Roy Exum: A Horse Owner’s Letter

Monday, January 6, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

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:

* * *

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.

Respectfully submitted,

Kim Walker

Wartrace, Tennessee

* * *

I appreciate Kim’s letter and her stand. Like she says, “It’s abuse, plain and simple.”

Roy Exum: A Vol Is Worth $521,854

The definition for the term “fair market value,” this from the IRS tax code, “is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.” So a recent article in Business Insider has just revealed a University of Tennessee scholarship ... (click for more)

Please, No Short Term Vacation Rentals In My Neighborhood

Approval of the short term vacation rental item on the City Council agenda for Tuesday  will be the next step toward commercializing our residential properties and communities to benefit those more interested in making money than preserving an old, well-established, rich community of like-minded families.    Anything requiring a business license is ... (click for more)

Fire Displaces Family Of 7; Blaze Ruled Accidental

No injuries were reported in connection with a house fire on Saturday afternoon that displaced a family of seven. The Chattanooga Fire Department received the alarm at 4:11 p.m. and responded to 3308 Dodson Ave. with five fire companies. Captain Wadie Suttles with Engine 4 said heavy fire was showing when the first firefighters arrived on the scene. As additional firefighters ... (click for more)

Clarence Ross, Leshawn Witherow Shot On Walden Avenue Friday Afternoon

Chattanooga Police are investigating a shooting that happened early Friday afternoon at the 6300 block of Walden Avenue.  Clarence Ross, 41, And Leshawn Witherow, 40, suffered non-life threatening injuries.  Hamilton County EMS transported both victims to a local hospital for treatment.  There is no suspect information at this time.  Investigators with ... (click for more)

UTC Women Fall To UNCG 1-0 To End Regular Season

 The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s soccer team fell 1-0 at UNCG Sunday afternoon to close out the regular season. The Mocs end the year at 6-10-2 overall and 4-4-1 in the Southern Conference and tie the Spartans (7-10-2, 4-4-1 SoCon) for fifth in the standings.   “It was another tough result,” Chattanooga head coach Gavin McKinney said. “We did, however, ... (click for more)

Notre Dame Draws Top Ranked Greeneville, CCS Opens With Madison Magnet

For the second year in a row, Notre Dame drew the top ranked Greeneville in the opening round of the TSSAA Class A/AA state tournament.  Notre Dame is scheduled to play Greeneville on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Murfreesboro. CCS will play Madison Magnet in the first round. CCS and Greeneville played in the state championship game last year with Greeneville winning 4-1.  ... (click for more)