Please Note this Correction of an Error in Fact: An earlier version of this blog post identified, incorrectly, Walker Blankinship as a veterinarian, although he was introduced to the audience as such. The information regarding his credentials was received from a panelist from the panel on soring that was held during the Film Festival in question. The comments made by Mr. Blankinship are, however, accurate reflections of the opinions he offered during the session. Edits made to this blog post now reflect Blankinship's correct status as a Mr. rather than as a DVM.
Yesterday, residents of Memphis, Tennessee, awoke to find their city’s open green space covered with a tracery of what appeared to be lines of frost. It wasn’t. Instead it was a series of complex webs, woven by hundreds of thousands of spiders. This industry by the spiders has turned part of Memphis into something from a science fiction movie and the residents are not amused. One terrified but determined lady told reporters that her house was covered in spiders, speaking with her back to the camera as she whacked the invaders with her shoe.
Those who study arachnids say that there has to be a good reason why millions of these spiders, usually unseen in the open fields, decided to take to the road, en masse, just before the Thanksgiving holiday; they just don’t know yet what caused the sudden migration. They also helpfully pointed to all the beneficial things that spiders do, but those explanations fell on deaf ears in Memphis.
Meanwhile, the other Tennessee spider web, the one that represents the interests of the performance horse business, also continues to spread by spinning. Last week in Washington, D.C., Tennessee’s Scott Desjarlais, the congressman of choice for the big lick industry, who several years ago made a watchdog group's list of the most corrupt officials in Congress, reintroduced alternate legislation to the PAST Act, essentially a rehash of last session’s Blackburn bill. And, yes, Congresswoman Blackburn is also a co-sponsor on this version of the industry-approved plan.
Then, just this weekend, also from its home base in middle Tennessee and supported by favored southern states like Kentucky, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, and Alabama, PSHA spun out an anchor line, attached itself, and appeared via proxy in New York City. There, an Equine Film Festival, featuring a panel on soring as part of its program, added to its panel Walker Blankinship, a pro-carriage horse advocate who was to present the performance force’s side of the story as it had been told to him by PSHA stalwarts. ( The plight of carriage horses on the streets of NYC was, to refresh memories, what officially began the humane movement in the United States back a long, long time ago, and it continues to be a contentious issue today. )
When the moment came to do his thing, Mr. Blankinship wove quite a tangled web, indeed; but it was not all misinformation. He told the audience that he had never been in a Tennessee Walking Horse performance horse barn nor had he ever examined a Tennessee Walking Horse, perhaps as an unusual way of establishing his credentials as an expert on the subject? His ignorance of the issues, therefore, can be expected, but it cannot be excused; his arrogance in appearing isin keeping with the arrogance of those who advocate for the positions that he presented. This is what sound horse advocates have come to expect.
Blankinship denied the existence of cruelty in the training of the walking horse show horse , presenting a tissue of lies while reciting talking points, of which he had no first hand knowledge, as facts. He used as input the word of the same people trying to put a stake in the heart of the PAST Act and extinguish the public outcry about horses that are sored with chemical and/or mechanical means. He is also, reportedly, a supporter of Humane Watch and a virulent opponent of the HSUS.
Among Mr. Blankinship’s attempts at putting out dis-information at the forum were the following highlights:
Soring isn’t happening. (Pay no attention to those pesky USDA statistics from the past 5 years alone or the most recent crop of federal cases)
Show people love the horses and would never intentionally harm them. (Just as some football players love their wives and yet are still arrested for domestic abuse.)
The industry has a zero tolerance policy for soring; if you’re caught, you’re kicked out (and there are people in Brooklyn, Mr. Blankinship, who have heard that you are looking for a bridge to buy. If Mr. Blankinship had bothered to check the HPA violations for soring/HPA violations that have accrued to the top contenders in the industry’s Riders’ Cup standings, he would know what zero tolerance really means in the big lick business. The multi-year HPA history of most of the industry's Hall of Fame members might also come as a shock. )
Heavy chains are illegal in the barns (and clearly he would know this because he has never been in a barn or picked up a chain from the chain carts that are standard equipment in the barns. Nor are heavy chains illegal, Mr. B, they are simply inhumane in the way they are used, causing, at the least, inflammation that reflects evidence of pain. You can get a copy of the outdated Auburn Study on line, the industry’s favorite study, but I suggest you read it, rather than allowing others to tell you what it says. Then you might want to take a look at the Ames Study. )
100% of horses are swabbed at EVERY Show (Poor Mr. Blankinship! He clearly did not know that random swabbing of only a small percentage of horses is done at some shows and the positive results for foreign substances including mustard oil, kerosene, croton oil, and other mixtures, from even this small sample, are much higher than you would expect from horses belonging to people who love them and would never intentionally harm them. )
Doubtless, too, the people who sent Mr. Blankinship forth to weave would have been happier if he had remembered the name of the organization that he applauds and perhaps omitted the names of two others. He called PSHA, the Performance Show Association or the Performance Association and cited two HPA violators as leaders of PHSA and pillars of the industry. He could not, because he was so well informed, tell audience members how to contact the organization directly.
The moderator of the panel, seeing steam coming from the ears of other panel members and members of the audience, kept tight control of the program and did not allow a riot of opposition facts to develop. Instead, it was left to a racetrack vet on the panel to give Mr. Blankinship the equivalent of the cut direct.
He told the clueless Mr. Blankenship that he, too, knew nothing about Tennessee Walking Horses, but he’d seen enough cheating on the track to see things that were related to what people will do to win and to know this cheating for what it is. He also told him that he “had a problem with his numbers and that they didn’t add up.”
The representative of the HSUS on the panel, attorney Leana Stormont, who worked tirelessly in both the Jackie McConnell and Barney Davis cases, as well as with the recent Thorsport undercover investigation, said in her closing remarks that for Mr. Blankinship to claim that the PAST Act wasn’t needed was unconscionable. The audience, according to reports, agreed with that assessment.
It wouldn’t have been a film festival, however, without the chance to have the lights turned down and film rolled. Thus, Mr. Blankinship did get to see at least one of the films featured at the Film Festival. He had a front row seat for the repeat showing of the most recent undercover investigation of a performance horse facility done by the HSUS. He has now seen the inside of a Tennessee Walking Horse facility, at least from the comfort of his chair.
From the safety of a center web position, Walker Blankinship was, apparently, content with offering opinions on this specialized area of equine abuse without feeling the need to examine the condition of horses rescued from big lick training or without knowing the history of any of the players.
Walker Blankinship turned up in New York City and he delivered the talking points he was given. He delivered the goods he was sold. You have to give him credit for spinning, even if the web he built was marred by torn silk. There is every reason to believe, however, that with more practice in telling the big whopper, he could do better. The people whose word he has taken as gospel certainly have learned to do so, meaning that this skill can be learned and, with practice, improved, thereby building stronger webs with which to snare the uninformed whenever an opportunity arises to do so in public.