USEF Bans Action Devices for Gaited Horses

The application of chains, pads, and other so-called action devices sometimes used on Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited horses to produce an exaggerated, so-called “big lick” gait have been banned at competitions licensed by the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) under a rule approved by that organization’s executive committee last month.

Some trainers of Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited horses attach chains, weighted shoes, or pads to horses’ lower legs and feet to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait. Some equine welfare advocates say use of the devices leads to the soring, which is the deliberate injury of horses’ feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated gait. The Horse Protection Act (HPA) forbids the practice. Last year, legislation that would amend the HPA to include a ban on the so-called “action devices” was introduced into the House of Representatives. A similar bill is expected to be introduced during the current Congressional session.

During its Dec. 17, 2012, meeting, the USEF executive committee approved a rule banning soring “and/or the use of any action device on any limb of a Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, or Spotted Saddle Horse in any class at a USEF Licensed Competition.”

The rule defines an action device as “as any boot, collar, chain, roller, or other device that encircles or is placed upon the lower extremity of the leg of a horse in such a manner that it can rotate around the leg or slide up and down the leg so as to cause friction or strike the hoof, coronet band, fetlock joint, or pastern of the horse.” The use of weighted shoes, pads, and other devices also known as stacks or performance packages is also banned under the rule. The rule excludes the use of protective bell boots or heel boots.

Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States applauded the USEF action. “Spectators at USEF shows will be able to experience the natural grace and beauty of sound, flat-shod walking horses without supporting or being exposed to any of the abusive practices long-associated with the ‘big lick,’” he said.

Mike Inman, chief executive officer for the National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, which owns the horse industry organization Sound Horses, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly (SHOW), said the rule discriminates against a specific breed of horses that are exhibited using equipment that is legal under HPA guidelines.

“In no way, does SHOW condone any violation of the law; however the action device and pads used on Tennessee Walking Horses are not against the law and when used properly allow the beauty, grace, and performance of our horse to be demonstrated in the show ring,” Inman said.

No one from the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association was available to comment on the USEF regulation. 

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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