Country wisdom: “ Never mud wrestle with a hog. You get dirty and the hog likes it.” That saying can also be applied to protesting.
When a decision is made that it’s time to assemble, to pick up a sign and to chant slogans in order to focus attention on an issue of public importance, a decision must also be made not to engage in “mud wrestling”.
From Ghandi’s day to Viet Nam, from the Civil Rights Movement to recent Wall Street demonstrations, the best and most successful long term results from protests are achieved when the protests are exercises in peaceful, principled activism. Advocates who show both respect for the law and resoluteness in expressing, through freedom of speech, their position, a position they want a larger audience to consider, are most loudly heard when their actions as protestors speak at least as loudly as their words.
If there is incivility to be found, if bullying comes about, let it always come from the opposition. The side that is moved to violence of any kind is the side that has the weaker position and must defend it , not with strength of ideas but with force. To stand up quietly but firmly in the face of anger makes the position of protest stronger; to use force in a war of ideas marks the user as a brute.
At the final night of the Columbia Jubilee held this last weekend in Maury County, Tennessee, protestors expressing their opinions about the cruelty involved in the training for exhibition of big lick show horses followed the law, stayed on the grass areas of a public park, and did not block the public roadway. They held signs. They chanted slogans.
The protest was coordinated with local law enforcement. The law was obeyed.
When some of the occupants of rigs headed into the show grounds shouted obscenities and offered the middle finger in salute to the people with the signs, hoping not only simply to offend but also to rile the protestors, the majority of the protestors refused to rise to the bait. This was a wise and mature approach. No dialogue of any value will ever come from trying to engage with people shouting at you from truck windows.
Yet, the mere existence of the protestors was apparently sufficiently infuriating that one proud son of Alabama gunned his heavy duty truck, with multi-horse gooseneck trailer attached, and deliberately swerved his Boss Hawg assault vehicle at a small woman holding a sign. She was exercising her right of free speech through protest and she was addressing a subject she knows well and about which she cares deeply.
That woman happened to be the president of FOSH, Teresa Bippen of Missouri; the angry driver could just as easily, however, swerved into any of the other people of conscience standing on the grass, well away from the roadway.
Ms. Bippen was his target of opportunity. He knew nothing about her; he knew only that at that moment in time that he wanted her and her conscience out of his horse show world. She was an annoyance and an inconvenience and she needed to be put in her place.
Fortunately, members of the Columbia law enforcement community were there protecting the rights of citizens on both sides of the issue. They brought the truck to a halt before actual harm was done.
Ms. Bippen was shaken but resolute. She has since described the experience as intense and said it was obvious to her, from her unique vantage point, that the truck had been aimed directly, and with deliberation, at her.
The driver, one can suppose, will maintain that he had merely been swinging wide to make the turn, probably while singing another country favorite, “ Give me 50 acres and I’ll turn this rig around.”
The chorus of that song never included the words, “ I’ll turn this rig around-- right on top of you”.
Whether or not the driver will be charged remains to be seen. Another protestor said on Facebook that she , too, had been swerved at by several rigs during the three days of protests and that one driver was actually cited for his attempt at making his point through intimidation.
Comments about the incident quickly made it to Facebook and to other sites but none was more telling than the comment made by a big lick fan identified on the site as Lauren Tillman. This southern “lady” wrote about the attempt to harm a protestor, “ Hate he missed!! What a show tonight!!! Let them walk on!!!
Mrs. Tillman is reported to be the wife of performance horse trainer Brock Tillman. Mr. Tillman, who operates out of a Bedford County, Tennessee stable, was recently notified by the USDA that he has a federal case pending. It is alleged that Mr. Tillman attempted to enter a sore horse into a competition and that the sore horse was detected by federal inspectors. Mr. Tillman is afford the presumption of innocence in this case but his past history should also be considered.
When the wife of a person currently accused of violating a federal law can say with all sincerity that she’s sorry that someone wasn’t hurt for the “crime” of standing on the grass and holding a sign with an opinion about animal cruelty, it is reflective of the mindset that comes with the defense of the big lick horse.
“Hate he missed” further substantiates research that people who will hurt animals or stand by while animals are hurt, have a higher than average likelihood of being willing to hurt people at some point in their lives.
This brings us to the comments of the show manager, David Sisk, who lives in Maury County. Speaking to the local paper, bragging about the increased number of competitors at the show, but not addressing the empty grandstands, and in direct response to the presence of the protestors, Sisk said, “ Many people invest tens of thousands of dollars into these horses. Why would they want to abuse them? They would not want to abuse their horses. They want to enjoy them.”
Why indeed? And yet, the data base of violators shows that some of the most expensive horses in the business have been scarred, have shown up with bilateral and unilateral sensitivity, and pop positive for prohibited foreign substances including pain deadening substances.
These expensive horses show signs of inflammation associated with pain response when exposed to thermography. The horses hit a lick that every horseman and woman in the world , outside of the walking horse industry, recognizes as ungainly, unnatural, and unbalanced.
Now, these horses don’t own themselves. Someone owns them and someone, either abuses them or pays to have them abused, in order to win in competition. That someone can also say that he or she loves them.
So, why would these people, with their expensive horse show rigs and their expensive horses, hurt them?
Perhaps Mr. Sisk has missed the news of football players and average Joes who assault their wives and girlfriends who they say they love, or parents who beat the children who they say they love.
Perhaps Mr. Sisk chooses to live in a fool’s paradise. He didn’t see an angry man turn a truck at a woman standing with a sign in an attempt to get her attention because the show manager was busy running a horse show for too many people who also have the capacity to be angry and volatile when confronted with a point of view in opposition to their own. Many of these fine upstanding folks just happen to be horse abusers as demonstrated by their history of violations. Some of them are second and third generation HPA violators.
As all abusers say, Mr. Sisk, it’s always the other person that made them do it. Just like it’s the horse that makes them “ do it” in an attempt to get it to “perform” as they intend.
“ Hate he missed!! What a show tonight!!! Let them walk on!!!”
For anyone who doubted what the big lick world at its worst can be about, the comments of Lauren Tillman in combination with the actions of a little man with a big temper and a large truck, gave a truer picture of the “industry” and its state of mind than any “happy horse story” that the Ingram group will get placed in a newspaper.
If people in the industry begin to act out more aggressively as protestors continue to make a stand of conscience, the folks who oppose violence done to horses in the name of performance and entertainment, and who send that message with signs and their own physical presence, would do well to remember that both non-violence as well as the refusal to verbally mud wrestle , will, in the end produce a positive result. In the meantime, they should watch both their fronts and their backs. A sign isn't much protection from a bully with a big truck.