‘Sored’ Champ Dies Before His Time

By on November 5, 2015 with 75 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

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.

Contact your members of Congress and encourage them to support the PAST Act today.

Equine, Investigations

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Rosemary says:

    This is absolutely appalling and sickening!!!! My heart is broken for all these magnificent horses who died before their time because of the $$$$$$$!!!!! This must not only end ASAP, but the Monsters who are responsible for this outrageous act must be stiffly fined and imprisoned for a long time!!!!! This can’t go on!!!!! God help them! 🙁

    • Blair Berends says:

      I AGREE!!

    • Rachel says:

      I do find this appalling, The fact that these people do just do this for their on sake and selfishness is just horrible. Horses should either be free or should be owned by responsible equestrians that care for the safety and wellbeing of their animals. I didn’t know much about the big lick until i really started to research about it and i now know how awful it is. I don’t see why its not banned. Anyone that does this to these poor animals should pay. My heart is also broken for all the horses that passed before they needed to, at least they will no longer be suffering.

  2. donna says:

    the owner should be given the same punishment that they gave to the horses! What a cruel world this has become where the almighty dollar goes before common sense! Hopefully owners will have stiff jail terms

  3. Nancy Isaac says:

    I am so saddened and apalled at the pain and abuse people inflict on animals for their entertainment. This needs to be made public. Most of us are unaware of all that goes on.

  4. Kate Savage says:

    FYI – Kelly Ayotte is from New Hamphire.

    • Betsy McGrath says:

      What does Kelly Ayote’s state have to do with anything? This despicable, greedy, barbaric activity must be stopped!

  5. Susan ziegenfuss says:

    I can’t believe that this still goes on . I recently spent thousands on my horse to keep him from having pain. These people have no soul.

  6. nanbee123@yahoo.com says:

    How can people do this to these innocent,beautiful horses.I’ve been hearing about it for years and nothing changes.I just can’t understand this treatment all for entertainment and money.

    • Gail Carroll says:

      This is so saddening. I had no idea this is why the beautiful Tennessee walking horses were tortured this way. If this were better known, I believe these horse shows would never sell our and eventually disappear. The animal protection advocates are relentless in stopping the abuse suffered by these magnificent horses. Rodeos in general are filled with animal cruelty that is hidden. Much as a trainer abuses greyhounds to get them to race faster. It is no wonder venues are sickened and would never invite these horrible people to return for another event.

  7. David Bernazani says:

    “Soring” horses is torture. I can’t believe we allow it to happen in the United States right now. In any other country it would be a crime. In America, this outrageous treatment of horses is, if not legal, allowed to happen anyway. This MUST STOP!

  8. Marilyn Wilson says:

    Spring should be done to the perps, that’s what they deserve! Pass the PAST Act now!

  9. Jennifer wendell says:

    Please have a heart and illegalize this practice and stop these idiots from hurting and eventually killing these beautiful horses just for a ribbon. These poor animals suffer grose and unnecessary pain and spring should be illegal
    Please think about some one rubbing chemicals that are carsonagenics and others that are pure poison to these animals and as with a human being the poison causes them to suffer terribal gut pain that eventually kills them and for a ribbon this is un acceptable .please stop them now

  10. Lorraine Smith says:


  11. JanWindsong says:

    I am so disgusted by HSUS. How in God’s name could you stand there and take that innocent being’s photograph and listen to him groaning and NOT call animal control to seize him. HOW DARE YOU CALL YOURSELVES A HUMANE SOCIETY! You’ve been softshoeing the suffering of these horses for years. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! We had our chance just last year and you let it slip. PEOPLE STOP DONATING TO THIS GROUP. Let them show you something!

  12. Jessica says:

    Why the hell would you want to cause pain to the horse? Not only is the cruel and inhumain, but it is something that should not be practiced. What happened to adding small weights to the horses feet and as time goes on incressing them safely to build the muscle to prance or lift his feet? Have we sunken so low as people that we are going to turn a blind eye to what is obviously putting a horse in pain…? Why don’t these owners do some soring on themselves and see how they like it.

  13. Todd Behre says:

    Inexplicably, our Congressman Andy Harris, a physician, refuses to be a cosponsor of the PAST Act.

  14. Connie T. says:

    I just don’t understand why the legal arm of the Humane Society is not demanding a full blown investigation by contacting the TN Attorney General and Governor EVERY SINGLE DAY under the TN animal cruelty laws below. I write Governor Bill Haslam every time you guys post an update to soring and copy CNN, PETA, and other news organizations demanding an investigation and elimination of the walking horse events. Why do we need to wait for the soring legislation to pass when TN has language in their own laws below for for an animal cruelty investigation.

    You guys should partner with CNN and do a full blown special on CNN about the horrors of the walking horse industry. Make it national, global news like the other animal cruelty specials they have done. Name ThorSport Farm and others who are involved. I would also contact NASCAR as there are many drivers who are animal advocates and would be disgusted and shocked. You guys need to step up the news coverage and embarrass the state of TN on a global scale. Send out action alerts with email addresses of every state and local official in these counties to contact like PETA does. Something more needs to be done. I am sick and tired of getting these emails…….

    § 39-14-202. Cruelty to animals
    (a) A person commits an offense who intentionally or knowingly:
    (1) Tortures, maims or grossly overworks an animal;
    (5) Inflicts burns, cuts, lacerations, or other injuries or pain, by any method, including blistering compounds, to the legs or hooves of horses in order to make them sore for any purpose including, but not limited to, competition in horse shows and similar events.

    Excerpt from Gov Haslam: “As you may know, Title 39, Chapter 14 of the Tennessee Code Annotated provides authority to local humane organizations to investigate cases of animal cruelty. Local humane organizations also have the authority to investigate suspected cases of livestock cruelty with the assistance of a recognized animal husbandry expert such as a county agricultural extension agent or a veterinarian. Under the law, local humane organizations have broad authority including: courts and local law enforcement to prevent further cruelty or otherwise make arrests, taking possession of animals, destroying injured or diseased animals that are beyond recovery, and to placing a lien on animals to help pay for care.
    Local humane organizations provide an important service to communities and we support their efforts. Although authority regarding these matters primarily rests with local organizations and law enforcement, I believe that any type of abuse or neglect of small or large animals is unacceptable and should be dealt with properly. “

  15. Connie T. says:

    I also don’t understand how the training process works with soring. Since the Celebration event has passed, why are horses still being sored? How long is a horse sored in a 12 month period? I thought it was only a short time once a year before the Celebration event. Please explain the soring process and when horses are given breaks from soring.

    • Trudy Bledsoe says:

      So, would it be ok in your eyes to do it sometimes??
      It should never be done for even one second.

  16. Lorraine Flaker says:

    This practice is and always has been disgusting cruel ,well funded and tolerated . So much money and political contributions have purchased a “blind eye” in essence condoning the evil practice. With animal rights being honored more than not across the land Big Lick associates will be ousted on the wrong side of history. Traditions outdated and recognized as torture need to stop now

  17. Stephanie Stone says:

    This inhumane practice of soring horses must end immediately.

    Please do whatever is necessary to prosecute offenders and save the horses from suffering. They deserve better, and we can and should do better for them.

  18. Debbie Kraft says:

    How can our government and any horse lover stand by and watch this happen? It’s disgusting! I do not agree with nor do I understand why these Walking Horse folks don’t just stop this cruel practice. This breed of horse is beautiful without those padded lifts and that exaggerated gait! Please STOP THIS NOW,

  19. whitcoll says:

    FYI,colic is a mechanical obstruction in the gut, fatal if the obstruction can not be relieved medically or be removed surgically…not a psychosomatic response to pain.

    • Rosemary says:

      Actually, most colic is caused by gas in the gut, but there are several other causes, one of which is stress, according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

  20. Mary sproat says:

    This is disgusting. Shame on these people. Why are they not being policed? Their barns should have periodic policing especially when a show is coming up and the barn has a champion. Then PRISON!

  21. Tracy says:

    I have never heard of such a thing, I have seen foot bruises before but i have never seen this or heard about it before. I don’t understand why things like this happen, when the consequence, could be the death of the animal put into your care. My horse is an ex race horse, and i wouldn’t dream of doing anything like this to him. I believe in Natural Horsemanship with my horse everything natural the only thing that my horse is getting is his regular shots and his de-worming meds from a Certified Veterinarian.

  22. Jane Olsen says:

    soring is so barbaric. I cannot believe in this day and age, that any of us allow this to happen. What are we to do to make these people stop? I find it unbelievable that a person would inflict this sort of pain on the horses in their care. They should be ashamed and can in no way be called ‘horsemen’. We in Britain are appalled by this practice.

  23. Chydie says:

    Shame! What an appalling practice. Those poor horses. Perhaps these people should have to endure the same torture.

  24. Janet Sheflin says:

    So very sad for this beautiful horse to die at such a young age. He is no longer in pain. That is the only good thing. I have a friend who just lost her beautiful Tennessee Walker Gelding at only 14. He was a former show horse and had been hit in his eyes with blunt force. That was what vet’s told her here in New York State at Cornell. Please keep working to strengthen this law !!!!

  25. Anne-Marie Pinter says:

    If this is an illegal practice then how come the owners won’t get investigated and prosecuted?? How come that this practice is not being policed at the shows?

    • Maggie says:

      Mainly because they will lie through their teeth or even pay people to keep shut. They mainly try to make as many friends as possible to seem humane. They will also teach their horse not to flinch. What they do is ‘steward’ the horse. What that is, is they make a mock inspection before the actual inspection. If the horse flinches, the person beside him will yank him down violently with the chain they put in his mouth, or will hit him hard with a blunt object, so he learns not flinch. It’s worse than the soring, and I hope all of this ends soon.

  26. Val fay says:

    Sorring should be made illegal, it is destructive, painful and pure evil, all for the inflated egos of men and I’m sorry to say women who want to show how ‘clever’ they are, well, none of us thinks it’s clever, we think these people should be brought before a judge on animal cruelty charges! I am happy for this beautiul horse that he has died at least now he doesn’t have to endure one more day of pain inflicted by selfish morons!

  27. Denise Shirey says:

    This is cruel and should be felony arrest. We need a national database of animal abusers.

  28. Victoria says:

    I want to know why the TWHBEA is continuing advocating that big lick horses can be called champions when they are not naturally gaited. These so called champions have helped ruin the horse that was developed as a smooth gaited horse. Also TWBEA has proven to endorse cruelty by allowing judges to award prizes to horses that are not sound and in pain. It is time to sue the association because if owners cannot register, or win classes– if there is no money to be gained, big lick classes will stop, they should not even be held.

    • Linds bowman says:

      Best idea ever, sue the association for every event that they have ever had with horses on chains. Must be photographic evidence to hand, poor horses with dreadful hairs winning prizes??!! Sue all judges too, do shame treatment to them as a punishment

  29. christi ribbons says:

    speaking of horses, I wish carriage rides were abolished in downtown Nashville and other cities, it gets real hot here and I think they work long hours. can you help me work on a petition?

  30. Connie T. says:

    I just read this about Vida Blue and am disgusted the owners are in Marina Del Rey, Ca. Maybe the Humane Society can work with lawmakers to craft a bill in each state, along with the PAST act, to make soring a felony in the state of California, so these people can be prosecuted for most likely knowing this abuse was happening. Can someone from the Humane Society contact local and state politicians in California about these owners and get them prosecuted under California animal cruelty laws?


  31. Terri Fitzgerald says:

    You are as responsible for this horse’s death as anyone. Your “under cover investigator” allowed this horse to be tortured and treated in anguishing way while they video taped the scene. You didn’t save this horse in any way shape or form. A true animal protector would have stopped this before the poor animal laid down and “groaned”, as you described it then. I cry at the site of this horse every time I see it. I won’t ever send your group money.

  32. Tammy Rouse says:

    Come on Tennessee! Stand up for these majestic animals that have needlesly suffered and DIED as a result of our greed and negligence to stand up and speak out against the blatant cruelty that goes on in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry! I am a Tennessean. And I am ashamed of our great state!

    • Tammy Rouse says:

      Come on Tennessee! Stand up for these majestic animals that have needlesly suffered and DIED as a result of our greed and negligence to stand up and speak out against the blatant cruelty that goes on in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry! I am a Tennessean. And I am ashamed of our great state!

    • lunch zen says:

      Then do something. Demand canceling big link classes. Find out the supporters of this disgusting class and shame them .I know that Pepsi backed out because of public exposure. I will continue myself to be involved. This has to stop.by

  33. Laura Ousley says:

    This is so sad – if only the authorities had done their job and confiscated the horses that were in that barn, Roll with the Gold and Vida Blue would be alive today. They suffered at the hands of abusers to the very end, and there are other horses headed that way.

  34. Louise james says:

    Heart breaking do they not walk past their stalls and see them in agony and not feel any remorse something so wrong with these greedy people and their wife’s and parents and all their families every one must know what is happining not one of them cares !!! Heartless humans how can they bring up children to be kind people !!!

  35. Patty Thomas says:

    So sad that people continue to harm and inflect pain on God’s beautiful creatures. Shame on them all… The same should be done to them. Anyone saying they would loose their marriage, and family if they were forced to stop tis practice should think about why their happiness relies on causing these animals such pain. God will deal with them later. Again so so sad.

  36. Sylvia Hardin says:

    I am so heart broken….how can people do this? I just do not understand, what type of monster it takes. With every thing the BLM is currently doing and then this…are there no true human beings left in this world of soulless zombies. Please I am not in a position to do more than beg those who are in power to stop this. For the love of what it used to mean to be human…please stop this and all cruelty to our animals….all animals deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Or at the very least, don’t do the horrible things some of us seem to think is ok to do. If you do not or can not bare the pain you inflict on animals then just stop it. omg…I think I have to go throw up.

  37. Pam Pert says:

    These practices are cruel and unacceptable .. Make it stop “NOW”

  38. Linda Bernacki says:

    I live in Western Australia am 67 years of age and
    have never heard of this most dreadful practice.
    What is wrong with human beings to inflict such pain
    and suffering on these beautiful creatures.
    Please someone make this law pass to end all scoring.

  39. Anna Rudy-Monico says:

    How cold this be legal….try putting chemicals and nails in places of your feet and see how you walk and like it…disgraceful…..pure disgust!

  40. Ruth Martens says:

    I am in tears and sick to my stomach! People who do this have no love or caring for their horses. It’s all about them and winning!

    Strengthen the legislation and then provide enough inspectors to inspect the horses before they shown.

  41. Shaz Thompson says:

    This is one of the most gut wrenching,soul destroying act of sadistic animal abuse iv’e ever seen in my life!These people should be shot after they’ve sampled the same delights they love to inflict…..it has to stop NOW its sick and unnecessary

  42. Shaz Thompson says:

    We are a nation of Animal lovers so lets do something about this?????Its wrong,barbaric and NOT tolerated!!!!!!

  43. George James says:

    We must have legislation passed.

  44. Denise Rippee says:

    This has got to stop. How much longer are these beautiful horses going to have to suffer such atrocities at the hands of these torturers. I was was under the impression when Jackie Connelly was arrested that this would slow down or stop this torture on these horses. God Bless “He’s Vida Blue” and I know he is heaven now, shame on these so called owners of these horses, how can they sleep at night knowing what they are doing! I will be calling and donating to pass the PAST ACT. I saw the video of this horse moaning in pain, it is absolutely heart wrenching, pure tears. Please let all of us stop this Teneessee Big Lick for good.

  45. Bryan Mauldin says:

    I live in Tennessee. Not only does soring need to be eliminated, but there needs to be stringent regulation and inspections of all Tenn. Walker breeders, trainers, barns, and shows. This story makes me sick and it made me cry. What an exquisitely beautiful animal. Why do people not understand that animals feel pain like we do? Why do people not understand that horses are intelligent, social animals that bond with humans and other animals? Why do people not understand that treating a horse cruelly betrays the animal’s reliance and trust in man as well as inflicting excruciating pain. How would you like someone to paint your ankles with lye and then wrap them in bandages so you can’t get the lye off and then leave you alone to suffer? That is not training. Changing an animal’s normal movement and gait by inflicting pain is not training. It is abuse. I am also a baseball fan. Is there any way you can get Vida Blue involved? He is a good man and I am sure he would be sick to hear what happened to an exquisite horse named for him. Please keep up the good work. We have to make this stop. The damage to horses is permanent, even when they somehow live through it.

  46. Phyllis Neel says:

    Soring is cruel and crippling. Stop it now.

  47. Paula Underwood says:

    These horses were probably made to colic purposely. It’s easy to do since horse’s digestive systems are so sensitive. This should be investigated. They probably had a large insurance policy on him.

  48. Maureen Milburn says:

    I am staggered that this horrific cruelty is going on in the USA. Why are the people still walking free. Their stables should be closed and the perpetrators should be jailed for a very long time.

  49. stephanie tarplee says:

    This is so cruel an has to be stopped,the pain these poor animals must go thru is disgusting.STOP IT NOW PLEASE

  50. Diana Akers says:

    We do the same thing to millions of cats every day by cutting off the ends of their toes which hold their toenails. We also do this everyday by cutting of the ears and tails of dogs to make them more ‘beautiful’ in our eyes.The tails are extensions of their spines.

    We need to have laws prohibiting practices like this and for vivisection in schools, which traumatizes young children needlessly.

    The humane society is doing such tremendous work. Why can’t we have a political party which stands for humanitarianism?

  51. Maureen Kenefick says:

    I believe the practice of soring is barbaric and a crime against horses

  52. Kas Fitzpatrick says:

    Shame on the US to allow such barbaric treatment of animals. Don’t criticise the Chinese, the Spanish… if you allow this to continue.

  53. kaye g says:

    I lived in Tennessee almost 40 years ago, for 7 years, and this was the normal practice then. And it was disgusting . And its still the normal practice now ???
    OMG, when will they move out of the dark ages and stop this practice ???
    Dont they have a Humane Society , or an animal protection group or any mob that look out for animal welfare ??? At all ? Or is all just good ole boys being good ole boys ??
    I am thinking I should email PETA. They may be considered nutters , but if they see whats going on here , I reckon they will act, and there will be no hiding this cruelty then.
    Some times dire events need dire action.

  54. Heather says:

    What on earth is wrong with these people deliberately torturing and abusing these poor innocent horses, this is deliberate animal cruelty what is going on in the USA, thank Christ I live in Australia or these people would take the wrath of the public and laws and be jailed!!! I hope karma comes your way soon.

  55. Amalia Sobalvarro says:

    Supply and demand. The only way to stop this abuse is by not going to these shows or types of “entertainment”. If we want the abuse to stop then we have to stop feeding the industry. Same goes for the circus or for Sea World-type shows and bullfights, etc. Stop feeding these animal abuse industries and they will starve!

  56. Janet Darnbrough says:

    My heart bleeds. What the hell is going on in the world with such intense cruelty to wonderful animals who are confined and reliant on us. Hateful people and they should be put in jail.

  57. Lacy says:

    As a girl who has grown up with multiple TWH’s, padded and non, I can say that NONE of my horses were and are not abused. My family, my trainer and myself adore our horses and take better care of them than we do ourselves. I do acknowledge that there have been abusers in this industry and I carry that burden with me everyday. Vida Blue was my favorite champion and loved watching him show and I believe that he loved what he did. I have a retired show horse who was much like him and even without pads he would step almost as big. TWH owners AND trainers LOVE OUR HORSES.

  58. Karen miller says:

    If they would stop the showing and make it illegal. Maybe other horses wouldn’t have to die this way. People that do this shouldn’t be allowed to own horses.

  59. Betsy McGrath says:

    When I was a teenager and showing open jumpers in NY, PA, and CT, the people who managed my stable and took me to shows would never allow me, or any of my stablemates, to watch these classes or see the horses in their stalls at the National and other big shows. Now I know why: they didn’t want me to witness this aberration of humanity. I’m 72: these dreadful practices have been going on for at least 60 years of my lifetime. Nothing ever changes for these poor, abused animals. I’ve written to Congressmen, to PETA, to the ALDF. Why aren’t Tennesseans doing something? Aren’t they ASHAMED? How can these dreadful practices continue? All these horses who spend their lives in agony. How can this situation continue to be ignored? Sickening……a NATIONAL disgrace!

  60. Marcine McBride says:

    Does anyone know if the black horse shown in this picture is still alive?
    The horse’s name is Play Something Country, and is owned by Jeff Smith in Greer South Carolina.

  61. Bren says:

    Is it me or is a year in prison a slap on the wrist. These trainers Jackie McConnell and Barney Davis should be doing more time. If in horse racing they administer drugs and do more time. These actions should be held with a higher accountability. I for one see this as a slow death. I am disgusted. This show/sport whatever it’s considered should be band. Humanity at it best once again. (sarcasm) . Sickening!

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.