Burning Horses’ Legs for Show is Supported by Science?

The Rise for Animals Team, July 1, 2024

Earlier this year, the USDA announced an intent to strengthen regulations related to horse soring – which, like vivisection, is an unethical practice overseen (at least technically) by the USDA. 

Per the USDA: 

Soring is a cruel and inhumane practice where some owners and trainers chemically or physically irritate or burn horses to provide an accentuated gait that gives them an unfair advantage in walking horse competitions and fraudulent purchase prices at horse shows.

The gait of a Tennessee walking horse may be purposefully exaggerated through the cruel and painful practice of “soring”. (Video: Connie Shrader, YouTube)

Consequences of this announcement have made clear that – not only does this practice share in animal research’s commodification and use of other-than-human animals for human interests – but, also like animal research, it tags-in government deference to industry, the indiscriminate throwing around of the term “science”, and the profound biases directing our elected officials.

One of the changes highlighted by the USDA was intended to “[e]liminat[e] industry self-regulation” (which dominantes in the world of animal research) – meaning, that the USDA identified an intent to substitute (supposedly more impartial) government discretion for the entirely biased judgment of those invested in and benefiting from horse soring. Makes sense right?

Well, unfortunately, not to all – including some entirely biased elected officials. 

To wit, at least one Congressman has publicly announced his displeasure and disagreement with the government’s attempt to stop horse soring.  

Congressman John Rose of Tennessee (home of the Tennessee Walking Horse – horse soring’s most common victim) gave a televised interview in which he described the USDA’s efforts to “strengthen[] regulations to end horse soring” as both “disappointing” and “unnecessary”.

You read that right: this U.S. elected official is upset that humans will be prohibited from “accentuat[ing] a horse’s gait” by, either chemically or mechanically, “mak[ing] it painful for the horse to put the full pressure of his weight on his front feet” – i.e., that humans will be restricted from “sor[ing]” horses through “PAIN”

As the horse tries to escape the pain in his front feet and lower legs, he snatches them up quickly, which gives the ‘desired effect’ of tremendous lift in the front, known as the ‘big lick.’ Meanwhile, he tries to take as much weight as possible off his front feet by shifting his weight to his back feet, squatting down in the rear as he reaches beneath himself with his hind legs . . .

Mechanical soring methods include use of excessively heavy weighted chains, use of tacks deliberately placed under the shoe into the ‘white line’ or quick, of the hoof . . . 

Chemical soring involves using chemical agents such as mustard oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, salicylic acid, crotonal or croton oil, collodion, and others, on the pasterns, bulbs of heel, or coronary band of horses. The resultant burning or blistering causes the horse to snatch up his front legs . . . These chemicals are harmful, toxic, and sometimes carcinogenic. Trainers must use a brush and wear gloves when applying them. The area may then be wrapped in plastic while the chemicals are absorbed.

While consistently voicing his opposition to the USDA’s action, Congressman Rose could not help but speak out of both sides of his mouth, describing the USDA’s changes as both “unnecessary” and, simultaneously, “very damaging to the walking horse industry”. 

This is the very same tact taken by the animal research industry in opposition to the Animal Welfare Act and other attempts at regulating animal research – i.e., arguing that the government is seeking to regulate harms that aren’t occurring. . . while decrying that the affected industry will be damaged by not being able to continue causing such harms.

We would like to ask Congressman Rose how – if entirely unnecessary (because, as the newscast disingenuously asserted, owners “love” the horses they’re exploiting and would not “hurt” them) – this change could at the same time be “very damaging” to the industry? How could banning a cruel practice that is not taking place be “very damaging”?

Congressman Rose left this question open (of course), next borrowing another tactic from the pro-vivisection lobby’s toolkit:  asserting – without offering any evidence – that the USDA’s efforts to ban horse soring are “not really based on” or “justified” by “the science”.

In contending that the USDA is “overreach[ing]” by literally purporting to do its job, Congressman Rose gave an indirect shout-out to the animal research industry by throwing in the ill-defined but pseudo-trump-card: “science”. 

Congressman Rose does not elaborate on this point, leaving us to ask: what “science”? 

He certainly cannot be speaking of the traditional understanding of science (e.g., “systematic knowledge of the physical and material world gained through observation and experimentation”), because such observation and experimentation make clear that the barbaric practices involved in horse soring “hurt” horses – rendering an animal-welfare-oriented ban on this practice completely supported by “science”.

Instead, it seems that Congressman Rose aims to distract (and deceive) us by directing (10,000-foot-level) attention to, for example, a short and very limited 2017 study. This study considered the effects of padded shoes and chains (i.e., mechanical soring devices) on Tennessee Walking Horses and reported that, in response to the study’s artificial conditions, these devices did not cause the horses any measurable “stress, pain and inflammation[]”. But – and here’s the critical part that someone in favor of horse soring (like Congressman Rose) would ignore – the study specified:

Although no evidence was found that these training devices . . . had an impact on horse welfare for the 5-day period of evaluation, the conditions under which the effects of these training devices were tested were not completely similar to those conditions used for Tennessee Walking Horses in training, and the results should not be generalized to the long-term use of these devices in horses performing the running walk.

Congressman Rose’s loyalty to animal use and outright animal cruelty is not surprising given his lifelong (both personal and professional) penchant for animal abuse. 

Congressman Rose is a self-described “farmer” who owns and runs a family “farm” that raises cows to be killed and eaten by humans. He “studied agriculture” in college, earned a “Master’s of Science Degree in Agricultural Economics”, previously served as “commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture”, and volunteers with the “Tennessee State Fair” – which means he volunteers for an event that has featured sored horses. 

So, he kills animals, eats animals, profits from killing animals to be eaten, supports others in killing and eating animals, studied the “business” of commodifying sentient beings, and volunteers for events that feature the exploitation and consumption of other-than-human animals. 

It seems only fitting, then, that he now defends an industry premised on animal pain and suffering – on affording humans entertainment and profit by watching horses “keep[] on trying” to escape the pain intentionally and willfully inflicted on them by humans.

It is also fitting that Congressman Rose, who sits on the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture, supports the ethically disastrous Farm Bill being pushed by his speciesist compadre Representative GT Thompson.

In the same televised interview, Congressman Rose bragged that, in terms of the Farm Bill, “the House has a really good product coming”, one with which “farmers are going to be pleased”.

As Congressman Rose exemplifies for us, there is often foundational overlap between seemingly disparate forms of animal exploitation – an unsurprising fact given the insidiousness and prevalence of both speciesism and the animal industrial complex (of which many of our elected officials are a part and/or to whose interests many elected officials are beholden).

The horses at the center of the USDA’s recent action may not be victims of animal research in the traditional sense; but they are victims of unethical human exploitation and harm supposedly sanctioned by “science”. 

Rise up for farmed animals now.

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