Lately, I've been reflecting on the state the breed is in, how we got here, and what we need to do to move forward. I have been through an interesting experience, regarding the *soring* issue in our breed. It seems the Midge Leitch, a Veterinarian with New Bolton Center, who also sits as Chair of the AAEP Welfare Committee, mentioned American Saddlebreds in her comments about the work her committee is doing. Trouble is, she mentioned ASBs along with Tennessee Walking Horses, and then, used the word "soring". Well, my initial knee jerk was to express absolute outrage-- I mean, how dare she! Our horses have never had nasty substances painted on their pasterns, and then worn chains, intended to abrade the already sensitive areas, for the purpose of accomplishing the "Big Lick" gait! And, of course, our horses need to have a square trot- how could that happen, after doing this kind of thing to a horse?
I emailed Midge, and told her that she must be incorrect- could she be thinking of racking horses, for example? Perhaps they did something like this to those horses- although I had absolutely no knowledge of them, I was trying to find some way of having the AAEP alter their statement, and position. Midge didn't back up an inch.
I contacted the ASHA President, Judith Werner, and alerted her to the piece, which had been published in the AAEP Wrap Up, on "The Horse" magazines site, and through their email blasts. Judy had not seen it, at that point, but assured me she would address it. The ASHA is having major internal issues, in the form of a lawsuit that they filed against a small group of their members, so there is a real need to be somewhat circumspect in addressing any issues, publicly, just now. However, I waited a couple of weeks, and when nothing had happened, I decided that I needed to get a better idea of what was going on out there, and how this could possibly be an issue for our horses.
Given the enormous respect I have for Midge Leitch, I decided I needed to better understand what her concerns were. Well, the real issue is that I simply did not understand the newer connotation for soring. It includes pressure shoeing, techniques where the horses soles are thinned, to make them more tender, and sensitive, close nailing a horse, for example, in their hind feet, to make them appear more "hocky", and nasty little tricks like adding a carpet nail through the pad of a futurity colts shoes, which is of course, covered by another pad, to hide it.
Horses have a funny way of reacting to these things. They lift higher, to try and get away from the pain. If done symmetrically, it is not easily detected, because the *lameness* is also symmetrical.
After emailing both Midge Leitch, and Steve O'Grady- Veterinarians who worked on the AAEPs "White Paper" on soring, and asking around, it became apparent that this actually is an issue for the American Saddlebred. Is it a high percentage of horses that are affected? I don't think so, but if it is 1%, that is 1% too many.
This past week, the ASHA finally responded to the AAEP: www.asha.net/files/jwashasoringresponse.pdf
with a complete denial of the issue, a promise that there would be AAEP members who would put their signatures on a document denying any knowledge of these heinous practices, and a USDA document from 2006, which states that Hackeys and American Saddlebreds are not sored.
I wish that I believed that Judy and the ASHA were correct, but the truth is that I have personally seen shoes pulled from show horses which were sold to the Amish, from private individuals, as well as public sales. In a handful of cases, the techniques that had been used were designed to *enhance* the horses movement-- in keeping with what is desired in the show ring-- and, these methods were not, in my opinion humane, or in the best interest of the horse. Ironically, the shoeing that the horses received from the Amish blacksmith was an improvement, for the horses comfort. I have heard stories from people with American Saddlebreds, who have similar tales to tell.
Is this widespread? I tend to think not, and I certainly hope not. I love watching a great show horse work and show, and I have unlimited respect for many, many trainers of these horses. Are we the only breed with issues? Of course not; other breeds and disciplines have their own closets full of dirty deeds. But, we are the stewards of a very small breed that already has huge public misconceptions, and PR issues. The world is not as tolerant of cut tails, and show packages, as it was in the hey day of the show horse- the 50's- 70's. Saddle Seat has been declining in popularity, and that certainly doesn't help the trainers fill their barns, or their lesson programs. But make no mistake-- this is still a fabulous breed of horse. We need to support every single American Saddlebred out there. I am just not sure that a complete denial by the ASHA, as opposed to asking the AAEP to verify their claims, is the best approach, especially given that I do believe we have some culpability.
Keeping this one in the closet, rather than asking for specifics, and offering to take measures to put a zero tolerance for abuse standard in place, seems to me like not taking the position of being the best possible stewards of these magnificent horses. Why is the ASHA protecting people who knowingly engage in this type of insanity, rather than stepping up for the horses? I guess time will tell, when we see who signs the letter to the AAEP, and how the AAEP responds.