Roy Exum: The Best Money Can Buy

Monday, March 10, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

A pointed editorial in Sunday’s editions of the Nashville Tennessean left little doubt that two pending bills currently in Congress are quite different. The headline itself told the whole story: “Rep. Ed Whitfield’s walking horse legislation would end soring; Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s would enable it.”

But whether the well-documented column will cause Tenn. Senator Lamar Alexander to reconsider introducing a companion bill to Rep. Blackburn’s disappointing legislation is a hot topic as Washington’s work-week begins tomorrow. On Friday several sources revealed Alexander was planning to make a push in the Senate this week with an alternate bill tailored to Blackburn’s bill in Congress. If so, it would be in marked defiance of the very popular PAST Act (HB 1518/S1406) that has now been endorsed by 47 Senators and 266 members of Congress to finally stop the flagrant and repugnant soring of horses.

The PAST Act, sponsored by congressman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky) and senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), has been endorsed by the leading equine groups in the country, including the huge American Veterinary Medical Association and the renowned American Association of Equine Practitioners. But Blackburn’s bill – a “Trojan Horse” as the Tennessean editors call it – represents “the best that the horse-abuser’s money could buy, in the form of tens of thousands of dollars in contributions to her campaign, in order to continue torturing and maiming horses.”

The editorial called out both Alexander and Tennessee’s other senator, Bob Corker, chiding them for their “silence” in the matter after it has become common knowledge in horse circles that Tennessee is the epicenter for horse abuse in the entire world. Walking Horses in Tennessee and surrounding states have endured a half-century of shameless soring and abuse. Soring is where caustic chemicals and harmful devices such as nails and screws are used to achieve an unnatural, high-kicking gait called the “Big Lick” and America has clearly had enough.

The vast majority of Walking Horse trainers and riders across the nation deplore the shameful practice but a seedy inner-core group headquartered in Shelbyville has lobbied hard in recent months to keep the pads, or stacks, and the shady judging, and the committees that are rife with Horse Protection Act violators from being affected by the PAST Act. They will stop at nothing to see the bill doesn’t pass.

It is no secret Sen. Alexander is obviously aligned with the “Big Lick;” his state campaign chairman is Steve B. Smith, the president of the Breeder’s and Exhibitors Association. Smith, who has been found in violation with the federal Horse Protection Act in the past, and his Big Lick cronies have lobbied Alexander and Coker hard. They have also contributed heavily to Congressional campaigns, most recently throwing a reception for Blackburn last August that netted their alleged (and highly prized) confederate a reported $70,000.

Nine members of Congress, including Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga and Scott DesJarlaris of Jasper (who was feted the year before by the Big Lick), are among nine cosponsors of Blackburn’s sleazy bill, which the Tennessean article claims “shows there is a special brand of inhumanity that thrives among us in Tennessee … (and) demonstrates how determined (the Big Lick) is to continue secretly torturing animals.”

“Stronger than a desire for mere show-ring glory,” the column reads, “this appears to be about deriving pleasure from causing pain. That it is defenseless animals, and not people, only increases their ability to get away with it. After decades of violations … the PAST (Prevent All Soring Tactics) bill offers a real chance to strengthen the law.”

The Tennessean article also read, “Soring is very much alive, and the bad actors in the walking horse industry are hardening their position instead of backing away from it, hoping to gut the laws that forbid them to do what they love: torment animals. Their spokesmen like to say that Blackburn’s bill ‘eliminates soring’ while Whitfield’s bill ‘eliminates the horse.’

“We know their abject cruelty is what will eliminate the horse, if we let them.”

* * *

A hearing is scheduled for March 17 -- a week from today -- in Maryville, Tenn., for Larry Joe Wheelon, age 68, and three other men on 18 counts of aggravated cruelty to livestock and conspiracy to commit aggravated cruelty to animals. Wheelon, a colorful “Big Lick” trainer and judge with a lengthy string of violations, once served as chairman of the Ethics Committee of the trainer’s association.

If found guilty, the men could possibly serve jail sentences since animal cruelty is now a felony crime in Tennessee. On the federal level animal abuse is still a misdemeanor, a further reason the PAST Act needs to pass.

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