Roy Exum: Horse Bill Is Threatened

Saturday, April 12, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Promising legislation aimed at curbing sadistic horse abuse in Tennessee passed from the Senate’s Committee of Commerce, Science and Transportation in a rousing way this week when a voice vote on Wednesday was all that was needed to propel the PAST Act to the Senate floor. Half of the nation’s senators – 50 in all – have endorsed the bill (S1406), along with 268 member of Congress (HB1518) but insiders are still whispering the effort is doomed.
The PAST Act, an acronym for Prevent All Soring Tactics, appears wildly popular but a cancerous faction in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, called the Big Lick, appears to have somehow metastasized into the hallowed corridors of Washington.
As a result, Tennessee Republicans in the Senate and in Congress are desperately trying to derail the badly-needed reforms.
Never mind that the PAST Act is being supported by every animal health organization in America and an infuriated public nationwide, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marcia Blackburn are bucking the effort every way possible. Both have introduced alternate legislation in the Congress and the Senate and not without reason.
Alexander’s state campaign chairman is Stephen B. Smith, a noted Big Lick authority who heads the breed’s registry. Blackburn was feted at this year’s National Celebration where $70,000 was allegedly raised for her campaign. Blackburn has also enticed the Tennessee Republication delegation in Congress to support her bill. Chattanooga’s Chuck Fleischmann and Jasper’s Scott DesJarlais – both up for re-election -- are among her 11 co-sponsors.
The shameful effort is so obvious a Friday editorial in the largest newspaper in the state called the misguided duo to task on Friday after both politicians have been roundly castigated by horse groups and organizations in the last month. An opinion article in the Nashville Tennessean yesterday read, in part: “The Blackburn and Alexander bills, clinging to a sad past, perversely proclaim that they are preserving the Tennessee Walking Horse breed.
“The Whitfield-Ayotte bills, supported also by major veterinary organizations, represent the future, where brutality toward animals is not tolerated for any reason. We believe the great majority of Tennesseans support that future, and Rep. Blackburn and Sen. Alexander should accept it as the will of the people and drop their opposition to the PAST act,” said the story.
There is also the belief Alexander and Blackburn are working behind the scenes to destroy the bill Robin Colwell, a staffer in South Carolina Senator Tim Scott’s office, emailed a constituent that it was “my understanding that there is almost no chance the bill will never get to the Senate floor.” Ky. Senator Mitch McConnell, the house minority leader, endorsed Alexander’s alternative bill and has, in fact, had a sordid history with the Big Lick for years.
Regardless of the damage Alexander and the Tennessee Republicans in Congress might do, there was a blog in this week’s Walking Horse Report “message board” that gives the industry the most hope. It was written by L. Brandon, believed to be Laura Brandon, the wife of famed trainer Wallace Brandon. Both Wallace and Laura have been ticketed for violating the federal Horse Protection Act numerous times, especially around 1997 when he was named as the “Trainer of the Year” by the group’s Trainer’s Association.
According to records kept by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Wallace has at least 12 violations and Laura has four. So how does one explain this entry on the “message boards” Thursday night requesting prayer for the trainers?
* * *
Praying for our trainers (Posted 4/10/2014 10:36:23 pm)
“I didn't want to say this on Facebook cause my non horsey friends would see it. But while all you people that pray so much on Facebook, I wish you would pray enough for our trainers to take the horses up to the show like they are supposed to be taken so we can keep on showing. I have been here a long time and I can tell you that they are looking a lot better like they are supposed to than they did before. It was a habit that we got into and it has been hard to break.
“I am of the opinion that the great built up horses will be just as great on flat shoes so all the flat shod people better be praying that it don't happen. The breeding is so refined now that our horses will do what we want them to do naturally.
“Just wanted to say my piece. I am so tired of everyone saying that the USDA is picking on us. We did it to ourselves and ourselves have got to do what we can to get the rotten apples to come around to the right way of doing things.
“In other words I think ‘I Am Jose’ would still win the big stake on flats and no chains. He is just an awesome horse. Likewise with ‘Charlie.’
“Now I have that off my chest. You can talk to all the Senators you want but if we don't all come together it is a waste of time and money. We are spinning our wheels when everyone loads up and goes home when the USDA is there. What does that relay?”
* * *
Let me tell you what it relays, Laura. You need to know the world is fed up with cheaters who abuse animals to win a filmy ribbon. It means USDA inspectors will be everywhere they can be to spot damaged animals. When they do, good people in the crowd will call the sheriff and have people who sore and abuse animals put in jail. It is a felony in Tennessee and, if you ever come to Chattanooga, the sheriff here is eager to uphold the law.
Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn may somehow pull a ruse in Washington, defying over half the Senate and Congress alike, but there will be no letting up in the public’s quest against the Big Lick. Larry Joe Whellon’s trial in Maryville has been pushed back to May but every trainer in the country will know about it.
I promise you the fight will wage on and I can also promise that when the pads are outlawed, the pressure shoes are banned and the soring stops, the best horses will indeed win because all the pain and depravity of 50 years will at long last be gone.

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