I am still wincing over the fact a horrendous bill passed in the state legislature that would make whistle-blowers into criminals would have actually gone into law had it not been for Governor Bill Haslam’s eleventh-hour veto. Called the “Ag-Gag bill,” similar efforts in other states have also soured because it is no more than a Catch-22 trick to protect those who abuse animals, whether for food on our table or the “dirty lickers” in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.
In my way of thinking a legislative bill ought to be made in the best interests of all the people and the only time I can ever remember an undercover tape surfacing in Tennessee regarding agriculture or animal abuse of any kind was the infamous tape of since-convicted Jackie McConnell.
McConnell, still awaiting a state trial, was shown viciously beating a walking horse in a nauseating way to achieve the unnatural gait called the Big Lick.
Who among us wants to create a bill to protect and shield a thug like McConnell? Any law enforcement official will tell you that to hamper a tipster is the same as hampering justice. If a tipster fears they will be issued a citation for a misdemeanor, the source will dry up and law enforcement will remain unaware. It is that simple.
Haslam raised some eyebrows when he said farmers across the state feel unappreciated and misunderstood. “Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Tennessee. Farmers play a vital role in our state’s economy, heritage and history,” the Governor said. “I understand their concerns about large-scale attacks on their livelihoods. I also appreciate that the types of recordings this bill targets may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong.”
Where did that come from? A large-scale attack? Where? My family has been farming since long before I was born and I can tell you there hasn’t been a day when anyone on our place would dare hurt an animal. Animals are a farmer’s top asset. There are very few parts of animal husbandry that are hard to watch – the breech birth of a calf can get messy – but the only ones who complain about hidden cameras are those with something to hide. No one is attacking anybody’s livelihood, not at all … that is, unless you are a dirty licker.
Obviously the dirty lickers in Shelbyville were adamant about supporting the Ag-Gag bill, especially with Larry Joe Wheelon’s arrest for soring horses drawing greater scrutiny to Tennessee as the epicenter for horse abuse in the entire world, but what is mystifying is why the Farm Bureau would sully its name in support of the real criminals.
Ironically, the Farm Bureau took the bill’s sponsor on a week-long trip to Hawaii and presented him with a new truck. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) has been vilified by newspapers across the state and, while the Farm Bureau said the awards were presented to Holt because he was the “Entrepreneur of the Year” and not because he heads the Agriculture Committee in the State Legislature, the timing couldn’t have been as bad or more noticeable.
It is almost as laughable as the fact Wheelon – out on bond after his hearing was rescheduled to June 26 – headed the Ethics Committee for the Walking Horse Trainer’s Association. That group is rife with dirty lickers and for president Mickey McCormick, who has 16 violations of the federal Horse Protection Act, to dare to censure Wheelon would be just like the pot talking to the skillet. My heavens!
I have long held the opinion that a true horseman can see things in a horse a journeyman cannot. Wheelon was a three-star judge in the SHOW organization and, while I’ve never met the guy, I can almost guarantee Larry Joe – who has allegedly been soring horses for many years -- could spot a ‘hot’ horse all the way across a show ring.
Judges run a horse show but a quick check of SHOW’s four-star judges – the elite, I’m told – reveals that of 27 active judges, 13 have been cited for violations of the Horse Protection Act and – as a group – hold a total of 64 tickets by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The perversion is unbelievable but it is also undeniable – how does a sound horse have a chance in such a coil of snakes? Many now feel the “dirty lick” segment of the walking horse industry is as crooked as a dog’s back leg.
Michael Danner, a judge from Madison, Tenn., received five suspensions as a trainer in 2012 alone while A.P. “Sonny” Holt of Shelbyville has had 13 USDA violations since 1990. David Landrum of Franklin, Tenn., has five violations dating back to 1998, while Joel Nipper of Cleveland has a record of nine violations, according to the USDA database.
Other 4-star judges with violations are Rollie Beard of Clarksville, Tenn., Billy J. Dean of Dandridge, Tenn., Jamie Hankins of Paris, Ky., Lynne W. Jones of Waring, Texas, Larry A. Kyte of Piney Flats, Tenn., Sam L. Sorrell of Lexington, Ky., Tim Thompson of Franklin, Tenn., Sherri Dietz Ward of Harrodsburg, Ky., Bill Young (also Billy Young) and Katherine Zeis. Talk about foxes guarding the hen house – almost half of the top judges have violated the Horse Protection Act.
Wheelon, a three-star judge in SHOW, has denied charges in Blount County and told one reporter, ““That’s sickening. If those horses were sored, somebody came in the barn the night before (the April 18 raid) and did it.”
Insiders believe more charges will be leveled at Wheelon when lab samples are submitted to the court in Maryville.