What's Going on with Hagyard- Davidson-McGee?

UPDATE: July 17, 2015, citing personal and professional conflicts, Dr. Robert Hunt of Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Equine Institute has resigned from his voluntary position as a member of the Veterinary Advisory Committee ( VAC) for the 2015 Celebration horse show. The horses would thank Dr. Hunt and his associates if they could talk.

A plain question and a plain answer makes the shortest road out of most perplexities.
— Mark Twain

A new petition circulating on Change.org asks that the venerable and respected Hagyard-Davidson-McGee Equine Medical Institute of Lexington, Kentucky, disassociate itself, specifically through the participation of Dr. Robert Hunt, from the Veterinary Advisory Committee  (VAC) that will be functioning once again at this year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration held in Shelbyville, Tennessee.  The practice has direct ties to the AAEP as well as the USEF.


Although The Celebration, Inc. continues to insist that the VAC has nothing to do with the Celebration and is a totally independent group, the presence of long time insiders and veterinarians who have worked closely with big lick interests over many years certainly gives pause, at least to a skeptic,  about that claim of complete independence.


The additional piece of information that The Celebration funded last year’s VAC should make a thinking person question how much can be believed when the information is channeled and interpreted after the fact  from sources with a reputation for less than complete candor, the ‘truthiness’ scale as Stephen Colbert called similar attempts to obfuscate.  


Dr. Hunt and by extension Hagyard-Davidson-McGee are on the horns of a dilemma of their own making. Because they believe in promoting the welfare of the horse, they have  allowed themselves to believe that they may succeed in changing the hearts and minds of the very people committed to ensuring that the big lick stays alive and well, as it is, with no changes.  Good luck with that.


These are the people that fill organizations like PSHA, TWHBEA, The Celebration, the WHTA, and a host of other initials that came before them; these are the people who have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last three years to guarantee that the stacked shoes and action devices that are part and parcel of the big lick horse are not taken away through the passage of the PAST Act,   an amendment to the existing Horse Protection Act.  These are the people who have sued the USDA to see to it that mandatory penalties disappear.


If actions do speak louder than words, these are not people with a change agenda.


Using the names and credentials of various veterinarians and other professional horsemen who honestly thought they could make a difference to help legitimize this activity based in animal cruelty   has been part of their strategy for years.  If you don’t believe it ask Dr. Vaughan who learned in the ‘90s  how the game is and  was played and now calls for a return to the natural pleasure horse.


There are other examples.  After slow dancing in 2012 with Dr. Hopper of Rood and Riddle, then creating an  industry   administered and monitored  swabbing program that went nowhere, and the 2014 tango with Dr. Goble, who by his own admission was not and never had been part of the VAC once it was established, in 2015 it is now time for  Dr. Hunt and Hagyard-Davidson-McGee  to be the belles of the upcoming  Celebration/VAC ball. 


While, the  current Change.org petition, now closing in on 1000 signatures, asks that Hagyard-Davidson-McGee / Dr. Hunt  disassociate  from the VAC, perhaps The Celebration might consider whether or not it should disassociate itself from Dr. Hunt and his Kentucky practice as well.  What the Kentuckians say they  are  about in their official  position statement  regarding the performance walking horse is in full direct  contradiction to   stated positions  of The Celebration and its big lick core of exhibitors. 


In response to direct questioning,  Hagyard released on its letter-head what amounted to a position paper about its participation in the VAC.  If they are to be  believed, the big lick folks won’t be too happy about what they had to say.


The highlights are:


The organization and all of its doctors are opposed to any training practice that would inflict pain upon any horse

*  Dr. Hunt was asked to participate in the VAC to help establish improved standards of care and training that would include prohibiting the use of action devices and other techniques in the lower limb of this breed that are not used for protective or therapeutic purposes

*   Dr. Hunt would not turn down this invitation because  he viewed it as an opportunity to positively engage with this industry ( to help them figure out how to get rid of action devices and those other techniques used on the lower limbs that would include soring chemicals and performance packages in shoeing and also to help them improve the humane standards associated with the breed)

That the  Hagyard-Davidson-McGee team ultimately supports the adoption of the PAST Act and recognizes the resource challenges that the USDA has for implementation of its standards in protecting the Walking Horse breed


The fact that this respected equine practice   has now said in public that they are in support of the adoption of the PAST Act, that the action devices should be abolished and those other “lower limb” issues, presumably chemical and mechanical enhancements of the gait,  must also cease,  puts them  firmly in the camp of the petition signers who are currently asking Hagyard to cease and desist its participation  in the 2015 Celebration/VAC initiative.  


This is especially telling in light of a recent news story concerning VAC which listed Dr. Hunt as a participant.   The article  explains that the VAC  is part of an  initiative to form a new HIO called the Walking Horse Equestrian Federation ( an obvious attempt to  piggyback on the long established name and reputation of the USEF) . The application was submitted to the USDA  by Thomas Blankenship,  the spokesman for the VAC and big lick industry insider. 


Dr. Hunt may honestly believe that he can lead this surly, rebellious, and stiff -necked group   to the promised land of humane practices. He may believe that through his influence   he will be the linchpin  that will rid  the world of soring, which includes training back at the barns to produce an unnatural aberration of the walking horse’s natural gaits which often includes  the use of multiple sets of chains, far heavier than the single chain allowed in the show ring,  over tender flesh to arrive at that “pain induced memory”  of a  gait, as Dr. Haffner, a former industry insider,   has described it.

 If Dr. Hunt  believes that, he is doomed to fail, as have so many before him and, in the process ,  he will harm  his own reputation as well as the reputation of a 139 year-old medical practice.   


Dr. Hunt  should remember his bible history. Moses discovered, when he went up the mountain to receive the commandments that would in future govern the behavior and lives of the clan that,  when he came down from his revelation, the people had gone back to worshipping the golden calf that allowed them to do pretty much what they had grown used to doing back in Egypt, minus the bondage and the  backbreaking labor. 


Modifying behavior is hard enough; changing attitudes is even harder.  When people do not desire change and when they see no reason to change, what they really desire is for other people to validate what they are already doing and what they wish to continue to do.


If Dr. Hunt supports   the positions in the  release issued by his practice, he can’t lend his name to the VAC. He must take a stand for conscience and for good horse-keeping practices . The plain answers to those plain questions that were asked should end any perplexity  those questioning Hagyard’s participation are now  asking.  They should also  raise questions  for the big lick folks set to congregate in Shelbyville in August about Hagyard’s official  position regarding action devices and other practices, especially their commitment to the adoption of PAST.   


The way out of this situation is for Dr. Hunt to stay at home in Kentucky (unless he would like to go to DC and do some lobbying for PAST)  and for the folks in Tennessee to shop around for another vet that will  deliver the message they want to hear.


The big lick faction   already has a few of those vets available and on call;  remind yourself  of the testimony given by one  Dr. John Bennett during the recent Wheelon  hearings. There, the  good doctor refused to concede that a horse standing in   a “bucket position” might be a sore horse, saying instead it could have been the result of a loose tail set ,  and that Wheelon’s past history of soring violations, of which he was, of course,  “completely  unaware would not  have made any difference in his thought process about whether or not  the trainer  might actually have been  involved in soring horses intended for the show ring.


Dr. Bennett is a text-book, stand-up,    industry guy.


Dr. Hunt, however, doesn’t appear to be reading from  the same script.  Therefore, he should exit stage right  as fast as he can get away,  before he gets deeper into a starring  role in this farce.   He’s had a close call but it isn’t too late to avoid the consequences and actually use his expertise where it will matter. That would be in doing whatever Hagyard-Davidson-McGee can do, using their considerable influence, to  join the veterinary associations of all 50 states, the AVMA, the AAEP, the American Horse Council, the USEF and the HSUS, and get   the PAST Act passed. It wouldn't hurt to call the practice and tell them so.