When it was learned that the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has just hired a new CEO to replace the departing Doyle Meadows over the weekend, there was an audible gasp from those seeking to reform the badly-battered Shelbyville-based industry. U.S. Department of Agriculture records reveal that Mike Inman, who will formally be named this week, and his wife have been cited for violating the federal Horse Protection Act four times in the past.
Mr. Inman, who lives in Bessemer, Ala., but is deeply-rooted within the seamy Shelbyville hierarchy, will take the helm of the now-rattled Celebration after the 11-day event is held in late August. This year’s organizers are clearly worried that a devastating tape of horse abuse seen by millions, the first-ever guilty pleas to violations of the Horse Protection Act in Federal Court, and seemingly endless rash of abysmal blunders this summer has cast the Walking Horse industry in the worst light ever.
As a matter of fact, the Celebration plans to give away $10,000 cash in hopes of luring “lucky ticket holders” during this year’s event in order to attract crowds to the 47th annual event, which begins Aug. 17. But Mr. Inman’s appointment was so bizarre that one patron wrote, in part, “…how dumb can an industry get when it's on its knees? This has got to be a joke. If you think politics were dirty then ...holy smacks, just wait! I can already think of one trainer licking his chops from side to side.”
The word around the barns is that Mr. Inman and his wife show in most amateur events, but sources say the three trainers they prefer all have recent histories of violating the Horse Protection Act. Steve Dunn, a Hall of Fame inductee, has had at least eight violations, the most recent resulting in an eight-month suspension last year, while Justin Harris, the Trainer of the Year in 2009, has had nine violations in the past, including one earlier this year. The other is Brandye Mills, who has had eight previous violations.
Ironically, Mr. Inman’s appointment comes at a time when there has never been as a determined grass-roots effort to rid the Walking Horse industry of the corruption, cheating and abuse that has plagued it for the past 50 years. Five men have pleaded guilty this year to federal charges of abusing horses, the USDA has tightened its inspection requirements and the state of Tennessee has just made horse abuse a felony crime.
Two of the nation’s top equine veterinarian groups are calling for a ban on stacks, affixed to the front hooves of so-called “performance” horses, as well as chains and “action devices.” This is just one reason the Tennessee State Fair, which will be held in Nashville this September, has aligned itself with the Kentucky-based National Walking Horse Association, which favors flat-shod horses with a natural gait.
Face it, the so called “Big Lick,” where horses lift their front legs high, is not natural. According to one trainer – Barney Davis, who was sentenced earlier this year – it cannot be attained without soring and abusing the animals. Davis actually told Federal judge Sandy Mattice, “Every walking horse that enters into a show is sored. They've got to be sored to walk (show). There ain't no good way to put it, but that's how it is."
Mr. Inman’s appointment appears to defy efforts to rid the rogues from the Walking Horse industry, just like the refusal of several Shelbyville horse organizations to sign letters-of-compliance with the new USDA regulations. One of the groups, known as SHOW, has even sued the USDA in a Texas court and the bitterness has even spilled into the Trainer’s Association, where some of its members are calling for a boycott of hometown places like Gateway Tire and the Midway Diner for their refusal to buy “we support” signs.
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On a related note, the Warren County Humane Society has found horse abuse so horrendous in McMinnville it has put a very riveting – and graphic – tape on YouTube in hope of getting attention to what is a huge problem. They claim they have contacted Sheriff Jackie Matheny, who is obligated to respond to felony crimes, with little success but they keep trying.
As their motto they have adopted this creed: "I am not afraid to stand for justice, not afraid to speak up for the abused and the forgotten, if no one will listen, I will not stop until their suffering is heard. I will not look into the eyes of another dying animal and let their suffering continue with no one helping, or no one held accountable. To know this is happening yet do nothing, to know that they die without any justice, will not be allowed to go on unchallenged any longer "
Again, the tape is graphic but the problem “will not be allowed to go on unchallenged any longer.”