A young horseman, Luke Keller, sent me an email that I will save and treasure Sunday morning. He claimed he was “extremely offended” by the recent comments I have made about the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and, more particularly, towards a prized horse named Spotlight on Parole. Luke, age 12, rigorously defended trainer Steve Dunn and, as an avid horseman despite his young age, took a rigid stance for the much-maligned industry.
But the part I adored was this kid’s testimony about Randall Baskin, who Luke claims “would never knowingly do harm to his special horses.” Luke says “Randall loves his horses and really cares for them, having raised most of them from colts and fillies.” Further, Luke informs me “Randall is a very kind man and has done many good things for the families, horses and the walking horse industry.
“He is a fine Christian man and I love him and so does our family,” wrote Luke. “The next time you assault someone’s character publicly you need to check carefully what you are saying.” Then there was a stinger of a last line: “It’s obvious you don’t know my granddad Randall.”
Yeah, I adored the note – a 12-year-old sticking up for his grandfather who just happens to have founded Continental Life Insurance Company in Nashville and has since given away millions in philanthropy. I don’t doubt one word of what 12-year-old Luke Keller sent to me via his iPhone.
Sadly, I adamantly believe that there is a very seedy side to the Tennessee walking horse industry that today still carries a heavy stench. While I regret Christian men as noble and fine as Randall Baskin haven’t stomped on it with a hob-nailed boot, the passion in Luke’s email lends promise that a new generation will one day totally eliminate the caustic soring and flagrant horse abuse that has brought world-wide scorn to Shelbyville.
I’ll tell anybody this: I believe owners and riders of Tennessee Walkers love and adore the magnificent creatures as much as Randall Baskin and his 12-year-old grandson but news events in the past six months have sullied the entire breed and it is grossly unfair to guys like young Luke Keller as well as Walker owners and riders all across the United States.
Because of the persistent evil, an army made up of Congress, the state legislature, leading veterinarian associations, animal rights groups and an infuriated public is assembling to plummet the so-called “Big Lick” crowd. Law enforcement authorities on both the state and federal level vow an end to the sadistic practices that are still used to achieve an unnatural, high-stepping gait and stiffer laws will soon jail offenders.
Luke, at age 12, can study a systematic history of abuse in the walking horse industry for the past 50 years just like I have. If he needs a science project he can study why so many Walkers strangely die of colic (wink, wink) as compared to other breeds but if he really wants to have fun, he can read up on a kid named Sam who literally became a “horse whisperer” back long ago when he, too, was about 12. It’s a great story.
Sam grew up in Missouri, a quiet and shy young guy who became a mystic marvel because he could train and ride any horse for miles around. He later earned an appointment to West Point, where, as a plebe in his first year, stood 5-foot-1 and weighed only 117 pounds, but by the time he was a senior he performed a jump on a horse that was a record at West Point for many years.
Because of horses, he struck up a deep friendship with a strapping athlete from Georgia named Pete and they rode side-by-side nearly every day. This was in the 1850s, when horses were the backbone of our nation and, as young officers upon graduation, the two were both decorated for bravery in the Mexican War. Afterwards, Pete was best-man in Sam’s wedding.
Then came the Civil War – Sam fought for the north and Pete for the South. They had a brush against each other in Chattanooga exactly 150 years ago but, thankfully, never came eye-to-eye until Lee’s surrender at a Virginia town with the unlikely name of Appomattox Court House (it was a place, not a structure).
That morning Sam rode his horse, Hero, next to Robert E. Lee on Traveller, while Sam rode in on a horse that was 17 hands high called Cincinnati. It was in the front parlor of Wilmer McClean’s home that the war ended. With the Union Generals standing along one wall and the Confederate Generals across the room along the other, suddenly a very strange thing occurred.
Sam, who would later become the President of the United States and is far better known as Ulysses S. Grant, walked the breadth of the room to Pete, gave him a hearty hug, offered him a cigar and promised him an immediate pardon. Pete, who is far better known as “The War Horse of the Confederacy” and revered as Gen. James Longstreet, accepted all three.
If my young friend Luke will heed the lesson, he will recognize that Sam and Pete were bonded by their love of the horse. Both fought magnificently through the bitter War Between the States but, that day in the McClean’s front parlor, it was the horse that soon lead to such a cordial conversation between Lee and Grant that the surrender, as it were, has always been known as “The Gentleman’s Agreement.”
I’ll warrant that if Sam or Pete even suspected a soldier back, then on either side, abusing a horse the offender would have been ordered immediately shot. Luke Keller needs to know that and, if he’ll study the heralded history of the Tennessee Walking Horse, he’ll find that 57 sons and daughters of a horse named McMeen’s Traveller, foaled in 1849, were actually ridden by Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Calvary.
How anybody could harm a horse with such a heritage is unbelievable. Why the owners and riders have allowed the “Big Lick” to flourish is beyond comprehension. Why no one has yet been jailed for animal abuse in unthinkable. While the sheriff in Shelbyville didn’t arrest one obvious violator at this year’s Celebration is mystifying. Whatever is it going to take?
My newfound belief is 12-year-old Luke Keller will help clean it up in the exact same way he defended his beloved Randall Baskin on Sunday morning. What a kid. What a hope.