A group of Tennessee Walking Horse owners, shocked and angered over any opposition that would thwart badly-needed reform in an industry where sadistic torture and a half-century of cheating still runs amok, have just announced the group is going to Washington next month in a public protest they hope will catch the nation’s eye. And, this time, the horses are going, too.
Calling their impressive group of trainers, owners and riders the All-American Walking Horse Alliance and representing 45 of the 50 states that are governed in Washington, an array of speakers and six World Champion horses will gather at Union Square Park across from the famed Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool on June 18 in hopes of pushing the PAST Act into law.
Thus far 54 United States senators have endorsed the “Prevent All Soring Tactics” bill and Texas Republican Kenny Marchant just became the 278th member of Congress to cosponsor legislation in the House. But leaders of the All-American Walking Horse Alliance are worried about the “homestretch run;” after all, not one Republican lawmaker from Tennessee has endorsed the legislation that is – in fact – targeting the seedy “Big Lick” headquartered in the Volunteer State itself.
“We have made great strides opening eyes in Washington,” horse trainer Jeannie McGuire said from her home in Virginia on Sunday, “but we are worried that momentum must be stepped up if America is going to finally push the Big Lick out of business. I firmly believe you can’t achieve the exaggerated gait without soring a horse. Everyone who has been caught has admitted as much under oath but it is still prevalent in the industry.”
The PAST Act would eliminate the dreadful stacks, the chains and action devices and step up inspections that would imperil those who cheat, particularly in Tennessee, but the Big Lick has cultivated the state’s politicians to the point Tennessee’s other Republican Congressmen, including Chattanooga’s Chuck Fleischmann and Jasper’s Scott DesJarlais, have joined the ruse. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker has yet to take a stand on the issue.
The alliance, which has organized on a private page on Facebook, opened a public page this morning that reveals, “We hope to bring public attention and legislative action to this bipartisan legislation. Endorsements have been received by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the United States Horse Federation and the American Horse Council.
“Additionally, the Humane Society of the United States, the Association for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and dozens of horse-related organizations support passage of the bills. The PAST Act is an amendment to the Horse Protection Act of 1970. Upon passage, penalties for soring will increase, enforcement will once again reside with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture and devices implicated in the abuse of soring will be banned.”
The ceremony in support of the PAST bills will begin at 1:30 p.m. on June 18 and among the speakers will be Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL). Others will be named and thus far six sound World Champion horses – all flat shod – will be brought from Virginia and Pennsylvania for demonstrations of a healthy gait.
“Mikal Stooner, a third-generation trainer, and her daughter Ariel will bring their world-champion stallion to show how beautiful a ‘clean horse’ can perform,” said McQuire. “Every horse that will be there has been born, raised and trained in a way they have never been once abused. It is imperative that Tennessee Walking Horses must never be tortured again.
It is believed Robert E. Lee’s fabled horse Traveler – also a visitor to Washington about 150 years ago -- was among the first Tennessee Walkers, this many years before Roy Roger’s horse Trigger and the Lone Ranger’s famous mount he would urge with the classic “Hi-Yo Silver!” also brought praise and attention to the gentle breed of giants.
Sadly, a seedy and cancerous side of the walking horse industry took root about 50 years ago, causing Senator Joseph Tidings to enact the Horse Protection Act. Because of toothless penalties, the Trainers Association seated in Shelbyville scoffed at the law. In 2011 it was learned that every member of the Top 20 trainers had been cited for violations of the Horse Protection Act within the past two years!
But the most compelling evidence is an undercover tape that showed Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell brutally attacking horses and more recent footage of badly-abused horses being taken from a Maryville barn, causing Ethics Committee trainer Larry Wheelon and four others to face a brazen list of indictments this week in a Blount County courtroom.
“We already have members from 45 states who want to make it clear to the nation’s lawmakers that soring horses has to stop,” said the Virginia trainer. “We feel that once the All-American Walking Horse Alliance goes public, there will be thousands of sound-horse people who will join us in our effort to stand for the horse,” she said. “We want our representatives in Washington who have not endorsed the PAST Act to recognize we are serious and our actions are in earnest.
“We’ve got to give the Tennessee Walking Horse its good name back,” she urged, and that includes the hope the horses will never be hurt again. “We urge the American people to write their representatives on our behalf and request their presence on June 18.”