A representative of Anheuser-Busch, Lisa A. Weser, has sought to assure a seething horse community that Budweiser is definitely not a sponsor of the upcoming 75th Annual Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville later this month. Apparently horse advocates from across the country are complaining to the beer giant after a Tullahoma distributor that represents Anheuser-Busch became a sponsor without the brewer’s knowledge.
A senior director of brand communications for the giant brewery, Weser said in an email that reports Budweiser would be involved “are inaccurate. Budweiser is not an official sponsor of the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration; this event is sponsored by an independent distributor for several breweries, one of which is Anheuser-Busch.”
The confusion and speculation resulted several weeks ago when the Celebration announced L&H Distributing, a privately-owned company in Tullahoma, would be a sponsor of the event. L&H represents and distributes Anheuser-Busch products, as well as other brands like Fat Tire beer and Monster Energy Drinks. A photograph that accompanied the announcement showed L&H spokesman Robert Hennigan shaking hands with horse show representative Mike Inman with a large Bud Light truck prominently shown in the background of the photo.
Horse lovers across America were immediately incensed by the bitter news release and the accompanying photo. The “Big Lick” faction of the horse show has caused Tennessee, and more particularly Shelbyville, to be known as the center of the worst horse abuse in the world. It is so rampant there are currently bills in both Congress and in the Senate to strengthen lax federal Horse Protection Act violations.
In Tennessee it is a state felony to abuse, or “sore,” animals, but federal law still maintains it is a misdemeanor and horse advocates all across America are asking their representatives in Washington to come down hard on abusers. At last year’s Celebration positive swabs were found by USDA inspectors on 150 of 190 horses selected at random. “There is no question horses at the 2013 show had been sored,” said Keith Dane of the Humane Society of the United States.
Heightening the outcry over the decision by the Tullahoma Budweiser distributor is the fact that Anheuser-Busch is renowned for its love for horses. The famed Clydesdale horses are world famous and rumors that the regal horses would make a guest appearance in Shelbyville are also untrue. “Budweiser and the Budweiser Clydesdales have no affiliation with the event and the Clydesdales have no plans to appear,” Weser stated in an email. “You and your readers can rest assured that our Budweiser Clydesdales are treated like royalty and receive the utmost respect and care from our team.”
Weser said late Wednesday afternoon that she had spoken with the Tullahoma distributor and had been assured no Budweiser would be served at the Celebration and that there would be no signage for the “King of Beers” that has used its regal Clydesdales in advertising and promotional appearances for years. But she also said that other Anheuser-Busch products would indeed be sold at the Celebration.
The Celebration, known to be badly strapped for cash after losing about a half-million dollars last year, will partner with L&H to sell its other products at this year’s show. This will be the first time beer and alcohol will be sold at Calsonic Arena. There has been no reaction by the other brands L&H represents that their products and branding will be made available.
The “Big Lick” faction of the Walking Horse industry came under heavy scrutiny last summer when a video of then-Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell was shown on ABC News and immediately went viral, igniting passionate horse owner around the world. McConnell has since been convicted on federal and state charges but – unbelievably – McConnell will sponsor trophies at this year’s show despite the fact he is now under house arrest and, under a judge’s decree, cannot train, own or have anything to do with horses for 20 years.
When the McConnell tape was made public, Pepsi Cola immediately pulled its sponsorship but just before last year’s show the Tullahoma Coca-Cola Bottling Company – also an independent distributor – signed an agreement with the Celebration to provide its beverages. Corporate Coke, twisting under the public’s backlash, demanded there be no signage, marketing or any other evidence that might show Coca-Cola products were being served at the now-controversial horse show. Coca-Cola officials maintained in private conversations they were “greatly ashamed” of the Tullahoma bottler.
It is not known if Coca-Cola will be served at this year’s event. Since last year’s show, public outrage has grown in its open scorn for the “Big Lick,” an unnatural gait that the industry’s cheaters have testified, under oath in Federal Court, cannot be achieved without “stewarding” the animals with caustic chemicals or with illegal objects pounded into the animals’ hooves.
Budweiser officials, caught completely unaware of L&H Distributing’s puzzling sponsorship, have received a number of complaints from around the country through a call center, according to Weser, especially after detractors sent the picture of Hennigan and Inman with the Bud Light truck across the Internet. “We have a great number of people who were pulled away from the important roles they perform at Anheuser-Busch. We are anxious to have this mistake corrected as soon as possible,” she said.
Mike Inman of the Celebration on the left and Robert Hennigan of L&H Distribution of Tullahoma on the right