It is over 400 miles from the Gulf of Mexico to Columbia, Tn., so if you are wondering why the “Gulf Coast Charity Celebration” horse show will be held in the Tennessee town April 24-25, it is because the home of the Tennessee Walking Horse is about the last state in the union that will put up with the hideous soring that accompanies the despicable “Big Lick” segment of the walking-horse industry.
“The Gulf Coast Charity Celebration,” which has attracted the most repugnant trainers in the past, had been held in Panama City, Fla., but, because of mounting public disdain and the resulting non-attendance, the Panama City show went belly up. Let’s face it: the “Big Lick” has been exposed as flat-out animal abuse. They call the training method “soring,” where the forelegs of a horse are “cooked” in caustic solutions so the resulting pain will make the animal lift his legs higher.
Some trainers hide nails, screws and other objects in the clumsy pads that are affixed to the horse’s front hooves and by using tight bands and other action devices, scurrilous trainers increase the agony, making the animal dance a grotesque and unnatural gait known as the “Big Lick.” Add an overweight rider hunched over the horse’s front legs (to increase pain,) severe bitting, and built-up pads and – presto – you have what is politely called “a freak.”
The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and the Humane Society of the United States have been instrumental in exposing the “Big Lick” but now they have a new partner to counter the menace – the public – and millions are incensed. Not only are people turning their backs on horse shows that allow the dirty Big Lick crowd, shows are beginning to tell the Shelbyville-based cheaters to stay home.
Last month the North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner banned “Big Lick” Walkers from the 2015 NC State Fair but the bigger news came out of Mississippi where the state’s largest children’s hospital notified officials of the Mississippi Charity Horse Show they would not accept any more “blood money” from the scandalous crowd. Last year the show presented $45,000 to the hospital but the hospital cited the “national controversy” of the “Big Lick style” and elected to remove the hospital from the perceived impropriety.
The decision was made after over 3,500 people – from every state in the Union and 58 different foreign countries – petitioned the University of Mississippi medical leaders to disassociate themselves and Batson Children’s Hospital from the ‘Big Lick.’
Dr. Chester Gipson, the deputy administrator over the Animal Care program, was at the Mississippi show and had to see blatant abuse, as evidenced by an alarming video taken by Clant Seay that night. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Dr. Gipson just sat there!”
Jeannie McGuire, the president of the All American Walking Horse Alliance that promotes the sound horses, was sickened by the video. “There is no doubt in my mind these horse are in terrible pain. Look at the tendons in the legs. It is unforgiveable what was done by somebody to these horses. We have asked the USDA for a Horse Protection Activity Report but so far there has been no response.”
In Alabama there is more disgust. A recent poll in the Decatur Daily newspaper revealed over 70 percent of its readers are against Decatur hosting the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainers Show and now there is a fiery petition on the Change.org website asking people to speak out and boycott the “Gulf Coast Charity Celebration” in Columbia, Tenn.
Almost 1,700 signed the petition within the first 24 hours after it was posted and by noon yesterday the count was over 2,300 on documents that will be delivered to Charlie Norman, the mayor of Maury County, and Tom Massey, the city manager of Columbia.
“As the curtain has been pulled back to the truth of the ‘Big Lick,’ the public has become disillusioned and incited to demand reform. Former corporate sponsors and venues are distancing themselves from the (Big Lick) industry,” said Keith Dane, the vice president of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States.
“We think the (Batson Children’s Hospital) made the right decision in disassociating from the show,” he told reporters. “The event may bill itself as a ‘grand celebration’ of the Tennessee Walking Horse breed but, in reality, it’s a showcase for those who would abuse animals for personal gain and glory.”
Dane claims the horse shows are using charities “as an attempt to justify cruelty to horses in the name of entertainment. Our belief is that individuals and companies need not funnel their money through an enterprise that rewards cruelty in order to raise funds for a worthy cause. Instead, give money directly to the charity of your choice.”
The Humane Society spokesman said “soring continues unabated in the ‘Big Lick’ segment of the horse industry. “It was outlawed in 1970 but it is rampant,” Dane says, “because enforcement is lacking and the punishment is a type-written letter and a brief suspension.”
Soring has been a felony in Tennessee for two years but, to date, not one arrest has been made in violation of the new state law. “I would have no problem arresting someone suspected of animal abuse,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond in Chattanooga. “It is my duty to uphold the laws of this state and if someone is abusing horses, we want to know about it.”