Roy Exum: Beware The 'The Big Lick’

Thursday, November 29, 2012 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Just when horse industry observers were ready to declare the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association was going to install an executive board heavily dedicated to sound horses on Saturday, ominous word is coming out of Shelbyville that there will be a dedicated effort by the reviled “Big Lick” crowd to upset some of those who have been nominated.

To many who have blanched at the Walking Horse industry since a scurrilous tape surfaced in May of horses being tortured and abused, it comes as little surprise as the “Big Lickers” –  fearful that impending legislation against soring and abuse will stop a half-century of “business as usual” in the multi-million-dollar industry – are fighting frantically against such groups as the Humane Society of the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and hundreds of thousands of animal rights advocates from around the world.

At least three known “Big Lick” loyalists have just indicated they will seek nominations from the floor at Saturday’s meeting in Lewisburg. Tracy Boyd, the son of late trainer Billy Boyd who was long known for soring and horse abuse, will try to seek the president’s position while two others with a history of Horse Protection Act violations – Kasey Kesselring and Wayne Dean – will also attempt to be elected in what is expected to be a tense meeting.

Boyd has a colorful history in the Walking Horse industry. He once worked for William B. Johnson, the owner of the now-defunct Waterford Farm in Shelbyville, said to be a legendary horse abuser, and more recently has been employed by “Big Lick” kingpin Frank Eichler, who also has a record of violations according to the USDA database.

Curiously, Boyd has just left Eichler in order to work for Marty Irby, the outgoing president of the TWHBEA who will still retain a vote on the incoming board. Irby, you’ll recall, was famously banned from the National Celebration and its grounds earlier this year by chairman David Howard as infighting among the “Big Lick” faction has escalated with the alarming developments that have shaken the insiders in Shelbyville all summer and fall.

That Kesselring and Dean are hopeful of securing a spot on the board is even more stunning. Kesselring, the headmaster of the private Montverde School in Florida, and Dean, who trains horses for him, both have records of violating the Horse Protection Act and there is the disturbing news that when the USDA releases “over 100” tests that have been found positive for caustic substances taken at the 2012 Celebration, samples taken from a horse entered by Kesselring and Dean will be included.

According to the USDA database, Dean has five prior violations of the federal Horse Protection Act while Kasselring has four, if you include the 2008 ticket given to his daughter Kailin. Kesselring and Dean were cited in 2010 when a horse named Bold Reaction had exactly that when tested for caustic chemicals used in soring.

During the regular nominations process all three “Big Lickers” – Boyd, Kesselring and Dean – received nominations but were each rejected by the nominations committee for undisclosed reasons. It is widely thought their association with the seedy side of the Walking Horse industry, which is now under fire by Congress, caused their names to be rejected but a crafty last-minute push has caused each to declare they will seek a nomination from the floor this weekend.

One source said the TWHBEA group has a rule in its bylaws that prohibits recent offenders of the Horse Protection Act from holding an executive position but many with past HPA violations serve on the “Big Lick” boards and there is hardly any stigma towards repeat violators.

Earlier this year five criminals associated with the “Big Lick” pleaded guilty to federal charges in misdemeanor crimes associated with the Federal Protection Act and now there is pending legislation to amend the Act, which was written 42 years ago, that would give it broader powers against the savage soring and torture that is still commonplace among the small but powerful “Big Lick” violators in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world.

The worst two offenders, Jackie McConnell and Barney Davis, told federal investigators and prosecutors soring was a common practice and preliminary word of USDA testing at the 2012 Celebration reveals the results will be devastating when they are finally made public. Soring horses and other abuse is now a felony in the state of Tennessee but, thus far, there have been no arrests or convictions.

Just recently the 80,000-member American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Society of Equine Practitioners – another 10,000 professionals – urged the new legislation be rushed through Congress. Up until now, the Breeders’ and Exhibitors’  Association has curiously not joined in the cry to eliminate the sadistic methods that – in fact – are ruining the noble breed the group represents. Membership in the TWHBEA has fallen dramatically in recent years.

Other “Big Lick” organizations in Shelbyville have instead fought the Humane Society, the USDA, and any other proponents of reform. One group, called the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization, has even sued the Humane Society and the Department of Agriculture in a far-away Texas courtroom in a defiant act believed to have been ordered by the National Celebration’s governing body, which includes Frank Eichler and – get this -- Eichler is the chairman of the Show Horse group.

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