Any decent person is appalled by the mere description of horse soring – the burning of horses’ legs with chemicals, or the jamming of hard objects into the tender soles of their feet that have been cut to the quick, in order to cause so much pain with every step that they fling their front legs high up performing the prized “Big Lick” gait. It’s akin to watching a human being walk over hot coals – each high step is a reflexive response to alleviate the pain caused by landing on the sored limb, all just to please crowds in the show ring.
But even for those who share our antipathy to this calculated cruelty, it’s easy to forget that we’re talking about pain and suffering that individual creatures endure – loyal and trusting and vulnerable animals who never deserved to be dealt this kind of misery from people who are supposed to watch out for them, from people who should be their protectors rather than their persecutors.
Today I’m paying respects to a horse named He’s Vida Blue, who died early Tuesday from complications from colic. He was a young stallion – only 8-years-old – whose death ends a lifetime of suffering and confinement in the “Big Lick” sector of the Tennessee walking horse show world.
As you may recall, we recently investigated ThorSport Farm, a Tennessee walking horse barn in Murfreesboro, Tenn where beautiful walkers – including He’s Vida Blue – were sored with caustic chemicals. He’s Vida Blue was a three-time World Grand Champion and is named after Vida Blue, Jr., the famous left-handed All-Star baseball pitcher who now devotes his time to charitable works. ThorSport was anything but charitable to He’s Vida Blue.
Most horsemen will admit that the illegal practice of soring increases the chances of death from colic. Convicted horse sorer Barney Davis was court-ordered to sit for an interview with our vice president for equine protection, Keith Dane to tell the public what he knew about the practice. Dane asked Davis if he had ever known a horse to die from colic related to the foot and leg pain induced by soring. Davis replied, “I sure have, and most of the time that’s what happens to them. They – a lot of these horses colic over – we call it stress colic, from all the pain. They can colic and die over the stress of being in the stall, sitting in the stall being in pain all the time.”
He’s Vida Blue is the second ThorSport horse to die from colic in just two months. Roll the Gold – owned by ThorSport’s Duke and Rhonda Thorson – died from colic on August 24 of this year. Roll the Gold had also been sored, resulting in an Official Warning against Rhonda Thorson in 2011 from the USDA. One of the chemicals used on him is a proven carcinogen and another is referred to as Solvent Blue 36. Just the thought of someone smearing a solvent on a horse’s legs makes me cringe.
The pain and suffering for He’s Vida Blue and Roll the Gold has ended but other walking horses are still being sored every day – their hooves and legs aflame with pain, all for the sake of a ribbon.
It’s high time to strengthen the federal law against soring and, if Congress passes the PAST ACT (H.R. 3268/S. 1121), it will make the needed reforms to prevent this torture. Introduced by the bipartisan team of Representatives Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., (both veterinarians) and Senators Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act currently has the sweeping support of 49 Senate cosponsors and 227 House cosponsors, clearly enough to demonstrate that the legislation would pass with flying colors in both chambers. With Speaker Paul Ryan in charge, we hope he will send a signal that the U.S. House won’t stand for this kind of indefensible abuse, that he’ll allow bills with so much support to be debated and voted on, and that the Congress will indeed crack down on this small faction of the horse show world that intentionally harms horses for profit.