Roy Exum: Horse Breeders Still Scoff

Monday, June 10, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Several weeks ago the president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitor’s Association saw the handwriting on the wall and the group’s Executive Committee elected to support the far-reaching Whitfield Amendment that is now in Congress and will greatly strengthen the federal Horse Protection Act.  “We must rid ourselves of this dark cloud,” he urged.

But in the same way the “Dirty Lick” segment of the Walking Horse industry has openly flaunted the federal laws for nearly 50 years, the breeder’s Board of Directors refused to ratify the committee’s request, virtually assuring an enraged public and thousands of sound horsemen will now bear down of those who sadistically sore and maim the magnificent animals in an unparallel all-out assault this summer and fall.

Boyd made his impassioned plea, saying “the problem is that nobody outside our industry believes” the Shelbyville Slime, as the Dirty Lickers are called is doing anything but dodging efforts to eradicate horse abuse. “When you’ve lost the public you have lost it all … and we have clearly lost the public.”

His words were illustrated by the recent arrest of longtime “Dirty Licker” Larry Joe Wheelon, a Maryville trainer whose barn was raided and allegedly yielded 19 horses that were so maimed and sored some could hardly walk. Two of Wheelon’s associates, Randall Stacy Gunter of Louisville, Tenn., and Brandon Lundsford of Walland, Tenn., have since been arrested and could face one-to-five years in state prison on each count.

Wheelon, on the board of the highly-suspect Trainer’s association and an active judge at horse shows, was hysterically a member of the group’s ethics committee and, if the allegations of flagrant abuse are found true, he could actually die in prison.

While the great majority of Walking Horse owners both in the state and across the country are clamoring for the Whitfield amendment to finally give a kick to the lame federal laws, the “Dirty Lickers” based in Shelbyville are viciously fighting a huge army of detractors and the odds of any success are overwhelming.

Opponents include the leading veterinarian groups in the nation, countless dozens of animal welfare groups  like the Humane Society of the United States, a “fed up” U.S. Department of Agriculture, and an ever-growing number of American citizens who are nauseated by the endless parade of lies, overwhelming violations and a stagnant leadership rife with documented past abuses.

The Whitfield Amendment would not only make horse abuse a Federal felony but would eliminate the atrocious stacks, or pads, and other so-called “action devises” that normal horsemen can hardly believe have proliferated the breed. As a result, Tennessee in general and Shelbyville in particular is considered the epicenter of horse abuse in the entire world.

A story appeared in the Sunday editions of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette on Sunday suggesting that “perception” isn’t “reality” and noted “for sale” signs are springing up like summer daisies along “Walking Horse Row” where horse trainers are feeling the sting of economic “reality” rather than winner’s circle “perception.”

The so-called “Big Lick” has morphed into the “Dirty Lick” since the movie star trainer, Jackie McConnell, electrified the nation in a video that proved horse abuse is commonplace in the Walking Horse industry. Wheelon’s recent arrest – the first since the state made horse abuse a felony – added to the despicable reputation that the “Dirty Lickers” have given to the still noble breed and both federal and state prosecutors predict other arrests are imminent before the World Celebration takes place in Shelbyville in August.

The “Big Lick,” an awkward unnatural gait that – in reality – shows a horse has been sored and tortured to learn it, is now recognized by clean horsemen as a sick attempt to funnel money to the Shelbyville empire that is so callous it worked tirelessly to support the ridiculous “Ag-Gag” bill that was just vetoed by Governor Bill Haslam.

But over 50,000 sound horsemen across the nation wrote the Governor, causing just the second veto during the time he has held office, and an unprecedented number of letters in support of the Whitfield Amendment are now being sent to members of Congress from every state.

The fact that Wheelon will appear in a Maryville court on June 26 and that the villainous McConnell will finally face state charges this summer will cause much greater scrutiny by media and an enraged public, but the  biggest trend now developing is that advocates of the sound, flatshod horse are calling out “dirty” judges.

At this weekend’s Germantown (Tenn.) Charity Horse Show, members of the Dirty Licks WHOA organization were asked to judge and it was immediately determined Sam Sorrell, one of the judges, has a record of violating the Horse Protection Act and 13 other certified judges have at least one violation. For that matter eight board members of WHOA have USDA violations.

Horse owners are now realizing that a judge who “cheats” is hardly the type best suited for the show ring and now many participants believe a skilled eye can readily tell if a horse is “hot.” The further reasoning is a “clean” horse would be at a disadvantage in the Shelbyville way of such things and are angry at the “reality” of what has happened to the Tennessee Walking Horse in just the past year after the McConnell tape was aired on the ABC news show, “Nightline.”

For the “Dirty Lick” this will be quite a summer.

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