Cookeville’s Pat Stout, a Tennessee Walking Horse owner and advocate who headed an effort to poll each member of the breed’s registry regarding pending legislation to prevent soring, said Friday she was elated that 63 percent of those who responded want the federal legislation approved. Stout has been active in the Breeder’s and Exhibitor’s Association for nearly two decades and said on Friday she resents the “stigma” now associated with the Tennessee Walking Horse.
“I believe that the TWHBEA board is polarized by the fact the Big Lick segment of the industry will do or say anything to keep the pads and chains,” she said, “but this pretty well proves the overall membership doesn’t support that notion. The thing that triggered me on a mail-out to the general membership was when our Executive Committee voted to support HB1518/S 1406 but our entire board of directors voted just the other way.”
The Walking Horse industry has been plagued by corruption and cheating for years. Unscrupulous owners and trainers will “sore” horses with caustic chemicals on their forelegs in an effort to make them pick up their front hooves in an unnatural gait called “The Big Lick” and the pending legislation forbids the pads, chains and “performance devices” that are used to hide the sadistic methods from inspectors.
Two years ago undercover footage showed former Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell savagely beating and torturing the majestic horses and since then the leading equine organizations in the nation have railed against the “Big Lickers,” a small but loud group of owners and trainers centered in Shelbyville and believed to be the epicenter of horse abuse in the entire world.
“The Tennessee Walking Horse should be just as big as the Quarter Horse in America but until the pads and chains go away, our entire breed will suffer because of the soring stigma that has been attached by the Big Lick faction,” said Stout, who owns 14 Walkers with her husband. “It bothers me that now we have federal legislation that will strengthen the Horse Protection Act of 1970, we have people from Tennessee representing the Big Lick going to Washington and lobbying to have these bills defeated.”
Ironically, while the Big Lick is a small segment of the Walking Horse industry, its followers have been carefully inserted on all of the breed’s governing bodies. The trainer’s association, for instance, to infested with those who have broken the Horse Protection Act in the past and the THWBEA is almost as bad. When Stout mailed out the reply cards with the help of an anonymous donor, she was immediately vilified by the breed registry and how faces disciplinary action.
“I thought it was really important for everybody’s voice to be heard,” she said. Of approximately 7,000 members of the TWHBEA, the public accountant Stout hired to tabulate the results received 1,795 returns with 1,132 in favor and 663 against. “I had no idea how the membership would respond but that is almost two-thirds in favor of the Prevent All Soring Act, HR 1518/S. 1406. I am greatly encouraged by that and believe our Board of Directors should take notice of that.”
The official response by TWHBEA is to say nothing except to discredit the mail-out. Loyd “Buster” Black has just resigned due to health issues and vice president Rob Cornelius refused to reveal the vote’s outcome on the TWHBEA website. Black had urged members not to respond, suggesting they “throw away” the material Stout had mailed, yet it is believed a concerted effort by Big Lick insiders may have further spiked the “nay” votes to avoid further embarrassment.
Stout is being hailed as a hero after what has been described as a “lynch mob” of Big Lickers within the TWHBEA leadership has attacked her for her “rogue” effort. “We have had state directors who didn’t vote the way the members in their state wanted them to vote,” she told a Nashville reporter several weeks ago. “we’ve never reached out to our members and actually let them vote like this.”
Asked if she felt the true horsemen and women in the Walking Horse industry would be successful in efforts to rid the repeated evidence of soring, she said she was unsure. “It is now a felony to abuse a horse in Tennessee but we know that some trainers still do it. I believe getting rids of the pads would really help but these (Big Lick) people have found a way to get around every rule we’ve tried.
“I think it is important that we make sure everybody is involved. I felt like our Executive Committee and our Board of Directors was sending a mixed signal to the membership of the breed registry. Now we can say that a group representing two-thirds of us is for the Prevent All Soring Act that is currently in Congress and the Senate. That certainly sends a message to those who will vote on the bills.”