'Celebrating' Corruption And Horse Abuse At Main Tennessee Walking Horse Show Event

Thursday, January 8, 2015

If there was any doubt about rampant corruption in the Big Lick sector of the Tennessee walking horse show industry, the latest test results from the U.S. Department of Agriculture put all of that to rest. As in prior years, the cheaters, scofflaws, and horse abusers were out in force and they were the big winners of last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn. Data recently released by the USDA revealed that 52 percent of horses the agency randomly selected for testing were found positive for illegal foreign substances at the 2014 Celebration, the walking horse industry’s marquee event. Several of the foreign substances detected are known to be used in the soring process – the practice of deliberately injuring a horse’s legs and hooves to force them to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait – or used to hide evidence of soring. When you consider that there were far fewer horses shown at the 2014 Celebration than in 2013 or in many years prior - likely because owners and trainers inclined to flout the rules pulled their horses from the show before inspection to avoid being caught – the rate is striking. 

Imagine if 52 percent of pitchers in the World Series, cyclists at the Tour De France, or running backs in the NFL playoffs were caught using illegal substances? There would be recriminations, investigations, and people ousted from the sports. Executives would be fired, and team owners stripped of their ownership rights. But not in the show world of Tennessee walking horses – there, it’s business as usual. 

The USDA’s foreign substance testing results come just months after the agency released a report revealing 219 violations of the Horse Protection Act among 1,075 horses inspected at the 2014 Celebration  – double the number of violations found at the 2013 event.  

Even the Celebration’s own newly minted Veterinary Advisory Committee – which itself was little more than a sham, with one of the three veterinarians not even apprised that he had been selected and the other two appointees firmly in the Big Lick camp – found problems with non-compliance. According to the VAC’s blood-testing program at the 2014 Celebration, 36 of the 230 horses sampled were found in violation, having been administered one or more of the substances prohibited by the VAC.  The VAC’s list – separate and apart from the USDA’s list of banned soring chemicals – was published weeks before the Celebration. The VAC even provided a corresponding clearance time for each prohibited substance, so entrants would know just how much time was needed for a particular substance to pass through a horse’s system, and still trainers tried to cheat their way to a blue ribbon and some name recognition. The VAC released the names of 30 horses it found in violation. Of those, 11 were named world grand champions; 14 other horses placed first in at least one class entered at the Celebration. 

It’s shocking that such a high percentage of horses were found in violation during inspection at the Celebration, and that so many that had been passed through inspection and cleared to compete were later found to have been administered prohibited substances but still permitted to keep their titles. In no other sport – equine or human – would this be allowed to stand. It’s indicative of the degree to which participants will work to hide the indefensible torment of horses in an industry where cheating is rampant – in fact, it’s the name of the game. The VAC blood testing results combined with the USDA foreign substance results leave no question that soring and the concealment of soring is a systemic problem that corrodes every fiber of the Big Lick horse industry.  The denials and the umbrage taken by the Big Lickers about our efforts to see the federal anti-soring law strengthened are hollow protests from a deeply corrupted faction of the industry. 

The recent election of Billy Young as the new president of the Walking Horse Trainers Association underscores this fact. The WHTA claims to be an organization committed to promoting and protecting the welfare of the Tennessee walking horse. Yet, it elects as its leader someone with a history of citations for violations of the Horse Protection Act. Young was just suspended at the 2014 Celebration for a violation of the HPA, and in July 2013, he was charged by the USDA under the Act. He entered a consent decree and was disqualified from participating at horse shows for eight months. He was represented in the case by a Shelbyville, Tenn. attorney Jack Heffington – who himself just recently entered into a consent decree stemming from a 2012 USDA complaint under the HPA and was likewise disqualified, for seven months. 

Young’s election is a clear indication that the WHTA is either unable or, more likely, unwilling to be led by someone who is not entrenched in the horse soring world - and that the Big Lickers have no interest in moving toward sound horse practices and the preservation of the walking horse breed.   

The Big Lick segment of the walking horse industry simply won’t clean up its act, despite having had nearly four decades to do so. Legislation is necessary to eliminate the industry’s failed system of self-regulation, strengthen penalties against those who break the law, and ban the devices used in the soring process. The 113th Congress failed to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, despite the fact that 60 senators and 308 members of the House (including a majority of the majority) cosponsored the bill. We’re calling on the 114th Congress to take up this measure without delay upon its reintroduction, and end half a century of intentional abuse to a great American horse breed.  

Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States


Testing Transparency Is Needed For Tennessee

When It Comes To Voter Turnout, Tennesseans Have Reasons To Celebrate And More Work Ahead

Thanks, Marsha


Thomas Jefferson believed: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” We could not agree more. In Tennessee, our state agencies have a core function to serve the citizen’s ... (click for more)

This month, March 2019, is Women's History Month in the United States and we Tennesseans have much to celebrate. We celebrate Tennessee’s role in being the state that made the “perfect 36” ... (click for more)

Last year I wrote posts supporting Marsha Blackburn for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee. Her opponent, multi-millionaire Democrat Phil Bredesen, spent months dancing around many of the big issues ... (click for more)


Opinion

Testing Transparency Is Needed For Tennessee

Thomas Jefferson believed: “The government closest to the people serves the people best.” We could not agree more. In Tennessee, our state agencies have a core function to serve the citizen’s interest, and protect our taxpayers to the benefit of the state. To ensure our school districts have aligned standards and instructional practices, we must have greater transparency in testing. ... (click for more)

When It Comes To Voter Turnout, Tennesseans Have Reasons To Celebrate And More Work Ahead

This month, March 2019, is Women's History Month in the United States and we Tennesseans have much to celebrate. We celebrate Tennessee’s role in being the state that made the “perfect 36” required for the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. In a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre ... (click for more)

Breaking News

1 Person Killed In 2-Car Wreck In East Ridge

One person was killed in a two-vehicle crash in East Ridge late Monday afternoon. The wreck involving two cars was at the intersection of Altamaha Street and Ringgold Road around 5:45 p.m. A person in the other vehicle was taken to a hospital by private vehicle. The wreck is still under investigation. (click for more)

Lipsey Trucking Reiterates That Executive Facing Cocaine Charges Will Have No Role With Chattanooga Firm

The Chattanooga trucking firm headed by Joseph Lipsey III, who was arrested on charges of supplying cocaine and alcohol to teens, has reiterated that he will have no management or ownership role with the firm going forward. Lipsey was arrested on serious federal felony charges along with his wife and 19-year-old son relating to teen parties at Aspen, Col. It was speculated ... (click for more)

Sports

Painful Memory Of Missed Shot Haunted Former Moc Schoene For Years

This is the second of four March Madness stories involving those with Chattanooga ties. It doesn’t seem fair that one’s legacy can – or should be – defined by a singular moment in time. Especially in the realm of competitive sports, where outcomes are impacted by thousands of variables leading up to the final verdict and mere inches separate fame and infamy. Former University ... (click for more)

McKnight Leads Baylor Past Silverdale, 10-2

The Silverdale Lady Seahawks won their first state softball title last spring and there are high hopes for another season with similar success. They found out on Monday afternoon that there’s still plenty of work to be done as they faced another defending state champ in the Baylor Lady Red Raiders. It wasn’t really very close as Baylor scored single runs in each of the first ... (click for more)