Roy Exum: Keep Your ‘Big Lick’ Money

Saturday, March 7, 2015 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

The University of Mississippi Medical Center, located in the state capital of Jackson, is a huge complex with over 9,000 employees and a budget of $1.6 billion (with a “b”). Among its greatest treasures is the Batson Hospital for Children and the Eli Manning Treatment Center. That is where a $150 million expansion has just been announced. So why do you reckon the hospital administration just requested that the Mississippi Charity Horse Show, which has given Batson Children’s over $250,000 in recent years, please not donate any more money?

The reason is that by the time you read this there will be over 5,000 signatures from horse lovers from over 50 different countries on an online petition (Change.org) asking Robert Taylor, the president of the horse show, to cancel the “Big Lick” classes at this year’s event in late March.

You see, it is because of the abusive “Big Lick” and its repugnant reputation that those at Children’s Hospital want no part of the “dirty money” associated with it.

In a terse news release, Taylor wrote, “Unfortunately an animal activist group has harassed our past children’s charity to the extent they will not accept our donation this year,” which is untrue. No, what the man should have said would fit better had he admitted it: “Because there is irrefutable proof that torture and animal abuse continues unabated in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, the Jackson Horse Show has decided to foster and encourage this contemptuous practice rather than continue to help the children of Mississippi.”

The “Big Lick,” a grotesque dance that occurs when a scurrilous trainer and/or owner “sores” a show horse, is headquartered in Shelbyville. Numerous “Big Lick” trainers apply caustic substances and/or painful irritants that cause a horse to lift its painful forelegs in an unnatural reaction. Horse abuse in Tennessee is now a felony, yet soring continues at an all-time pace.

It was in Shelbyville last August where a staggering 52 percent of horses randomly selected for testing at the National Celebration were found to be positive for illegal foreign substances by U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors. Unbelievably, there were twice as many violations than were found the year before and – get this -- some other trainers refused to show in fear of getting caught.

One who was found in violation was Billy Young, who more recently was elected as president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainer’s Association. (Young also violated the HPA in 2013). As Wayne Pacelle, the head of the Humane Society of the United States, would later write, “It was a celebration alright” of cheaters, scofflaws and horse abusers.

At the same time last fall, an urgent attempt to strengthen the federal Horse Protection Act had 308 members of the House and 60 Senators signed on as co-sponsors, but some crafty ‘slicks’ in Washington, some thought to be from Tennessee, made sure the legislation was stalled and it never came to a vote. Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Franklin) offered alternative bills, this after both have accepted campaign donations from Big Lick supporters. (Alexander’s state finance chairman is known “Big Licker” Steven B. Smith, who has been cited for USDA violations in the past.)

So while it appears the state’s senators and members of Congress have turned a blind eye as the Big Lickers seem intent on “business as usual,” the Big Lick portion of the Walking Horse industry is slowly dying. Other horse shows are considering eliminating all “Big Lick” horses, instead limiting classes to only flat-shod Walkers, and public perception of the Shelbyville “performance horse” is at an all-time low.

Teresa Bippen, the president of a noted anti-soring group, “Friends of Sound Horses,” praised the medical center’s stand against horse abuse. “We realizes this was a difficult decision for the University in light of the stated charitable purpose of the show proceeds; however, FOSH feels that University officials realized there was no win for them staying involved with a ‘Big Lick’ horse show.  FOSH is proud of the swift and thorough decision making process undertaken by the University.” 

Bippen said she felt soring is a major animal abuse issue. “It has been illegal for over 45 years under the federal Horse Protection Act, yet the practice is still widespread in some show rings.  With a strong voice from compassionate horse lovers gaining momentum, international outrage over the barbaric practice continues to grow, and we know America is already fed up.”

All-America Walking Horse Alliance spokesperson Jeannie McGuire was also pleased by the Medical Center’s decision. “We applaud the University of Mississippi Medical Center for no longer linking its exceptional image as a place of healing with that of the Mississippi Charity Horse Show, which showcases the ‘Big Lick’ Tennessee Walking Horse.”

Taylor said he still believes his horse show will be a success. “We have been contacted by two other well-deserving children’s charities that said they would be honored to be associated with the horse show,” his release read.

Of course, neither of the “well deserving” children’s charities were identified by Taylor, but dirty money is hard to wash off hands that take it. The University of Mississippi Medical Center knows better, and, besides that, is well aware that germs come with trash.

royexum@aol.com

"Big Lick" horse "Walktime Charlie" throws his front hoof high, the chains visible and the device for severe bitting evident.
"Big Lick" horse "Walktime Charlie" throws his front hoof high, the chains visible and the device for severe bitting evident.

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