Welcome to Habitat For Horses!|Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bill Harlin worries about future of Walking Horse breed 

Former Harlinsdale Farm owner Bill Harlin, foreground, and his daughter, Camille Harlin, center, were on hand for the opening of the park established in 2009 at the farm. / John Partipilo / File / The Tennessean

Those in favor of the “Big Lick” have told us in the past that putting a stop to soring will destroy the breed. Now the truth comes out. Far fewer Tennessee Walker foals have been born during a decade of barely regulated soring in Tennessee. Save the Tennessee Walking Horse – stop the Big Lick. ~ HfH

From: The Tennessean
By: Sue McClure

Namesake of farm, park, says registry is shrinking

Former Harlinsdale Farm owner Bill Harlin, foreground, and his daughter, Camille Harlin, center, were on hand for the opening of the park established in 2009 at the farm. / John Partipilo / File / The Tennessean

Former Harlinsdale Farm owner Bill Harlin, foreground, and his daughter, Camille Harlin, center, were on hand for the opening of the park established in 2009 at the farm. / John Partipilo / File / The Tennessean

A man whose name is synonymous with Tennessee Walking Horses says the inhumane practice of soring horses must end — or the walking horse industry itself will die.

Bill Harlin of the famed Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin, home of two-time world grand champion horse Midnight Sun, says the use of pads, chains and caustic chemicals to achieve the horse’s signature gait, known as “the Big Lick,’’ is wrong and efforts to stop the abuse aren’t working.

“Tennessee is getting a reputation as being a horse abuse state,’’ Harlin said. “Pads and chains are killing the industry. And I don’t know how long we can wait for proper enforcement before the industry dies.’’

The practice of soring Tennessee Walking Horses has been a dirty secret in the industry for years, but it has received national attention after the release of a disturbing undercover video of a West Tennessee trainer soring a horse.

Trainers use mustard oil, diesel fuel and other caustic chemicals to make a horse’s skin sensitive, then they place chains or other “action devices’’ around the tender skin, causing the horse to develop a high step in response to the pain. Soring also has evolved into the use of “pressure shoeing’’ in which a foreign object or epoxy foam is inserted under the pad and shoe of the horse, causing extreme pain.

The time has come — in fact, it’s long overdue — for these practices to end, Harlin said. “We’re now in a fight for survival of the breed.’’

Breed registry falls
Harlin cites figures showing that the number of registered Tennessee Walking Horse foals has dropped from a high of 15,526 in 2000 to just 3,358 in 2010. During that same period, the number of individual breeders fell from 9,306 to just 1,870.

It’s a terrible fall from grace for a distinguished breed that Harlin watched be established at a 1935 organizational meeting of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders Association.

The horse was flat shod, unlike today’s stacked platform shoes that alter the horse’s naturally smooth gait. “The Celebration was built on flat-shod horses,’’ Harlin said, referring to the industry’s top horse show held annually in Shelbyville, Tenn.

But through the years, trainers experimented with ways to exaggerate the horse’s gait, making it more exciting for spectators.

“In the mid-1950s there were small changes made to enhance their step,’’ Harlin said. “They started using the heavy bell boot and other measures.’’

Soring was no secret
Harlin admits he and other owners knew soring was taking place. He was even part of industry regulatory groups to stop the practice under the federal Horse Protection Acts of 1970 and 1976.

“I can’t plead innocent,’’ he said. “We were supposed to enforce it, but we didn’t. It was unenforceable. No trainer will ever testify against another trainer. It’s (enforcement) got to come from outside.’’

That is the key to reform in the walking horse industry, Harlin said. As it stands, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is in charge of inspecting and enforcing compliance with the Horse Protection Act, which stipulates that no soring techniques are to be used on horses. But limited funding has resulted in federal inspectors being able to monitor only a small percentage of the nation’s horse shows.

That being the case, the USDA allows the industry to license its own Designated Qualified Persons to serve as inspectors.

That’s a practice akin to putting the fox over the hen house, Harlin says.

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