Why Does Needed Change Take So Long? A Tennessean Contacts Her Congressman

Change is the handmaiden Nature requires to do her miracles with.
— Mark Twain in Roughing It

On more than one occasion, everyone associated with trying to bring about change in the showing of big lick and heavy shod walking, racking, and spotted saddle horses, has asked,  with frustration,  the question, “ Why is it taking so long?” .


There are many reasons, including: 

Ø  money in politics and general dysfunction in the Congress, making it easier to block legislation than it is to pass it;

Ø  general recalcitrance by national and community leaders based in unwillingness to interfere with community traditions;

Ø  a failure to understand exactly how much cruelty is involved with producing aberrant gaits for the show ring;

Ø  a well-oiled spin machine, closely connected with a few powerful senators and representatives, able to block legislation as a favor to a few constituents over the interests of other constituents;

Ø  and,  the old-standby , “no one or no government has the right to tell us what to do with our property”. 


How determined can people be in supporting the philosophy behind that last reason? Let’s go back to 1865.


If you watched Spielberg’s award winning movie, Lincoln, you may remember the president was determined to get a constitutional amendment to ban slavery throughout the United States passed in the Congress.  Even after years of devastating war, he faced an uphill battle.  He sent aides to arm twist for the amendment, using this admonition that Spielberg used in the film’s dialogue. “Remember that I am the President of the United States, clothed with immense power, and I expect you to procure those votes.”


On January 31, 1865, after more than a considerable amount of arm-twisting and back channel deal making, the House voted  119 to 56 to pass the amendment that would end the “right”  to own people as property within the United States of America. Lincoln signed it the next day.  His home state of Illinois was the first to ratify it.  It wasn’t until December 6, 1865, however, long after Lincoln had been assassinated, that enough states ratified the amendment to make it a permanent part of the Constitution of the United States.


Within some states rejection or outright tabling of the issue took place instead of ratification.   Mississippi showed how far a state was willing to go to ignore the mandate of the federal government. 


Mississippi, which was heavily dependent on slave labor for plantation work and suffered vast losses in the Civil War, did not add its approval of the amendment to end slavery in the United States until 1995. 


Having agreed to ratify the amendment, the government of the state of Mississippi failed to notify the federal government of its 130- year late decision until 2013, just two years ago. 


That’s what resistance to change looks like when it is spelled with a capital R.  Today pieces of social legislation like the PAST Act are subject to the same personal and legislative pressures that other pieces of worthy social legislation throughout the history of the United States have faced. Resistance to change is the common link.


Patty Beaty of Loudon, Tennessee, decided that she wasn't going to wait for change, she was going to try to make change happen.  She exercised her right as a citizen and directly approached her congressman, John. J. Duncan, (R-TN) now serving his 15th term in the House, regarding the PAST Act. 


Congressman Duncan of Knoxville, before he was a congressman,  was an attorney and a judge. He  represents a district that includes Maryville, Tennessee.  Maryville is the home of the infamous Larry Wheelon, the big lick trainer indicted for cruelty to horses,   who evaded a trial by his peers as a result of a judge’s decision regarding a search warrant she deemed to be faulty.  Maryville is also the home to Senator Lamar Alexander, a powerful politician in the pocket of the walking horse performance industry. Controversy surrounding the walking horse business should not be new to Congressman Duncan. 


In response to her letter asking for his support of PAST, Congressman Duncan sent the following e-mail:

August 31, 2015

Mrs. Patty A. Beaty
Loudon, Tennessee 37774

Dear Mrs. Beaty:

Thank you for contacting me regarding H.R. 3268 – the Preventing All Soaring Tactics (PAST) Act. It is always a pleasure to hear from the people that I represent in the Congress.

As you may know, H.R. 3268 was introduced by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) on July 28, 2015.

I understand that some people in my District would like for me to cosponsor Rep. Ted Yoho’s bill. However, I cannot support the PAST Act because, if enacted, it would expand the list of designated unlawful activities to include all Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse show competitions.

There are two basic categories of Tennessee Walking Horse competitions called “flat-shod” and “performance.” Flat-shod horses are shown in ordinary horseshoes, and do not use pads or devices. Performance horses exhibit a very flashy and animated gait, and lift their forelegs high off the ground with each step. This exaggerated action is referred to as the “Big Lick” and horses are shod in larger pads sometimes called stacks.

Controversies over shoeing rules have resulted in the development of multiple governing organizations for the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry. Some organizations produce performance shows and some do not.

I do not believe the federal government should pick winners and losers in the disagreement over flat-shod and performance competitions.

Animal rights activists have disguised this legislation as being a bill about animal abuse, but in reality this is a bill designed to outlaw Big Lick Walking Horse show competitions. I cannot support that.

Again, thank you for contacting me. If I can ever be of further assistance to you, your family of your friends, do not hesitate to call on me.

With kindest regards, I am

Yours truly,

Member of Congress

Ms. Beaty was glad to receive an answer, even though she disagreed with Representative Duncan’s characterization of the PAST Act and the motivation behind it.  She decided that a citizen had not only a right but also an obligation to counter when she felt that her representative was both misinformed and ill advised on an issue.  She sent him back a thoughtful letter that made it clear that PAST was not about the simple act of showing horses but about ending blatant cruelty.  Here's what she said:


October 2, 2015

Dear Congressman Duncan:

Thank your for your prompt response to my letter requesting that you support the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, H.R. 3268, also known as the PAST Act – the bill introduced by Congressman Yoho on July 28, 2015. I have carefully read your reasons for not cosponsoring the bill, and strongly disagree with your characterization that “animal rights activists have disguised this legislation as being a bill about animal abuse, but in reality this is a bill designed to outlaw Big Lick Walking Horse show competition.”

First, I would not describe myself as an “animal activist”; yet, I support this bill, as do many of my fellow Tennesseans, a number that is growing every day.

Second, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association and every state veterinary medical association, including the Tennessee Veterinary Medical Association, fully support the PAST Act. These are all organizations comprised of professionals dedicated to the practice of veterinary medicine and the health and welfare of animals.

The PAST Act amends an existing federal law, the Horse Protection Act of 1970, which has been flouted by certain elements within the walking horse business for more than 40 years. I believe you will agree that training practices that produce any sort of show ring gait dependent on the application of diesel fuel, mustard oil, croton oil, GOJO, and other abrasive products to the pasterns of horses in order to produce pain, that is then acted upon by chain action devices, is not something that you would knowingly support. Yet, the evidence is clear from foreign substance testing done through advanced laboratory tests that these substances are in active use on show horses today.

Respected veterinarian Dr. John Haffner, who holds a chair in equine science at Middle Tennessee State University, was once considered a performance horse veterinarian of choice. After years of hoping for change from within the ranks of the walking horse industry, he finally came to the conclusion that legislation eliminating built -up packages and action devices, which when used in combination with chemical enhancements, produce the unnatural and artificial “big lick’ gait, was the only way to bring about the end to years of intentional, manmade suffering for the state’s namesake horse. He told The Tennessean that the big lick gait is a gait based in pain and if there is no pain, the horses do not learn how to do it. He couldn’t have been more explicit.

Mechanical and chemical abuse is not confined only to the big lick show horse. Even though more than 80% of the violations found for horses discovered to be sore come from the big lick ranks - flat shod horses are also sored in some instances. You may be surprised to find that I agree with you that the government should not pick winners and losers between the performance and flat shod aspects of the walking horse show world. My concern is that the federal law already in place must be enforced, in both big lick and flat shod aspects of the breed. To date this has not been done and the PAST Act is necessary to bring about active enforcement.

This is not about picking winners or losers, as you have indicated. I would observe that blue ribbons aside, a horse trained sore is always the loser. PAST is about ending practices that harm not only horses but, in the long term, cause economic harm to the owners, breeders, and exhibitors of the natural Tennessee Walking Horse as well.

The reputation of the sore horse has so tainted the breed’s name and reputation within the larger community of horsemen that many do not want to be associated with the breed, to show with the breed at all-breed horse shows, or to buy horses that carry the name Tennessee Walking Horse. I, myself, chose another breed to promote and ride solely due to the practices associated with the Tennessee Walking Horse and its show circuit.

As the public outcry over documented abusive practices come from inside and from far outside the state of Tennessee, those who intentionally abuse horses for show purposes, as well as those who do not and are actively working against these practices, all carry the same scarlet letter in the minds of the public. That is why citizens like me and so many other Tennesseans are standing up, and will continue to stand up, in support of PAST, despite the unwillingness of our representatives and senators to help in this fight.

The PAST Act is about ending the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds and the unfair advantage in the show ring gained by individuals who engage in this practice. No animal should have to suffer for the entertainment of its owners or to make a spotlight ride before a steadily diminishing audience. Ending blatant cruelty must always come before assertions of tradition. Some traditions are bad ones; some have simply outgrown their usefulness.

You wrote that if you could be of further assistance to me, to my family or to my friends, to call on you. I am CALLING ON YOU NOW to stop and consider the opinions of the veterinary professionals that are behind the PAST Act; to consider the support the legislation has from horse industry groups such as the American Horse Council, certainly not a favorite of animal activists, and the United States Equestrian Federation, the body which regulates equestrian sport in the United States, and the eye witness testimony from people within the industry itself such as convicted horse trainer Barney Davis who stated on the record that soring is rampant in the performance walking horse industry.

The USEF feels so strongly that this sort of training and shoeing and the aberrant gaits produced by it are unacceptable that the organization will not allow any horse show to obtain USEF sanctioning if big lick horses are included on the program.

Please take a moment to look at the organizations and people that endorse the PAST Act. The list includes many walking horse organizations as well as other breed organizations and recognized names from across all equestrian disciplines.

In closing, I would like to offer you a quote from Monty Roberts, a nationally and internationally recognized horseman. Mr. Roberts spent some time here in Tennessee several years ago and was exposed to big lick horses at one of the premier show barns in the Bedford County area. The industry was trying to get his endorsement for the shoeing and training practices that he witnessed at the barn. Mr. Roberts said:

“Soring is one of the most despicable training methods I have ever come across in my lifetime of protecting horses. It’s incredible to me that an industry based on the intentional infliction of pain to an animal could still exist in America. Congress should finally bring an end to this blatant cruelty and pass the PAST Act without delay.”

I agree with Mr. Roberts, as do many of your constituents. I hope that you will take the opportunity to research the information referenced in this letter and reconsider your decision on the PAST Act. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely Submitted,

Patty Beaty

Congressman Duncan may continue not to take action on Ms. Beaty’s behalf or support his other constituents who are asking him to co-sponsor PAST but one thing is certain: he will never be able to say, again, that he is unaware of the perspective that his constituents who support PAST have regarding this issue.  He may, however,  choose to ignore them.

 Only the ignorant can be forgiven.  Because   Patty Beaty took the time to make a request, have it politely denied, and then, respectfully, had her say, Congressman Duncan is ignorant no longer.   


Defeating ignorance (even if it takes a 130 years, as it did in Mississippi) is a noble goal. The average citizens of this country are clothed in “immense power” when they mobilize to use it.

If your congressman or senator is unresponsive, continue, as Ms. Beaty did,  to exercise your right to have a dialogue with him or her about your opinions on public policy that benefits the social contract. Animal welfare is part of that social contract.

Understand that resistance to change is a powerful force, especially when it is well-financed by campaign contributions,  but when the cause is worthy, never give up, until the objective is achieved. 

We do want change and we want it now.  The reality is that sometimes 'now'  takes a little longer.  Meanwhile,  the number of co-sponsors in both the House and the Senate for the PAST Act continues to grow, while legislation favored by the opposition remains stagnant. That's the good news. People like Patty Beaty are making the difference.