In ANY breed, gaited and non-gaited, you have to consider that people who have grown up in that environment see many of the "abusive methods" as a perfectly normal part of horse management.
I have read other forum conversations in which people openly defended every aspect of the padded/Big Lick TWH. To them, the 4" pads were as much a part of showing as a saddle and a bridle. Their grandpa trained horses, their daddy trained horses, and they grew up going to all of the shows. . .they insisted that the horses "loved it" and they truly believed that the horses were a good representation of the TWH breed.
Along similar lines, I used to work for a family who owned several WP Quarter Horses and showed them with great success. Well, the teenage daughter's horse wasn't placing well at shows. Apparently she was expressing herself a little too much with her tail during her class.
So, the owner (on advice from her trainer) had the mare's tail blocked. *Presto!* the mare stopped moving her tail in class and the daughter was back in the ribbons. The mother actually knew it was illegal, though I'm not sure the daughter realized what
was done to her horse. She just knew that the problem was solved and she was winning again. One of many reasons I could not stomach working for those people anymore.
A lot of these abuses (or even the legal-but-silly cosmetic alterations)would not
be happening if the results were not being rewarded in the show ring. Some breeds and show associations claim to be cleaning themselves up, but I have yet to really see it happen. The WP classes at this year's QH Congress still
looked like a bunch of crippled, roach-backed, peanut-rollin' thoroughbred crosses.
As someone else already posted, the 2009 TWH Celebration had a record number of disqualifications because of soring/scar rule issues. While I'm glad they were caught, the fact that they were still there expecting to compete doesn't say much for the Walking Horse industry's claims of trying to clean up its act.
The Big Lick horses have evolved into almost a separate breed that is incapable of performing the Walking gaits without
the pads, chains, and other action devices. And really, the Big Lick horse has no practical purpose outside of a flat show arena. . .fine if you're just a show person, but if I was looking for a horse that could swiftly and comfortably carry me over a variety of terrain on an all-day ride, the horses competing in the Big Lick division would not
fit the bill.
And I find that sad. . .because it basically means that the Big Lick horse, which has come to symbolize the TWH to most of the world, has been so far removed from its roots that it can no longer do what the breed was originally created for.