For weeks an eagerly-awaited showdown has loomed in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry after a lifetime member of the group’s Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association issued a challenge to fellow board member Keith Dane, who also heads the equine protection division for the Humane Society of the United States.
But, with little if any warning, a closed hearing to oust Dane from the group, which was scheduled for Friday in Lewisburg, was abruptly cancelled and a letter allegedly written by Kathy Zeis – who was identified as the person who lodged the formal complaint, leaves little doubt the longtime Walking Horse advocate was “thrown under the bus” by the SHOW group’s executive committee.
Dane, of course, fell under heavy scrutiny in May when he released an undercover video obtained by the Humane Society to the ABC news show, “Nightline.” The shocking video shows graphic footage of Collierville trainer Jackie McConnell beating a horse with an electric cattle prod and showed another horse “crying like a baby” due to the pain that was inflicted on other animals in McConnell’s barns.
But Zeis alleges her complaint against Dane was filed before the video ever appeared. “I lodged a complaint against Keith Dane on March 12, 2012. That complaint was returned to me and a protocol was sent to me to follow in order to file a complaint. As I understand several other people also filed a complaint but did not follow up with the complex protocol.
“My complaint was resubmitted and received by TWHBEA mid-April. The substance of my complaint was that in his public comments (Dane) has said as a representative of HSUS that all walking horses entering the ring are sored and doing an unnatural gait. He has also said that performance horses in particular are doing an unnatural gait that is achieved by soring. He believes that the USDA isn’t doing their job in keeping such horses out of the show ring.”
Obviously this isn’t the truth because many show animals are “clean” – as Dane has told news reporters numerous times – and he and Zeis share the belief that sound horses are still magnificent competitors. “If he had continued to advocate and work for sound horses I would have had absolutely no problem,” she wrote in her widely distributed letter.“
But (Dane) has come out as a director of TWHBEA and an officiate of HSUS,” Zeis wrote, “to say that all horses that enter the show ring are exhibiting an unnatural gait produced by soring and, with all the other opinions that he has put out, in my opinion he has done incalculable harm to the Tennessee Walking Show Horse and to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association.”
After Zeis’ complaint, things soon began to get muddy. With the McConnell tape going viral and thousands of violations of the federal Horse Protection Act quickly coming to light, Zeis wrote, “I am saddened that the TWHBEA Executive Committee doesn’t have the same devotion to the breed that many of its owners do and promote and defend all disciplines of the breed that are trained soundly regardless of the division or discipline. Just as I have defended the pleasure horse when that wasn’t popular at TWHBEA I now defend the performance horse when he is trained correctly.”
Three veterinarians’ group have harpooned the walking horse industry this week, Jackie McConell is getting ready for state charges and federal actions will begin next month in Tennessee. Public perception is at an all-time low and veteran trainers are rightfully worried that signs of violations and abuse still persist.
So why did she withdraw her complaint just two weeks ago? She felt betrayed. “I am withdrawing my complaint due to the fact that even though all the protocols in the past have deemed that a complaint be kept confidential, this one was put out to the national press and public by TWHBEA’s President Marty Irby.”
Zeis said that since she was bound on confidentiality, “I have received threatening and abusive e-mails from the public without any knowledge of what my complaint was about or what I was trying to accomplish.”
There is some belief Zeis was being used as a pawn – since public sentiment was solidly behind Dane and an ever-growing disdain for abusing Walking Horses has reached both the state and federal governments, so Zeis did what any of us would have done – dropped the complaint squarely on the toes of Marty Irby and his now beleaguered Executive Committee.
“I believe in this breed. I believe in the owners. I believe in the trainers who want to use correct training methods,” she wrote. “I believe that there needs to be an objective qualitative way to judge that a horse has been abused - not a subjective test that can cause a person who is not guilty to be punished because his horse is acting like a horse. I also believe in timely intervention when abuse is detected."