BRENTWOOD, TN – The Saturday Sound Conference included John Haffner, DVM. explaining why soring is necessary for a winning gait. Haffner was frank and made reference to scripture in how he came to his epiphany regarding the sore Big Lick.
Soring: A Necessity for the Winning Gait
Your hands are full of blood!
16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.[a]
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.
18 “Come now, let us reason together,”
says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
“It was these Bible verses that were illuminated to me like a newspaper in an old black and white movie early one August morning. It was as if God was speaking directly to my heart saying it was time to get out of a business built on the suffering of horses. This was the culmination of about 2 years of struggle for me. It began at the Columbia Spring Jubilee where I was the show veterinarian. A trainer that I did work for me asked me to inspect a mare that had been turned down by the USDA inspector. When I did, I could find no problem with her. I repeated the exam with the horse show videographer recording the exam.
The breeder’s association agreed to defend the case and they hired a lawyer from Dallas, Texas who had taken cases to the U.S. Supreme court because they figured they would lose in lower court and they were willing to take it all the way. The night before the trial at the Federal Court house in Nashville, I attended a meeting that the defense team had in a hotel room. I asked the attorney what he thought I was going to say if they asked me if soring was routine. To his credit, he said I must tell the truth. Then he asked “Is it?” I assured him that it is. It seemed that he was the only one in the room who didn’t know. Some of the others in the room became angry, and I got the impression the attorney was a little unsure about having me testify, but he really had no choice. At the trial I was very nervous, but as the questioning began, that question never came up. It apparently never comes up. And until I wrote my letter to Representative Whitfield, it seems that it has always been overlooked. In my opinion it is the critical question. It is the question that reveals the farce that inspection is. It is all a game. The trainers pretend they don’t sore the horses, the DQP’s pretend that some horses haven’t been sored, the USDA lets everybody pretend that there are only a few bad actors that sore, and horse show life goes on its merry way. But I digress.
When the decision was rendered, the judge wrote that he ruled for the defendant based substantially on my testimony. As I recall, that was in February. It was just in time for everybody to get ready for the show season. And did they ever get ready. I saw more open oil of mustard and blatant soring that spring than I had ever seen in my life. It just sat out in the open in the cross ties. The oil was so pungent in the cross ties that it made my eyes water. The USDA had been put in their place, and I had helped do it. So we were free at last to show like we wanted. That entire spring and summer I was troubled greatly about what I had done. I told the truth, but not the whole truth. I wasn’t asked, and I did not volunteer the information.
So that August morning when God told me that my hands were covered in blood and I had to stop doing wrong and learn to do right, I believed Him. Two weeks later, I had sold my part of the practice and was out of it. That fall I was called to meet a friend in the business and he wanted to know if I would run the DQP program. I told him I wasn’t interested in getting the government off their backs if they were not serious about ending soring. The thing I could never work out was how to let some horses in and keep others out. If they were doing the big lick, they had been sored. It was and is that simple. Some of the horses can make it though inspection and some cannot. Many can make it sometimes and not other times. Unfortunately for the trainers’ sakes, they can’t always tell when. The horse might check fine at the barn and then flinch for the inspector.
Pain is a complex sensation. Individuals respond differently to the same stimulus. For example: some people like to eat hot spicy food, and others cannot tolerate it. Or something that is painful at one time may not be noticed at another if there is a distraction. The degree of pain resulting from a particular stimulus will vary depending on many uncontrollable factors. Pain is an immense subject of research and is difficult to elucidate even when working with humans who can tell the investigator when and where and how bad it hurts. So to try to determine scientifically what hurts or doesn’t hurt a horse with mathematical certainty is not a promising endeavor. And I submit it is not necessary or reasonable to expect the exact painfulness of any training technique to be determined by any repeatable quantitative means. But it is reasonable to assume that oil of mustard on the skin or excess pressure on the sole hurts.
I hear people talk about the perception problem the industry has. I contend that the problem is not the perception. The problem is the reality.
The reality is that soring is the foundation upon which the big lick is built”.
Is soring necessary for the big lick?
If not, why is it still a problem 43 years after it was made a federal offense?
Why do essentially all the trainers active during those years have a record of violations?
Why did pressure shoeing become a common practice after pastern inspection began?
Why were the terms fixed and deep substituted for soring and the degree of soring?
Why do horses have to be trained to stand still while their pasterns are palpated?
Why do so many swabs test positive for forbidden substances?
Why when going from barn to barn did I see that all the horses in training for the big lick were sored?
Why would inspections at horse shows still be necessary?
Why hasn’t the industry ended it?
Why hasn’t a line of sound big lick horses that dominate the breeding and yearling sales been developed through selective breeding?
Why would industry insiders forfeit their friends, their livelihoods and sometimes their personal safety to expose something that is not a problem?
Why has no one stepped up to publicly refute the letter I wrote that stated soring is necessary?
Why is it not just a bad memory from a long time ago?
Scientific evidence has been called for to detect soring. There are many types of evidence and means of proving something. In the case of soring, the problem is not evidence. There is the evidence a history of over 60 years of soring. The problem is the willingness to acknowledge what is obvious. The problem is to risk the loss of money. The problem is to have to admit we have been doing something wrong and we do not want to be exposed. We don’t need to discover some scientific fact that has been hidden for many years. We only need to admit what is obvious and repent of our wrong doing.
Can it be scientifically proven that a horse cannot do the big lick without soring; probably not without breaking the law? Two groups of horses would have to be trained identically except one group would have to be sored and the other would not. That poses legal and ethical problems that would be difficult to overcome. It is also unnecessary. Who would it need to be proven to anyway? The trainers know soring is necessary. The grooms know soring is necessary. The farriers know soring is necessary. Anybody that works in and around the barns and is willing to open their eyes knows soring is necessary. Anyone who has been in the business for any reasonable amount of time knows that it’s necessary. There are a few people that I have found that it does need to be proven to. That is many of my friends in the AAEP and some of the folks at USDA. Most of them are unfamiliar with Walking Horses and the training required to achieve the big lick. Some of them think that perhaps the really good horses do not need soring and that it is only the unscrupulous trainers that do it.
The suggestion that a horse that has been trained to do the big lick can be turned out over the winter and put back on pads in the spring and do the big lick without soring fails to take into account an important fact. And that fact is that this is only possible with horses that at one point in their training were sored. They learned the gait because of the pain induced by the chain hitting on the pastern or the pressure shoe pressing on the sole. Those horses remember the pain and they will do the big lick without a recent episode of soring. It is safe to say that a horse that has never been sored will not do the big lick if someone puts a built up shoe and a chain on him and starts riding. He will walk in an odd manner with an exaggerated gait, but he will not immediately start stroking. And he certainly would not win a class at the Celebration.
According to a popular radio host, when you want to eliminate debt, you begin with the smallest and work your way through them taking on the next bigger debt until they are all gone. That is how I see the problem of soring. It may not be the biggest problem, but it is a problem; a real and serious problem. Maybe more so because of the effect it has on the people who do it and approve of it than the damage done to the horses. To intentionally inflict pain on an animal for any sort of gratification, dulls the conscience and can lead to many other problems. It appears that showing sore horses may become a thing of the past. However, considering the previous 43 years, I would submit that it is not a foregone conclusion. But whether soring goes or not if this country is to survive, we still have other more serious problems that threaten the very existence of our nation that must be resolved.
Soring is only one of many problems. The laws haven’t stopped it. The bad publicity hasn’t stopped it. A change of hearts is what is needed to stop it. Ultimately, all of our problems will only be resolved if we return to God and He relents from His judgment on us and our nation.”