaching alligator clips to sensitive parts to cause pain, or putting a painful device in their mouths: all to force the horses to concentrate on the “new pain” rather than in the “old” pain in their feet or legs. They must not move. This process is called “stewarding” within the industry, an ironic double usage. As an English teacher, I can’t help but see the irony here. The word “steward” was in use before the twelfth century and meant, as it does today, someone who is in charge, who directs affairs, who has great responsibility. Stewards then can be those who run horse shows in the right way, those officials most in evidence at shows, or a trainer who works in a stall or pasture, torturing, stewarding his animal into silence.

Some years ago, I included abuse of horses in a list of topics my students could choose to research for their essays. We talked about each topic and its possibilities, and when we came to the horse question, a student in the back spoke up loudly and clearly: “I don’t know what all the fuss is about. It’s just a horse.” What that eighteen-year-old said was crude and ignorant, but is true of too many “adults” who are equally unable to consider the horse as anything more than an animal who is worth money, prizes, and prestige. It is a horrible prestige, this maiming of animals for no good reason, and people who respect, care for, indeed, love their horses regard sorers with horror and loathing.

I discuss the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration of 2009 on the Protecting Horses page at

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