The Tennessee Veterinarians Association, which includes almost 1,000 licensed practitioners in the state, came out with a strongly-worded document Wednesday “expressing support and encouragement of further investigation into the use of action devices and performance packages in the training and showing of Tennessee Walking Horses.”
In doing so the formidable group of active state veterinarians joins the two high-profile national groups that have already castigated the walking horse industry -- The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) – and the resulting worldwide outcry clearly has the SHOW Celebration, which is well-known for the fiefdom they have built in tiny Shelbyville, Tn.
, on the run, if not an out-and-out gallop.
The malicious and criminal acts that have permeated the walking horse industry for at least 50 years and included thousands of violations of the 1972 federal Horse Protection Act, have been hooted down by the industry’s insiders but now four horsemen have pleaded guilty and are awaiting criminal charges stemming from sickening abuse. And everybody in the industry admits this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Demands to stem the systematic and widespread practice of soring the hoses, which enhance the “Big Lick” of steps as the horses perform, have been ignored and gone unanswered by the Celebration officials since a scathing undercover video was shown on the ABC news show, Dateline, two months ago, but last week the industry’s chief organizers created a new initiative group to curb consistent abuse of show animals.
The troubling part is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has viable proof that fewer citations are given by the SHOW group’s inspectors than by USDA veterinarians and the widespread belief is that a tough cop isn’t employed for very long by Celebration partisans where money is king. For example, of the Top Trainers of the year for the past 10 years, they have 55 violations of the Horse Protection Act on file.
In the current Riders Cup competition, the top 20 trainers had 161 violations in just the last two years alone and a quick check of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association itself shows that 14 members of the board have a total of 72 violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. Talk about the fox guarding the hen house!
On Tuesday, the Nashville Tennessean had a pointed story that the Walking Horse industry based in Shelbyville has done little to polish its increasingly tarnished image. The group has just introduced a lightly-regarded swabbing method of detecting caustic agents placed on the horse’s front legs. They say that anyone caught would face a two-week suspension of the license, public disclosure of their names and a “request” that other shows uphold the two-week penalty. The proposed penalty is absolutely ludicrous to those who are eager to end the horrid practice for good.
Instead, new laws are being drafted on the state and federal level that will put far more bite into what will become a felony on July 1, but the Celebration crowd’s message – a two-week suspension – wants no part in rigorous rules that will send unscrupulous trainers and their sadistic sidekicks to jail or harm their businesses, as shallow as some may well be.
Jackie McConnell, who was revered in the Walking horse industry and a member of its Hall of Fame before the undercover video reminded others he has had at least 13 violations in the 40 years he has trained horses, is set to go to trial on state charges of animal cruelty in Fayetteville, Tn., next week but the better hope for vengeance will come on Sept. 12 in Federal Court in Chattanooga. He has already pleaded guilty.
Further, when federal charges were brought in the Eastern District of Tennessee earlier this year, it marked the very first time the Horse Protection Act has been prosecuted and federal attorneys suspect there will be more instances where animal abuse will be dealt with by both state and federal prosecutors.
Winky Groover, a Shelbyville trainer who has freely admitted he sored horses in the past but no longer does so, said recently, “We’ve been concerned with the swabbing results that the government (USDA) has been putting out and the Humane Society’s been putting out. We’re wanting to do something to prove that this horse can show and be sound and is not being abused. We’re trying to save our industry.”
The telling phrase, of course, is “we are trying to save our industry,” which shows the 98 percent of “clean” walking horse people now have the louts on the run. With the Tennessee Veterinary Association now “fully on board” and national groups bearing down on those who would cheat, it seems some widespread changes will soon be implemented on behalf of the gentle and graceful horses that are intertwined throughout American history.
Keith Dane, the head of equine services for the Humane Society, will undergo a "closed hearing” in Lewisburg tomorrow to determine if he should retain his seat on the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeds and Exhibitors Board. There are some who are angry he made the video public and the outcome of the hearing will have widespread repercussions throughout the horse industry.