The scurrilous Big Lick segment of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry has all but ruined the image of one of America’s most magnificent animals. That the noble and gentle horses who were first ridden by Civil War officers are today sadistically tortured so that some “Billy Bob” can win a flimsy ribbon has been well-documented, much to the chagrin of the overwhelming numbers of clean owners and riders. Now the Big Lick has outdone itself.
Last week ridiculous charges were leveled at Rep. Ed Whitfield by the Office of Congressional Ethics, the sponsor of vital legislation that would severely hamper and enforce laws that make soring Walkers – so they’ll lift their forelegs high in agonizing pain – illegal and punishable as more than a misdemeanor.
Thus far 58 of the nation’s 100 senators have signed on as sponsors of the “Prevent All Soring Tactics” Act and 305 of 435 members of the House have done the same. So while there is a majority vote waiting to be taken, the evil forces remain hard at work and the bogus attack on Rep. Whitfield is beyond absurd.
Ethics contends there is “substantial reason to believe” Whitfield has been compromised by his wife, of all things. The preposterous claim is that Connie Harriman-Whitfield is senior policy adviser for the Humane Society Legislative Fund where she develops initiatives in outreach, policy and legislation. Some lout believes that is a serious conflict of interest, alleging the Humane Society is the driving force behind the drive to eliminate equine abuse.
What a joke. For the record, the PAST Act has been endorsed by well over 600 animal welfare groups, most notably the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners. Yes, the Humane Society has played a major role in trying to stem horse abuse, but there are many more players in the fight.
Now, let me tell you the “real” Connie Harriman-Whitfield is a brilliant Stanford-educated attorney whose efforts on behalf of animals rival Noah and his Ark. She has spent decades in animal husbandry. Her bio reveals she was “appointed by President George H.W. Bush as Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks for the Department of Interior. She oversaw both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service. As Assistant Secretary, Harriman-Whitfield played a key role in the American ban and also the worldwide ban on the trade in elephant ivory.
“She was subsequently appointed director at the U.S. Export-Import Bank of the United States. Previously, she had served as Associate Solicitor at the Department of Interior, at the department of Justice and as a private practice attorney in Los Angeles.”
To take it further, “Harriman-Whitfield is a former vice chair of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority and a former chair of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council. In those capacities, she worked to strengthen Kentucky's laws on drugs in horse racing, successfully limiting race-day medications that can be administered to thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarter horses, and setting strict penalties for those who violate the law.”
Ethically speaking, she is the ideal wife of Ed Whitfield, who has a long history of compassion of God’s creatures. To say she influenced, coerced and/or manipulated an 11-term Congressman is outrageous. The outlandish lie is being perpetuated by the Big Lick, have no doubt.
So speaking of ethics, of all the members of the Senate and Congress who have endorsed the bill, only one representative, Steve Cohen (D-Memphis) from Tennessee, has done so. The eight Republican Representatives and two Republican Senators in the very state where soring horses is the epicenter of the world wouldn’t dare.
Instead, Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) have offered alternative legislation that is designed to allow the high pads, the pressure shoes and the contemptible torture devices to stay in place. The reason, it has been learned, is because Steven B. Smith, a known violator of the Horse Protection Act, is Alexander’s state campaign chairman.
Smith, who heads the Big Lick’s Breeders and Exhibitors Association, has raised thousands for the other Republicans in Washington, both in the Senate and the House. He has also doled out huge amounts of campaign money to Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is now poised to become the Senate Majority leader. McConnell once sent a letter threatening the U.S. Department of Agriculture if it didn’t cease horse show inspections. Now we are talking about “real” ethics.
Honest horsemen, incidentally, are still waiting for the trial of Larry Joe Wheelon, once the head of the Big Lick’s ethics committee. In April of 2013, a colossal raid on Wheelon’s barn in Maryville yielded 19 horses that were allegedly sored so badly they could hardly walk. Eyewitnesses claimed the soring was the worst they had ever witnessed and one horse, bolting in pain, broke a handler’s leg.
Yet a crafty league of legal partisans in Blount County has waylaid all attempts to bring the rogue trainer to justice - a November hearing just mysteriously moved to January. The presumption is the Big Lick can’t afford to have a bad verdict with the PAST Act now hanging by a delicate thread in “ethical” Washington.
Presently there are six states that now refuse for Big Lick horses to be shown at State Fairs and a recent protest at the North Carolina State Fair brought reams of outcry and concern statewide but the Big Lick failed to notice. Every one of their “horses” in the recent Tennessee elections were winners. What better way to use an ethics charge on Ed Whitfield by involving his wife, as unethical and as repulsive as it well may be to those who know the whole story.
In the end the victim will be the Tennessee Walker but, by then, old men will clutch their ribbons and grin about what a mixture of mustard oil and kerosene will do to make a horse dance, much less the electric cattle prod Jackie McCormick so famously used on a defenseless horse’s lips.
Only the PAST Act can stop such madness.