It is not my nature to comment on letters written to Chattanoogan.com, mainly because I believe folks are just as entitled to their opinions as I am. On the other hand, good and reasonable people ought to know that a letter entitled “Tennessee Walking Horse Is The Most Inspected Breed In The U.S.” was written by a publicist who is being paid to be a shill by a sordid group that is desperately trying to thwart badly-needed legislation to end the torture and abuse of Tennessee Walkers.
The author, Phil Osborne, works for a public relations company called Purple Strategies. Their sole mission is to stop the PAST Act from becoming a law that would strengthen the federal Horse Protection Act. Believe this: the “Big Lick,” a reviled group headquartered in Shelbyville, is paying thousands of dollars to defeat the bill so they can continue “business as usual” after a well-documented half-century of endless abuse.
To further connect the dots, Steven B. Smith, the head of the rapidly-disintegrating Breeders and Exhibitors Association, is a key player in the “Big Lick” and serves as Senator Lamar Alexander’s state campaign chairman. His son, Stevie, is a principal for Purple Strategies. It is widely believed Alexander’s defiant stand against the PAST Act is due to his close association with the Smiths – Stevie has even worked on Alexander’s previous campaigns.
Sadly, a bigger truth is that the “Big Lick” is believed to be on its last breath. Regions Bank just pulled its sponsorship of the now badly-tainted National Celebration, which is held in August, and public perception of the unnatural gait has caused many other horse shows to not include it any longer. Faced with ever-dwindling crowds and fewer entries, the Celebration has hemorrhaged thousands of dollars in recent years and is called “The Freak Show” by sound horsemen.
Countless trainers have said the “Big Lick” cannot be done without soring, which is what the various forms of sadistic torture are called, and one notable trainer, Maryville’s Larry Joe Whelon, is currently awaiting trial in a warped case that could easily send the former ethics chairman to jail. Jackie McConnell, branded a felon in a Chattanooga federal court after beating horses in a video that went worldwide, had the gall to sponsor a trophy at last year’s Celebration and scoff-law trainers with a deep history of contempt still riddle the “Big Lick.”
The PAST Act is a good and decent answer to the arrogance of the “Big Lick” and, as of yesterday, 296 Congressmen and 57 Senators have endorsed the bill. There are 112 Republican members of Congress in favor of the bill but not one Republican from Tennessee, including Chattanooga’s Chuck Fleishmann, has endorsed the badly-needed bill. That’s because Rep. Marsha Blackburn sponsored alternate legislation, badly watered down, after she was allegedly given $70,000 by the “Big Lick” at last August’s Celebration and apparently leads her fellow legislators like crazed lemmings.
Lamar Alexander, who introduced a similar flimsy bill in the Senate that would keep the tall stacked shoes, pressure bands and other devices so favored by the “Big Lick,” recently voted to allow horse slaughter but the bill was soundly beaten in committee. Bob Corker, Tennessee’s other senator, has not voiced an opinion. As of yesterday, Alexander’s misguided bill had four cosponsors while Blackburn’s brazen effort has only 12.
In Osborne’s letter to the Chattanoogan, he writes the PAST Act “would jeopardize 85 percent of the equine athletes that support more than 20,000 jobs and a $3.2 billion economy” but he doesn’t say how some sort of mystical smoke might actually happen. The truth is the horses and jobs aren’t going to evaporate at all – scurrilous types simply have to stop hurting horses to return the majestic animals to greatness. His prediction “the industry will vanish right before our eyes” is not only a farce but is a total impossibility in Tennessee and surrounding states.
The economy isn’t as fortunate. The “Big Lick” has darn near ruined the Tennessee Walking Horse and, as thousands of owners suffer the disgrace caused by the Shelbyville crowd, it will take some time for the flat-shod horses to regain the confidence of a seething public. Earlier this month “sound” horse owners literally took Walkers to Washington in rapt support of the PAST Act and horse shows featuring sound horses are thriving.
Osborne’s claim that the Walking horse is the “most inspected” is ludicrous – the inspectors he mentions are “in-house” foxes watching over their own chicken house. The PAST Act calls for USDA inspectors – the kind that once ticketed Steven B. Smith himself – and institutes other safeguards where “dirty money” will no longer be as able to hide the systematic abuse that horsemen the world over have watched sully the Walkers. He also claims “our industry self-policing … boasts a compliance rate of greater than 96 percent,” which lacks badly in credibility simply based on USDA inspections alone. Please!
Osborne’s further stand that “the entire Tennessee Walking Horse industry and its thousands of participants stand solidly in opposition to soring” is also untrue, else he and his Purple Strategies cronies would hardly be involved or being paid for such a blatant ruse. The “Big Lick” has fought such groups as the USDA and Humane Society in such a way that today every equine veterinary association is unified in backing the PAST Act and a myriad of other organizations are joining in the equally-determined push.
Phil Osborne claims to have counted a total of 94 Walking Horses in New Hampshire yet pleads for a “rational discussion.” The problem is he has no idea what he is talking about. He totally ignores the fact well over half of both the Senate and the House have already endorsed the PAST Act and, regardless of what happens, the “Big Lick” is as good as doomed in the public’s eye. Forever.
People are no longer going to allow Tennessee Walking Horses to be abused. It is that simple. Then again, Mark Twain once noted it is tough to tell the truth to those who are not worthy of it.