Roy Exum: It Gets ‘Curiouser and Curiouser’

Thursday, May 31, 2012 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

In the wonderful children’s book, “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll, you may remember little Alice was playing outside when one day she fell through a rabbit’s hole into Wonderland. She couldn’t believe what she saw, so much so that at one point she cried, “Curiouser and curiouser!” I feel the exact same way as I marvel in a most perplexed way at the now-rattled Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

For instance, if the scofflaw trainer Jackie McConnell, who pleaded guilty in Federal Court last week of conspiring to violate the Horse Protection Act, had beaten my horse with an electric cattle prod like was shown in a nationally-televised video, I would have thrown more criminal charges and civil-damage lawyers at the scurrilous abuser than are in the state of Tennessee.

Unbelievably, not one horse owner whose horses were horribly abused in Collierville has stepped forward to my knowledge.

Another: Keith Dane, the head of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the United States, is largely credited with bringing the ongoing practice of rampant animal abuse to light with the revolting video but now, instead of erecting a statue for his tremendous service to 500,000 registered walkers, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeder’s and Exhibitor’s Association has a formal complaint and plans to kick him off its board at a special called – but closed --hearing on June 28.

Still another: The State of Tennessee will make livestock abuse a Class E felony on July 1, 2012, and the law includes provisions against soring, burning and other sadistic means of making horses step higher but among the exemptions “that shall not be construed as aggravated cruelty” are “applying methods and equipment used to trainer livestock animals.” (Huh?)

Still another: Dr. Stephen Mullins, the head of the Celebration’s SHOW arm that self-regulates soring and horse abuse, has reported that 97 percent of the 599 horses that appeared at a huge Memorial Day weekend Fun Show in Shelbyville were found “clean” but in yesterday’s editions of the Nashville Tennessean it was learned that eight of the last 10 Trainers of the Year the organization has selected have a record of suspensions and violations of the federal Horse Protection Act.

One of those trainers, 2007 winner Charlie Green of Shelbyville, has a grand total of 22 violations since 2001, eight from soring. Jimmy McConnell, the 2010 winner and the brother of the now infamous Jackie, has had 10 since 1994 and five of those – according to Department of Agriculture records – are from soring. Jackie is awaiting sentencing on Sept. 10 after pleading guilty, but, before then, will face 13 counts of state charges next month in Fayetteville.

Adding to the complex puzzle is a report in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette yesterday that a new group, to be called the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization, has been formed in an effort to bridle in what appears to be an organization gone completely daffy. Officials have repeatedly called the first-ever guilty pleas to the Horse Protection Act by Barney Davis and Jackie McConnell as isolated acts, but Department of Agriculture records show a far different view.

Dane, for example, said the Humane Society is still quite concerned. “We maintain this is not an isolated incident. This isn’t one bad apple. This is representative of what is going on in a lot of the industry.” And a spreadsheet study of the industry’s main staple, “The Walking Horse Report,” offers the most glaring reflection of the fact that what was going on in 1970 – and prompted the Horse Protection Act – is just as gruesome today as ever before.

The analysis was done by taking the May 21, 2012 edition of the lucrative magazine and counting easily-found violations against any trainer, owner or rider associated in either editorial or advertising content found in the single issue. Some are seen several times in the 132-page issue, so those violations were counted anew with each appearance.

Further, you need to understand a full-page ad in the “Walking Horse Report” costs $440, or $835 in color, and that special pages are more (the front cover costs $1,795.) The analysis showed there were 83.5 pages of the 132 that were advertising content and – get this -- that a stunning 83.5 percent of the ads featured persons with documented violations of the Horse Protection Act.

With a roll of the drums, in the May 21, 2012 issue of the “Walking Horse Report” a grand total of approximately 1,685 violations could be attributed to persons shown in either editorial or advertising content. Understand, one trainer with 41 total violations was shown four different times but you get the drift.

Then there is one more thing, if you total up the advertising revenue from the May 21 issue it comes to almost $56,000 before rates cards, discounts and any special deals are considered. That’s for just one week. The cash flow is incredible in the walking horse industry but who would have ever believed there are so many trainers and owners and judges who have blemished records but who still pay handsome money to remain the industry’s stars?

Incidentally, during the painstaking analysis it was noted that six violations were recently given to an elderly trainer who has not been in a show ring in at least 10 years. It is alleged that someone -- or more than someone --has been using his name and license number without his knowledge and has done so undetected because the trainer, now in his late 70s, could never read nor write, thus having no idea he’s been sanctioned.

I’m telling you, the whole thing is a confounding mess. What is most puzzling of all is that the walking horse industry has allowed the gruesome torture and abuse of the beautiful horses to rage on, year after year. As Shelbyville trainer Winky Grover told Tennessean writer Duane Gang in Wednesday’s editions, “I personally have a past record, and I am not proud of it. (15 violations since 2001)"

“I have made steps to change my training techniques,” Groover said. “I feel like I (now) train horses totally humane and (am) totally compliant. We do, like everybody, have a past. All we can do is ask forgiveness and move on.”Trouble is, those are the same words that have been repeated for the past 50 years.

royexum@aol.com



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