I have a couple of questions about big lick and you seem like a good guy to ask. First, i dont really understand what it Is? Ive also heard that its all inhumane and abusive, but ive also seen otherwise very humane and knowledgable horse people says that big lick can be done humanely, so? I have no idea what to think of this discipline, i just feel kinda lost.
OK so I’m not a big lick/TWH expert by any means but here are the basics as I understand them:
Some breeds are gaited. The Tennessee Walking Horse is one of them. It’s especially known for its running walk. Originally, this gait was really popular because it was so comfortable to ride, so they were useful plantation horses, and they Looked Fancy. Big Lick developed because of the transition from using horses for work (farming, cavalry, pony express, yada yada) to horses being used for recreation - specifically here, shows. So you have a bunch of people riding their TWHs around trying to look the fanciest, without any actual goal beyond winning and looking fancy. It becomes an aesthetic thing, like a lot of current show scenes (western pleasure, saddleseat, a lot of dressage tbh, halter shows, reining, etc). Welfare and practicality go out the window because you don’t actually have a reason to keep your horse healthy, sane, and sound. Because you don’t need them to do work. You don’t need them to live long, healthy lives. This is why we see such an increasing number of horses being competed as two and three year olds (when they’re still 2-3 years from actual physical and mental maturity), and retiring before they’re even ten or early teens. It’s all about the benjamins and about winning the biggest prize.
So, how do you get the TWH to exhibit a fancier gait? Firstly, bigger shoes and longer hooves. Weight on the legs mean that the legs are lifted higher. And there is a spectrum here, from flat shod but hooves too long:
to moderate pads:
to fucking giant stacks:
These result in a higher-stepping gait.
But where do you go from there? Well, from there you get to the most controversial part of the TWH industry, which is soring.
Here’s an 11 minute interview with a convicted trainer explaining how soring works, but I’ll summarize:
Soring is when you make the front feet hurt, so that the horse is really fast to snatch them off the ground because they’re so painful. There are a lot of ways to sore a horse. I’ve read about putting marbles between the hoof and pad, people putting tacks in there, people over-trimming the sole of the hoof until it bleeds or bruised, adding extra deep nails, anything to make the foot sore. The most well known method (and this is usually what people are talking about when they talk about soring) is putting caustic chemicals on the horse’s ankles, and then adding chains, so that the metal chains bang against their already super painful pasterns.
Those pictures are taken from show screencaps. These stacks and these chains are allowed at the show. They are not just training tools. They are out in the public eye. People just lie about the application of chemicals.
All of this is done to make the horse fling up their forelegs, and step deep under with their hind legs like so:
Here’s another example of the kind of ‘stepping under’ that is caused by soring:
I don’t say this lightly but these horses are crippled. The trainer in that interview says so. He acknowledges that you have to essentially torture the horses to make them ‘walk’. That horses end up dead from the pain. These are animals that can barely stand (and sometimes literally cannot stand) on their own feet. And the end result is this:
Wow so fancy! So flashy! So great! I personally don’t get the appeal, and the appeal doesn’t even MATTER, because it’s about the physical and mental abuse and not about the end result, buuuuuut let me drop this comparison in here:
This^ is Champagne Watchout, who was exhibited flatshod at the 1999 TWH National Celebration, next to horses ridden with giant stacks. I recommend watching this entire video as the contrast between the gaits is unbelievable. It’s an amazing example of the difference between the beautiful, smooth, comfortable and NATURAL gaits of the TWH, vs the clusterfuck that is Big Lick.
My gifmaker stopped working so I’ll leave you with just some pictures of un-stacked, un-sored TWHs.
These^ are the horses that were bred to be comfortable to ride for long distances. Even those last two horses, exhibiting more dramatic movement, look like actual horses instead of dying frogs.
There are so many more issues related to TWHs (historical racism, the position of the saddle and rider and the damage to the back, the riding of two year olds, horses that literally can’t stand, that colic from the pain and die, horses that collapse because they literally can’t walk, the fact that horses are trained to get through vet inspections by being punished for exhibiting signs of pain, the HORRIBLE bits, the owners and judges and trainers all colluding to lie about abuse, god I could go on forever) but these are the very basics and all I’m gonna try and pack in here lol.
If there are any TWH/big lick experts who want to correct me on any points, go ahead, I know my terminology isn’t perfect. But this is why big lick exists and why it’s so horrible, and why literally every riding discipline accused of cruelty goes ‘well at least we aren’t big lick!’. Because big lick is the actual worst.