'Soring' controversy causes angry scenes at horse show

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The Independent US

The participants of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration like to think of themselves as maintaining an honourable tradition that highlights the dignity of man and beast alike. This year, it did not quite work out like that.

Instead, organisers and horse-owners had to be separated by police after federal officials disqualified six out of 10 of the leading contenders in one class - levelling accusations of foul play. As a result, the finale of the contest was cancelled for the first time in the event's 68-year history.

In the competition, horses are judged for their grace as they walk, nodding their heads in the rhythm of their high-stepping feet.

Some trainers exaggerate that natural gait through a practice called "soring", irritating the forelegs so the horse raises them higher to take pressure off painful areas. Such a result can be achieved by applying chemicals such as diesel fuel, kerosene or lighter fluid, or even cutting the skin around the horses' hooves. Soring has been illegal since 1970, when Congress passed the Horse Protection Act.

This year, problems started last week when officials from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) disqualified six horses. Things became so heated between the inspectors and the owners that Tennessee Highway Patrol officers were forced to create a human wall to separate the two sides.

"It was a lot of mad people," a Tennessee highway patrolman, Johnny Hunter, told the Associated Press. "It was a lot of hollering."

Henry Findley, a horse owner from Buford, Georgia, said: "These USDA people, they really don't know enough about what they call soring. They don't know how to inspect horses... they don't know how to pick up a foot."