But the dark side of how trainers get the horses to master the ‘big lick’ gait can be painful. And the image posted outside of the state’s Library and Archives building is raising some eyebrows.
“When I learned of this it was almost like a slap in the face,” Marty Irby, Executive Director of the Animal Wellness Action.
Tucked in the corner of the front of the building is an image of a Tennessee Walking Horse exhibiting an unnatural gait celebrated by many, but it comes at a cost.
“What you see on television every year at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration is an unnatural artificial pain-based manufactured step,” Irby said.
Soring is a practice trainers use to hurt horses’ front hooves to achieve the “big lick” gait. “What occurs is the pain is inflicted many times under the bottom of the horse’s hoof, the sole, by placing sharp objects, driving nails into the soft tissue or burning skin with mustard oil, diesel fuel,” Irby said.
In a statement by the library, they did not address the concerns, instead said:
“The panels on the outside of the Tennessee State Library & Archives depict state symbols, all adopted through the legislative process.”
Irby is also a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association. “When that horse puts his foot on the ground, think of it as if you were walking across hot coals barefooted.”
He added Congress should immediately pass the PAST Act, a law that would help end soring. Representatives Cooper, Cohen, and Burchett supported the bill.
“In addition, we want to see felony-level penalties for the practice of soring no one has ever gone to jail for soring since the 1950s and I believe that when one person goes to jail for this that would more to stop this than probably anything else,” Irby said.
For 80 years, the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration has taken place in the state, it is the largest event for walking horses. Governor Bill Lee attended the celebration this year.
Convicted horse abuser Jackie McConnell also attended the celebration.