The seedy side of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry – and, brother, don’t think there isn’t one – just got caught again. But this time it wasn’t for soring and abusing animals, as the “Big Lick” crowd has done for half a century. No, a concerted effort to discredit and “discipline” a woman who dared to question the scurrilous segment has been exposed and serves as a classic example of what is ruining the once-noble breed.
Pat Stout, the Vice President for Horse Shows for the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, believes the governing body that is based in Shelbyville does not represent the beliefs or the wishes of the nearly 7,000 members of the TWHBEA. Several weeks ago she mailed a post card to each eligible voting member, polling the members’ stance on a bill currently in Congress and the Senate called the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, (HR 1518/S.1406.)
The mailer card, which was asked to be returned to an accounting firm in Alabama by Oct. 15 to assure an accurate result, asked for each individual’s vote on the pending bill – a simple “yes” or “no” – which flew in the face of the Executive Committee and President Loyd "Buster" Black.
While denying Ms. Stout access to the TWHBEA website to explain her polling initiative, Black sent out a mass email to all TWHBEA members saying "you can certainly throw it away if you want." The reaction by some members of the Executive Committee was predictable, with vice president Rob Cornelius leading the charge “to turn the matter of Pat Stout’s conduct and actions over to the Enforcement Committee.”
TWHBEA Rules require there be a written complaint with filing fee before the Enforcement Committee can take up a case. Black, who is a Magistrate Judge in Fayette County, Georgia, seemed to ignore the concept of “due process” when he went along with the group. Black is also the TWHBEA representative on the American Horse Council, which adamantly supports the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act.
The battle over the bill, which will undoubtedly strengthen the federal Horse Protection Act, has actually been brewing since May when Tracy Boyd, at the time the president of the TWHBEA, publicly endorsed the bill, saying “the image conveyed by our performance horse is no longer accepted” and “when you have lost the public, you have lost it all … and we have clearly lost the public.”
The stubborn board didn’t go along with him, determined to fight the bill instead, and Boyd’s brave stand got him immediately fired from his job – his employer (Roger Baskin, son of federal violator Randall Baskin) closely associated with the “Big Lickers.” But many members of the TWHBEA are believed to feel the same way that Boyd does and Ms. Stout, with the help of an "anonymous individual" who sponsored the project, wants to use the poll of the membership to prove it.
David Howard, the undisputed leader of the “Big Lickers,” decreed Ms. Stout should be kicked off the TWHBEA’s Executive Committee, its Board and its membership rolls. Now a “lynch mob” that Ms. Stout’s attorney believes to include Executive Committee members Mike Hicks, Christy Lantis, David Mullis, Denise Bader Keyser, along with Enforcement Committee member Tom Kakassy seems intent on carrying out Howard’s wishes.
Kakassy, an attorney from North Carolina who serves on the Enforcement, Performance, and By-laws Committees for the TWHBEA, was accused of “quarterbacking” the effort by Ms. Stout’s attorney, Clant Seay of Mississippi, and Seay has since asked that Kakassy resign from the Enforcement Committee along with Christy Lantis, and Mike Hicks following their actions.
Further, Seay is adamant Ms. Stout did nothing wrong. “She didn’t tell anyone how to vote, she didn’t spend one dime of the association’s money, but she enabled the entire membership to be polled in an honest way. Why are so many people afraid of allowing the membership to vote? Why are so many people trying to stop members from voting? It seems to me people should be thanking Pat Stout,” said Seay, a longtime horseman himself.
The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, necessitated by the fact the Walking Horse industry can neither police itself nor even wants to, would remove pads, or stacks, from the front legs of show horses as well as “performance devices” which are often used to cover scars and hide sadistic efforts to achieve the unnatural high gait called the “Big Lick.”
At this year’s Celebration in Shelbyville the number of participants and the nightly attendance was down dramatically, which was expected. The general public is aghast by the clear evidence that horse abuse is being protected and hidden by the Big Lickers who fight the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Humane Society of the United States and any other attempts to regulate those who wantonly violate the federal Horse Protection Act and who laugh at the harmless USDA “tickets” when they are caught.
Ms. Stout’s postcard idea is the latest in a growing number of attempts to wrestle the Walking Horse industry away from Shelbyville, located in an area that has been hurt badly by the illicit side of the industry. Horse farms are for sale, trainers are out of work, and the number of show horses is dwindling as a result of those who stop at nothing to make money with cheap blue ribbons.
What’s worse, the good owners and trainers are suffering because of the bad name that Walking Horses received when an infamous undercover tape of Jackie McConnell beating a horse and abusing others proved to the world that sadistic and criminal acts are still common among so-called “Hall of Fame” trainers.
It is estimated that 90 percent of those who own Tennessee Walkers do not harm their animals but more and more are now avoiding horse shows, where known violators of the Horse Protection Act are actual judges. It is feared such law breakers engage in favoritism and worse.
This spring Larry Joe Wheelon, a trainer in Maryville, was found with 19 horses that had allegedly been horribly abused but Wheelon, a known “Big Lick” trainer with a long and colorful past of federal violations, was freed on a heart-wrenching technicality. A judge just ordered that the horses that had been confiscated be returned to his questionable care, a ruling that further turns the public’s stomach and heightens the resolve to clean up the industry.
Ms. Stout plans to be present when the tabulated and certified results of her card campaign are announced by Greg Cook, a CPA in Arab, Ala. She has invited the TWHBEA’s Cornelius to be present when the results are announced. It is believed the TWHBEA board, as well as the “Big Lick” itself, will not be happy with the results.