stack-horses

ICYMI Big Lick is dead. The USDA issued a press release on Friday, Jan 13th stating that as of January 1 2018, it is illegal to show, sell, transport, or exhibit a Tennessee Walking Horse or Racking Horse wearing stacks, pads, wedges, or chains. (FAQ: Yes, the two breeds mentioned are the only two affected.) Chains and other “action devices” will be illegal on February 13th of this year. The year-long period for the stacks is there (as a formality) to allow a transitional period for the horse. Moving a horse that has worn stacks for years to barefoot/flat shod in a day can absolutely cause big problems and a transitional period is necessary, but the problem is that there are no rules telling trainers when to start transitioning. There are no “check points” to make sure the transition is done. The only rule is that the stacks must be off by next January. Monitoring an entire group of people like this is pretty much impossible, I get that, I don’t have a better solution than what’s in place right now. But that just means we should expect trainers to continue showing as they were until the very moment they can’t anymore. And when they can’t anymore, we should expect auctions in Kentucky and Tennessee to become flooded with ex-lickers.

Lots of talk around Tumblr about the slaughter situation. Rightfully so, it’s scary to think about on such a big scale. The Big Lick trainers trying to fight this decision are using this to their “advantage”??? The actual argument is that because Big Lick is now illegal, the horses are going to die because they’re no longer useful and the trainers will have to sell them quickly. And the statement is true! I really expect it to be. What is so ASININE about this is that the Big Lick trainers are literally saying they’re going to send their own horses to auction and it’s OUR FAULT for making their bullshit illegal. Laughing my fuckin ass off, my dude. These guys have lost their marbles in all the confusion and can’t even paint their stories in the right light anymore.

Anyway, yes. Horses are going to be sent to auction because of this decision, in greater numbers than what has already been going on. Big Lick trainers are not interested in showing under normal classes. If they were, they’d be doing it already. That’s not where the money is, and those judges and inspectors are waaaaay harder to bribe. The USDA is on the same page as me. There are eyes on the major auctions in Kentucky and Tennessee, and I know that rescue operations are already being built although the details are still unknown (this has only been news since yesterday).

However, when lots of horses are being sent to auction, and they’re getting publicity, there are going to be lots of people who want to adopt. A lot of people want to save a Big Lick horse, and I love it! I love seeing support for the Tennessee Walking Horse because they are a fantastic animal but if you truly are looking to adopt an ex-licker, do not go at it alone. You have likely never encountered a horse quite like this one. He’s not an OTTB, he’s not a typical rescue. He has seen some shit. I can make another post about what to expect from your Big Lick rescue if there is interest but if I go into it on this post, it’ll never end.

On a lighter note! Making stacks illegal is not all that we accomplished. Previously, per the HPA, Tennessee Walking Horse shows were required to have DQP (designated qualified persons) on site to inspect the horses for soring evidence before and after each class. As I mentioned before, the DQPs for Celebration and other Big Lick arenas were easily bought off, I myself have seen a video of a DQP passing a horse with clear scarring on its pastern from soring. There was no set criteria for training DQPs or qualifications. The system failed quickly. NOW we are doing away with DQP. DQP licenses will remain in effect until January 2018. After that, the inspection process is going to be revolutionized with new inspectors called HPIs (Horse Protection Inspectors) licensed and trained by APHIS. Not only have the horses been saved but the industry is being turned on its head and I*love*it.

So you want to rescue a Big Lick horse

This post is so long I’m sorry I just think it’s all important lol
There are more than a few things to consider. Firstly, exercise your patience muscles. This game is a lot of baby steps and waiting. Training gait is a world of its own, and chances are your BL rescue is going to need a lot of gait training. Tennessee Walking Horses are supposed to do one or both of two gaits: running walk and rack. Putting stacks on horses that do a running walk gets the desired effect, but soring a horse that does a true four beat gait can “"unfortunately”“ mean the lameness is noticeable. Big Lick horses have been bred to pace instead of their correct gait because it’s much, much easier to hide lameness in a pacing horse who has weight on its feet to change their timing and imitate a correct gait that doesn’t look lame. There’s like 1000 levels of bullshit involved with Big Lick guys and I haven’t even scratched the surface yet. It’s so hard to be concise when explaining gait mechanics and I would have to make another separate post to really explain it well.

Educate yourself on gait. There is a lot you can learn from books, YouTube videos and trainer DVDs but having someone beside you that understands the territory is invaluable. I also know that in some areas, finding a gaited trainer that’s worth a shit is really hard. So there’s Facebook! Join a page called Gaited Horses - Training and Behavior Advice. I believe it’s the largest gaited training page on Facebook. There are lots of opinions there but one of my favorite gaited trainers, Ivy Schexnader, is an admin and actively responds to posts.

If you happen upon a horse who is still wearing stacks, seek opinions from a vet and farrier before doing ANYTHING to the horse’s feet. Horses that have worn stacked pads for prolonged periods of time need to be transitioned gradually to a normal shoe. Their hooves have changed due to the fixed position the stacks held them in, and the length the hooves must be left at in order for the stacks to fit. They need time to change back to normal.

Every Big Lick horse I have ever met or heard of has shared one problem - they are not cool with other horses coming up quickly behind them, in the ring or on the trail. Truthfully, I don’t really know why this is such a consistent problem with these guys. When I watch Big Lick classes, the horses are always very bunched up but it’s interesting to me that the experience is so traumatic that it sticks around in all of the rescues I’ve ever seen. The reactions are different but I have witnessed this dozens of times in a gelding I know well named Bobby. He is much better now, years of training later, but still to this day will react badly to a horse coming up quickly on his ass. He has a signature blow-up.

The first thing he does is come to almost a complete stop, rock back hard onto his hindquarters and rocking-horse bounce forward while flinging his front legs upwards towards his face. Like he’s imitating the Big Lick gait. He does this for a second or two before he starts to rear, although he stays close to the ground. It makes perfect sense to me when I consider that his owner thinks he suffers from PTSD. It makes sense that he would stay low when rearing if he’s reacting to memories of being padded - padded horses don’t rear very high because then they have to come down hard on their front feet.

Laying down is often the go-to protest move for Big Lick horses because when they were padded, it was the only thing they could do to 1. Alleviate the pain from standing and 2. Try to fight back without hurting themselves even more. Rearing is second, although they usually stay low like I said before. However, their feet (hopefully) don’t hurt anymore, and if they figure this out, the rearing could get more dangerous.

You’re not very likely to find a Big Lick horse with a bucking problem because bucking puts all of their weight on their front feet.

They can be very "gotta go gotta go let’s go gotta go now gotta gait gotta go” from the moment you get into the saddle because that’s how they were always ridden. This is a habit that can be hard to break, out of all the BL horses I know, only a few have been able to truly calm down and not instantly revert back to show horse brain when they get stressed.

A lot of people think that BL horses will have a problem with the farrier, that it’ll be really hard to teach them to be ok with having their feet handled, but for some horses this isn’t true. On the flip, they have had their feet handled extensively just about every day and allowing their feet to be worked on has become second nature. BUT they could also have a LOT of problems having their feet handled. It’s about 50/50. Be very careful when handling the horse’s feet for the first time. This is an area where each horse is different and you can’t be sure what you’re going to get.

They are often unpredictable. Personally, I feel that this is because the ones who endured the worst abuse suffer from PTSD or some other form of permanent trauma. The times I have witnessed them go from 0-100, it always seemed like something in their head clicked and now they’re a different horse. Maybe I’m just too sensitive to mental health issues but to me, the seemingly unprovoked explosion often seems like a trigger moment. They seem to be prone to “random” explosions sprinkled into an otherwise well-behaved horse.

They really benefit from pasture down-time, like racehorses when they come down from the track. They’ve likely not been given much turn-out, though, so monitor them at first to make sure they know how to behave and don’t injure themselves. Since they are usually over-stalled, there are lots of cribbers.

Their personalities are the best. It takes a special kind of horse to endure what these guys have and still seek attention from people. All but one of the BL horses I’ve met have been very personable on the ground.

They actually do not tend to be spooky in or out of the arena. I’ve seen Bobby do a lot of shit but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him spook. I have the most personal experience with him but I have talked to other people who have BL rescues and they are praised as trail horses because they don’t spook at much. This also has a bit to do with the wonders of the TWH brain but their time in show training has made them very focused on their job when they are being ridden.

They may never be sound again. They may never be sane enough to ride again. Every one of these horses experienced something different. They haven’t all been beaten, but some have. Patience is KEY. Stay in contact with your vet. Do tons of your own research. Reach out for help. These horses need a savior but they need someone willing to dedicate a year or more to their recovery. They need someone ready for frustration and taking 20 steps forward and then 50 back. They need a gentle hand that knows when to forgive and when to ask for more because they’re amazing horses and they can achieve so much if you know how to talk to them.

vimeo

Iceland has been on the bucket list for a while, so we set out to make that dream a reality. Partnered with several companies, we flew from Dallas to Reykjavik over the course of 17hours… Though we knew it would be beautiful, we never could have imagined how breathtaking Iceland would be during every second of everyday.

vimeo

Video voyages around Iceland are amazing.