A horse industry’s change of heart

Big Lick

Redemption is a theme that has gone out of favor in our culture. Yet, this is exactly what Dr. John C. Haffner, Marty Irby and Eric Gray are attempting to do. Seeking to bring about justice for a great wrong done to the Tennessee Walking Horse. We should applaud these men and bring about change with the passing of the PAST Act. ~ HfH

From: The American Veterinary Medical Assoc.
By: Melinda Larkin

Former walking horse industry leaders calling for others to join their opposition to soring.

Big Lick

This gait, known as the “big lick,” has been sought in the performance horse show ring for decades.

Even decades later, Dr. John C. Haffner can vividly recall standing in a training barn when a person walked by carrying a can that contained a mixture of mustard oil and kerosene. The stench made him recoil. The mixture was being used on a Tennessee Walking Horse to make its skin sensitive, so that when chains or other action devices were subsequently placed around the tender skin, the horse would develop a high step, or “big lick,” in response to the pain.

That particular day was not uncommon during his time with the walking horse industry.

Since age 15, Dr. Haffner (TEN ’82) had worked with these horses in a number of roles. After receiving his DVM degree, Dr. Haffner worked for a year with his mentor, the renowned Dr. DeWitt Owen, a former American Association of Equine Practitioners president, before starting his own practice in Spring Hill, Tenn.

“I saw what went on at the shows on the weekend and what happened in the barns during the week. I was one of them, so there was no need to hide anything from me. I saw the soring. I saw the treatments to remove calluses. I saw the efforts to get horses ‘fixed’ just right to get them past inspection and into the show ring. I saw the pain. I did not only see these things, I helped do them. Gradually I became aware of the inherent wrongness of the training required to achieve the big lick. I say gradually became aware, but that is not accurate. I think I always knew it was wrong, but because of many factors, I lied to myself. Factors such as: horse shows are fun, the big lick is exciting, I was making a lot of money working with the horses, I liked the people, it couldn’t be all that bad because so many people that loved their horses were doing it kept me willingly blinded to the harm that was being done in the name of showing horses,” according to a letter Dr. Haffner wrote this past November to Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. The Tennessee veterinarian has since left the industry.

Competing legislation
Dr. Haffner wrote his letter in support of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 1518/S. 1406). The bill, introduced by Reps. Whitfield and Steve Cohen of Tennessee, strengthens the Horse Protec­tion Act and bans the use of action devices such as chains and pads, improves enforcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and strengthens penalties on trainers and owners who violate the law. Current enforcement of the HPA is by horse industry organizations, with limited oversight and enforcement by the USDA.

As of mid-March, the legislation had 47 senators and 267 representatives as co-sponsors. Further, every state VMA, 52 horse organizations, and 77 veterinary and animal health organizations have endorsed it. And the AVMA and AAEP have been strongly lobbying for it to pass. The bill would appear to be a slam-dunk, but soring is still quite entrenched in the walking horse community and, by extension, the state of Tennessee.

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  • Janet Schultz

    Is there something wrong with this horse’s stride? The Big Lick happens naturally. The driven down haunches, the huge platform shoes – those create an animal that istorture to watch. ‎IMG00358-20120704-1338.jpg (36.4 KB)

    April 3, 2014
  • Robynne Catheron

    God bless people like Dr Haffner and Marty Irby who have the integrity and humility to not only admit their wrongdoing, but also the courage and basic human decency to help fight this heinous practice. Men of this caliber deserve our gratitude and support as they fight for passage of this horse protection act.

    April 3, 2014
  • Any thing good for the horses is very much appreciated!

    April 4, 2014
  • thank you

    April 4, 2014