Editor’s Note: The Walking Horse Trainers Association has prepared some questions and answers to better equip industry participants when fielding questions about the Tennessee walking horse.


The Tennessee Walking Horse

Questions and Answers


The following has been prepared in response to questions that occasionally arise due to a misunderstanding of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry today.


Q – The Tennessee Walking Horse has a very unique, high-stepping gait.  Some have said that in order to win shows, the horse is intentionally made lame, or “sore” to encourage him to step higher. Is this true?


A – The Tennessee Walking Horse does have a unique high-stepping gait, and is a smooth, comfortable riding horse.  This is a natural gait for the horse, and is enhanced by professional training, just as professional athletes train to enhance their abilities. Unfortunately, many years ago, various techniques that caused pain to the horse were used.  However, over the years, soring horses has become an unacceptable practice in the industry. New training techniques have been developed, and acceptable training techniques of today do not allow practices that cause pain.


Q – There have been some statements made that it is common practice in the industry to use caustic chemicals that burn the horses, or mechanical devices such as screws in their hooves, or a painful method of trimming the hoof called “pressure shoeing” to make the horse lift its feet higher.  Is this true? Is this acceptable in the industry?


A – This is not true.  These types of practices are completely unacceptable in the industry today. Those found to have used these practices are prevented from showing horses, and are subject to severe penalties imposed by the industry and by the federal government. To confirm its opposition to these practices, in 2007 the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association adopted a new Code of Ethics. This Code of Ethics states that licensed trainers must “Treat all horses in their care humanely, and with dignity and respect. Trainers shall use proper care in training, handling, and showing them, and shall not utilize techniques known to inflict pain for the purposes of performance enhancement. Trainers found to have used pressure shoeing shall lose their training license and be banned from the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association for life.”


Q – Show horses often have high pads or “stacks” on their hooves. Are these stacks painful to the horse? Are horses wearing these stacks forced to remain in barns their whole lives, or are they allowed to go out into pastures?


A – Pads or “stacks” are not painful for the horse.  They are not heavy, and parameters for the size and angle of the pads are defined by USDA regulation. Show horses that have pads on during the show season are extremely well cared for.  As are show horses of other breeds, they are maintained in stalls during the show season, but are taken out daily, often several times daily, to be exercised, groomed, and otherwise cared for. The barns show horses are kept in are well kept and well ventilated, with skylights in many of them. Horses with pads are also sometimes turned out into paddocks.  Mares that have had successful show careers are often used for breeding, and may spend the rest of their lives outdoors. These well-cared for show horses often live long healthy lives and some show well into their teens or twenties.


Q – What are the chains around some horses’ pasterns? Are they painful to the horse?


A – Those chains are known as “action devices” and encourage horses to lift their feet higher. The chains are light, weighing no more than 6 ounces. Research conducted at Auburn University’s School of Veterinary Medicine determined that 6 ounce chains used as action devices on Tennessee Walking Horses do not cause any detectable pain or tissue damage to the horses. These 6 ounce chains are legal to use.


Q – It has been stated the USDA made a commitment in 2006 to enforce the “Horse Protection Act.” What is the “Horse Protection Act”, and why did the USDA decide to start enforcing it in 2006?


A – The Horse Protection Act was enacted in 1970, and USDA, APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) has been enforcing it for many years, in partnership with the industry. Since the enactment of the HPA, the industry has evolved significantly, and the welfare of the horse has become of paramount importance. USDA and the industry continue to work together to ensure compliance with the Horse Protection Act. The recently adopted Walking Horse Trainers’ Association Code of Ethics reaffirms this commitment.


Q – It has been stated that industry has spent $1 million to try to change and weaken the law, and that industry has hired a Washington insider, previously an official with USDA to try to weaken the existing regulations. Is that true?


A – There had been some previous attempts by some in industry to modify the law. A new Washington firm was hired in 2007 to interact with USDA and the industry to assure consistent interpretation and enforcement of the HPA. This firm is not in any way attempting to change the law. On the contrary, the firm is working with USDA and industry to assure compliance with the HPA, and to help the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) move the industry forward.  The focus is on protecting the horse and preserving the industry for future generations. The WHTA would also like to partner with others to develop new training methods focused on the welfare of the horse, and on improved detection of sore horses. The Washington firm will be working to facilitate those efforts and to develop strategic planning to continue to move the industry forward.