On the last day of February, 2012, a U.S. District judge in Chattanooga – the Honorable Sandy Mattice – became the first judge in 20 years to sentence a horse trainer to a year in jail for conspiring to violate the Horse Protection Act. That trainer, Barney Davis of Lewisburg, Tenn., told the judge at the time, “Every walking horse that enters into a show is sored. They've got to be sored to (perform the Big Lick, an unnatural gait.) There ain't no good way to put it but that's how it is."
In the next day’s edition of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, one paragraph written by reporter Todd South read, “The allegations of widespread horse abuse astounded Mattice, who likened the abuse to cockfighting. If the practice is as pervasive as Davis described, Mattice said, Congress has promoted disrespect for the law by criminalizing the conduct but not enforcing it.”
Imagine that. So here we are, two years later, with a majority of Congress ready to strengthen federal laws against rampant horse abuse to Tennessee Walking Horses by pledging support for HB1518, “Prevent All Soring Tactics,” or the PAST Act. Thus far 248 members of Congress have stepped forward to co-sponsor the pending bill. Just as importantly, all seven Republican representatives in Congress from Tennessee, along with both of the state’s Senators, are now believed to oppose the legislation.
Over the weekend I published a letter from a horse trainer who now refuses to inflict pain on a horse. Carl Bledsoe wrote Kentucky Congressman Ed Whitfield, the bill’s sponsor, an open letter that admitted he had sored horses but will never do so again. Bledsoe’s letter followed a heart-felt letter by an equine veterinarian John C. Hafner, who is the vice president of the Middle Tennessee Academy of Equine Practitioners. On Dec. 19 Dr. Hafner’s letter read, “I saw the pain. I did not only see these things, I helped do them.”
Now we have a horse owner who “can no longer continue to be silent and sit on the sidelines.” Kim Walker of Wartrace wrote to me yesterday and revealed she has a Tennessee Walking Horse that she unwittingly allowed to be permanently crippled by trainer Barney Davis. Kim now believes “the owners should be held just as accountable, if not more so.”
Here is her letter in hopes every member of Congress and the Senate will see it and vote appropriately later this month:
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Dear Mr. Exum,
I applaud Carl Bledsoe for speaking up as a trainer and being against what is really going on in the padded performance industry. I find it disgusting that all the Congressmen, women and Senators cannot stand up against this horrific practice. I also read the article where the vet at MTSU also spoke out and his words are so correct… It takes an epiphany on the part of the trainer and or owner to come to the realization as to what is really going on and decide to not be a part of it.
I have reached out to both Senators Corker and Alexander as well as Diane Black and (Scott) DesJarlais to express my support of the PAST act. It disheartens me that they don’t support it and chose to be silent all for the almighty dollar bill and pursuit of a ribbon. It’s obvious the money to help these politicians comes from the industry so they will continue to support the industry despite the overall constituents distaste for the practice of soring.
I live in Wartrace, the heart of the industry, and we moved down here for the love of the walking horse. We had a couple padded horses as well as a spotted saddle horse with Barney Davis (before his prison stay). We too had an epiphany and decided what we were paying into wasn’t worth it -- both for us and also for the walking horse.
We had these horses when we lived up North so like many owners we would come and visit every couple months. We would ride on a Saturday and show that night. We were on the fringe not being present. Our friends who introduced us to the padded horse said that soring was like a sun burn and that is how they justified it. Within a year and half we realized that it was more than just a sun burn and what did it for us was what Barney was doing, pressure shoeing where he stood a barn of horses the morning of the show on nails or blacks to cause such pain that the horse walks like it is crippled.
While in most spotted saddle horse barns they don’t use chemicals (but) use very heavy shoes , tungsten, heavy steel shoes to the tune of 10lbs!! Imagine trying to move with ten lbs on your feet and your foot so sore you have to put your weight on your haunches to relieve the pain.
The bill introduced addresses the pads and chains but doesn’t address the pressure shoeing that is going on. The heavy shoes and using pressure on the bottom of the hoof (the frog which is the main blood supply to the horses hoof and leg).
We thought the pressure shoeing was worse than the padded horse soring and it probably is as it causes more permanent damage to the horse. We still have one gelding that was both in Barney’s barn and also put by us stupidly in several padded training barns after we left Barney’s barn.
We thought that the padded horse soring was the lesser of two evils so we continued to show this gelding padded. The final straw was when I was riding in the barn the day of a show and my gelding started bleeding profusely above his coronet band (above his hoof). The trainers screamed at me to get off and two assistants came running with rags.
When I realized what was happening my husband and I left the barn and really had a big heart-to-heart talk about what we were doing to our poor horse. Was it really worth the pain to this magnificent horse for ribbon?? We had an “epiphany” and decided we were through.
We since have bought mini horses and a Friesian which we show both and enjoy our walking horses we still have at home riding on the farm. We still have to shoe our gelding who was pressure shod and sored as he has permanent damage to his hooves if we ride him. He can’t walk on any hard surface and falls on rocks he is still so sensitive.
It’s tragic that we allowed this to happen to our horse and we feel bad every day but we are taking good care of them now and feel outspoken on the subject. It’s the least we can do to help the Tennessee Walking Horse.
I don’t understand how the owners can continue to pay into this horrific practice. I commend Mr. Bledsoe for turning his back on the industry and doing the right thing. I am sure he has gotten a lot of flack and maybe even threatened for taking a stance for the horse.
It’s the owners that should be to blame as without the money going to pay the trainers the trainers wouldn’t have income to continue. I can see why it is hard for a trainer who has grown up in the industry to quit especially since it is their livelihood. While they are wrong, too, for continuing to sore and or pressure shoe, the owners should be held just as accountable if not more so.
It’s a shame that we have to have a bill to stop this terrible practice but it’s obvious after years trying to police it internally nothing has changed. The practice of soring is alive and well despite the so called compliance at inspections. Any padded horse or heavy shod horse that goes into the show ring is sored. Bottom line.
There is no way that a padded horse or heavy shod horse can perform the big lick or an exaggerated gait without the use of chemicals and chains in the case of heavy shod horses pressure shoeing. As a previous owner I know the truth and those in the industry continue to deny it exists I say to them , ‘How can you sleep at night knowing that is going on to their horse, its abuse plain and simple.’
Thank you for continuing to bring this to light in the media and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call or email me. I can’t continue to be silent and sit on the sidelines.
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I appreciate Kim’s letter and her stand. Like she says, “It’s abuse, plain and simple.”