A smoke-and-mirrors show that is being touted as “The Tennessee Walking Horses of Today Equine Conference” is being held this weekend in Murfreesboro and the most noticeable absence at the Embassy Suites Convention center will be what is commonly called “horse sense.” Everybody there is praying it will be one of the most glorious celebrations of the embattled Tennessee Walking Horse industry ever – Lord knows it needs it – but until the estimated 500,000 owners of registered Tennessee Walkers join hearts with the half-million YouTube viewers who have now watched the sadistic undercover tape of sheer depravity obtained by the Humane Society, the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, as we know it, is crying harder than the whimpering horse that you saw get whipped with that electric cattle prod.
What’s that you say? Just Tuesday Frank Eichler wrote an impassioned opinion piece in the Nashville Tennessee begging for public understanding. It touted a new group – the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization – and Frank promised “all four performance-horse industries have expressed an initial willingness to support the protocol” to end soring and abuse.
Please, I’ve never seen a stall that needed to be cleaned out any worse in my life. For starters, TWSHO was just founded last month and – already – a husband of one of the initial seven board members has filed a suit against the Humane Department of the United States. Talk about quick thinking? And – get this – six of the first seven hand-picked plums now on the new TWSHO podium have been “ticketed” in the past for violations of the federal Horse Protection Act.
That’s not funny, not to the 98 percent of good and wonderful and honest Walking Horse owners who are about to founder on the chronic misdeeds and stumbling antics that now have the Walking Horse reputation too smelly for a barn pitchfork. As Chicken Little would yell, “The sky is falling” because, brother, there’s a bigger mess every day. In Memphis this week the organizers of the prestigious Germantown Charity Show are trying to eliminate Tennessee Walking Horse – the whole breed – after over 40 years of competition. It was learned 27 of 38 exhibitors (or their families) had violated the federal Horse Protection Act but competed last month and some of the horses made spectators want to cry. It was so bad do you know what they call the petition? “No more crippled horses for crippled kids.” That makes me want to weep, too.
Nobody is saying just who exactly picked the new TWSHO board members but they – and their trainers -- can easily be traced on USDA websites or www.stopsoring.com. They are Proctor Dean of North Carolina, Terry Dodson of Tennessee, Frank Eichler of Tennessee, Nancy Groover (Winky’s mother) from Texas, Bruce MacDonald of Georgia, Mrs. Lee McGartland of Texas, and Duke Thorson (of NASCAR truck fame) in Ohio.The truth is everybody knows who picked the newest board because the same fingers picked the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainers’ Association, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, the Walking Horse Owners’ Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, in sponsorship with The Walking Horse Report. Are you kidding me?
You can compare the intertwining and overlapping to either cancer or the Rotary Club but, in fairness, about four or five slick guys in Shelbyville control the whole shebang. Soring horses, making the front hooves take the “Big Step,” has been going on for 50 years and sheer “horse sense” will tell you the organization’s top leadership has finally “looked the other way” too long.
New USDA rules, three huge veterinarian groups, state and federal legislators and – worst of all – “we, the people” – are actively descending on what insiders call “the Shelbyville country club” like the fruit flies on sweet feed. Four industry villains have already pleaded guilty to federal charges and will be sentenced on Sept. 10 and federal investigators are, it is safe to say, still quite active.
The most famous rogue, the notorious Jackie McConnell, has 14 counts of state charges pending and, curiously, his trial in Sessions Court in Fayette County (Somerville) has just been moved back to Sept. 25. By already pleading guilty in Federal Court, those proceedings will be interesting, especially since animal abuse and soring become a felony instead of a misdemeanor in Tennessee this Sunday.
Kathy Zeis, who is the secretary/treasurer of the Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse, will be something of a celebrity at this weekend’s gala in Murfreesboro after she petitioned the Breeder’s and Exhibitors board to kick off Keith Dane, the head of equine protection of the Humane Society when the famous abuse tape when platinum.
Kathy, of course, withdrew her petition when TWHBEA president Marty Irby identified her and said she was betrayed. But she told the Murfreesboro newspaper this weekend wouldn’t include any discord. “This is about getting to know our people, our trainers, our owners. This is a multi-industry conference,” she said.
Yeah, just one little tea party after another but to the half-million who own Tennessee Walking Horses and the other half million who are now infuriated by the proof that McConnell’s sadistic act was hardly an isolated one, how does it smell that six of seven new TWSHO board members have allegedly violated the federal Horse Protection Act or that Lee McGartland’s husband, Mike, is already taking the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to court?
Please, lighter on the peanuts and heavier on the horse sense.