The 77th Celebration is now underway. A few days before it began, Jeffrey Howard of the Walking Horse Report, in an editorial, urged industry supporters not to take notice of protesters if they appeared at the gates or if other unpleasant news was brought up. Instead he urged calm and suggested that people should savor visiting with friends that they might see only once a year in Shelbyville, Tennessee. Make a new memory in 2015, he wrote.
There was a memorable first night of protests at The Celebration before the Thursday evening performance. It was civil and effective, with a large contingent of local and state law enforcement present to guarantee that the right to public protest was enforced and that there was no unpleasantness. A second night of protests is planned for the second night of the show.
The irony of watching the ThorSport trailer roll into the Celebration grounds on Thursday, past the “Boycott Animal Cruelty” folks, was certainly not lost on anyone who saw the big rig, with a horse clearly visible, head in for yet another walk under the lights in the big oval even as the bright lights of public scrutiny in the rest of the world focused on the facility.
Mr. Thorson recently issued a statement regarding his view of the HSUS undercover investigation, which found 75 of 75 samples taken from ThorSport owned or trained horses, including two that are scheduled to compete for the big stake class, tested positive for USDA prohibited substances, including mustard oil and hydrocarbons. Mr. Thorson, through his PR firm, wants to go on record rejecting the HSUS’ claims in full.
Mr. Thorson assures the public that he has had his horses vetted by two vets ( both with deep ties to the industry) and an unnamed vet in Kentucky. He says they saw no signs of soring or other illegal activity.
Mr. Thorson did not report how long it was after the undercover investigation concluded that these horses were taken to vets of his own choosing for examination. Did he also take the still photos that could have been screen shot from the HSUS video, showing the condition of the legs of some of the horses and let the vets take a look at those to see if they would be considered in compliance with the Horse Protection Act?
As with all sports denials and deflections, Mr. Thorson says he plays by the rules. Duke Thorson needs to be reminded of another by the rules player, Lance Armstrong.
In 2010 the now disgraced cyclist said, “ As long as I live, I will deny taking performance enhancing drugs.” Apparently, Lance lived too long, because, eventually, after suing the people who claimed he was illegally doping, after threatening his friends and fellow cyclists, and after years of simply lying to the press and to the organizations that monitored his sport, he was forced to admit that, well, he had lied and had been lying for years.
This was the same man, who insisted throughout his career that he’d passed hundreds and hundreds of drug tests but , finally, was forced to say that he wouldn’t have won without doing what he did, and although he didn’t invent the culture of doping in cycling, he also did not act to prevent it.
Remembering Lance Armstrong is a good thing to do when reading Mr. Thorson’s carefully prepared and worded statement released to America using the good services of the Associated Press and other outlets, although he has yet to answer questions from individual reporters. This is called managing the message.
In brief: Rutherford County law enforcement says that an investigation is underway. Mr. Thorson and the ThorSport facility have not been charged with any crime. The video is presented by the HSUS as evidence of practices that took place at the facility over several months. The practices are both inhumane and illegal under Tennessee state law.
In specific, Mr. Thorson takes issue with the HSUS about the "citations" for sore horses that his trainers and his daughter have received, saying that none of them have had a federal case filed against them. He neglects to say that the purpose of HIO suspensions, which these citations have been, were put in place to reduce the need for federal cases, as part of the long ago, uneasy agreement made between the Congress, the USDA and the industry and the enforcement of the HPA.
Mr. Thorson fails to address his wife’s comments on tape that Duke knows what is going on but is dealing with it in his own time, after she called the room where products known to be used in soring horses were allegedly stored, the “scary room”.
Mr. Thorson does not address the taped comments of a man from his stable about “putting diesel fuel on horses on Monday and then cleaning up their feet the rest of the week” so that they can go to the horse shows on the weekends.
Instead he talks of ethics and integrity and ThorSport’s reputation in the industry, saying that people who want the sore sort of training know better than to come to his facility in Murfreesboro.
He must not remember that in 2014, current Celebration contender, Vida Blue, was turned down during an inspection and that trainer Chad Williams was so angry that observers on the scene reported that he was looking to fight someone over it and posted that information widely on the internet. Vida Blue, however, remains in training at ThorSport.
Mr. Thorson does, however, take exception to the fact that the HSUS video took an outtake from the earlier McConnell investigation and used it to introduce its most recent 3 minute undercover videotape, a compilation from substantial amounts of raw footage, before seguing to a photo shot of ThorSport with the words 2015 clearly identified. He calls foul over that.
In fact, the two incidents could have been more clearly identified so that the casual observer would know that the horse being kicked in the McConnell take, is not the same horse as the horse being flipped over in the ThorSport video. Mr. Thorson maintains that this horse laboring to get up is simply a horse that is cast.
In addressing the final moments of the video, where a horse named Play Something Country is seen down in his stall, with his feet at very odd angles and emitting very odd sounds, Mr. Thorson says that any equestrian would know that these are the normal sounds of a horse asleep.
As Mr. Thorson appears to be reaching out to other equestrians to validate his assertions, it seemed like a good idea to reach out to some of them, too, and to ask for their opinions about the sounds and the appearance of the horse on the video, which, Mr. Thorson does not deny comes from his facility.
Here are some comments.
From a Texas veterinarian:
“It is definitely my opinion that this is not the “normal” sounds made when a horse is sleeping. In my 18 years as a vet, I believe it is the sound a horse makes when it is stressed, in dis-stress. “
From a horsewoman in Tennessee with 30 years of experience with horses:
“ The horse that was supposedly sleeping was NOT making a normal horse sound. I felt it was groaning. Of course this would be very difficult to prove in a court of law as there are “normal” horses out there, say, those with arthritis or stiff joints who might make that it sound, but again, it is due to discomfort, ANY discomfort. The one horse does appear to be CAST in the stall, but the idiot that tried to move him by kicking the horse in the neck should be whipped. Any knowledgeable horse owner KNOWS hot to move or flip a cast horse…get a lead rope, hook a front leg and pull. Yes, it’s not a pretty sight. Of course having possible sore legs and those Horrendous, asinine shoes sure don’t help. It was obvious that they were applying irritants to the feet. “
From a horsewoman in North Carolina with 30 years of experience:
“ I have owned three Tennessee Walking Horses and three spotted saddle horses. I also worked at a breeding and boarding barn where there were as many as 30 horses. Never have I seen a hose laying down making groaning noises like the poor horse in this video. I have been around horses continuously for the last 30 years. I currently have two spotted saddle horses who often lay down to sleep-soundlessly.”
From a horsewoman in Hawaii
“ I have heard the sounds of a snoring horse and this is not what I see or hear on this animal. These were groans of pain. I have owned and ridden TWH for 57 years, both in the show arena and on trails. I currently own 2 TWH and brought them with us when I retired to Hawaii. I was made aware of soring practices when I was 10. I have been an advocate since then to end the abuse. You can see from this video that those efforts have been unsuccessful.
From a rider and trainer in New Jersey
“ I have had horses for about 40 years and the ONLY time I ever heard that noise was from a horse who was down and moaning due to colic (the horse survived) and a mare in labor, what I would describe as 10/10 PAIN. You can quote me. This is horrendous and extremely difficult to watch.”
From a horsewoman in Virginia
“ I have owned horses for over 30 years. We currently own 5 TWH. We breed, exhibit and board horses and I have NEVER heard that sound from any of them. “
From a horsewoman in California
“In 19887 I bought my first TWH. I had dreamed of owning a walker all of my teens and early adult life. I have foaled at least 30 of my own babies and provided that service for others. I have stood my breeding stallion and stood stallions for other clients. In these years we have seen all types of medical conditions, a few accidents, and an abundant amount of emergencies. From all my years of experience, I have NEVER ever heard the whimpering of a horse like seen in this video—again from birthing to a broken leg to colic. I have never heard anything like this… that would cause a horse to express itself in such anguish.”
From an east coast horsewoman
“Never heard these sounds from a horse sleeping. 58 years with horses. Just sayin.
From a California horsewoman
“ I have been a horse owner and lover for 32 years and I have never heard those sounds come from a horse, EVER! I have been around and witnessed many sick, lame, broken, sad and happy horses. These sounds have never been heard by my ears until I saw that disgusting video from the HSUS. My mother who is also an avid equestrian agrees with me. My 4 horse owning neighbors have seen the video and concur. The woman who has trained all of my horses and has been a trainer and Arabian horse judge for over 40 years also agrees.”
Finally, here’s another one from Texas
“ I have been around horses since 1982 and a vet assistant for 23 years for an equine and small animal practice. The horse I see in the video that is lying sternal on the stall floor looks very uncomfortable and is moaning like a horse in pain. There is no video of anyone walking this horse to put it in the stall nor can one tell just how long the horse has been down in this position. It would be very interesting to see it walk. Perhaps it is trying to stand as both feet are extended forward. If it truly were just “resting” the front feet would be naturally bent at the knees and tucked under the chest. “
If Mr. Thorson or his PR firm would like to read more comments from horsemen and women with more years of experience with horses than Mr. Thorson, his family, or his trainers have had, regarding their “opinions” of Mr. Thorson’s “opinion” that these are the sounds of normal sleep, those comments can be provided.
In conclusion, while talking about jostling the memory: Mr. Thorson and Mr. Terry Dotson, the present president of PSHA, are both members of the Celebration’s newly named Horseman’s Leadership Council.
On August 17th, just before the HSUS’ undercover video was released, the USDA served notice to Mr. Dotson, his trainer Brent Coburn, his business Winding Way Stables, LLC, his wife, Leslie Dotson, and another trainer, Dick Myers, that a federal case had been filed against them for having allegedly entered three different horses, Jose’s Don Julio, Ninth Symphony, Fenway Finesse, and Cat Fish Hunter at four different show while they were sore. You can see the documents at HPA-15-0141, 0142,0143,0144, and 0145 on the USDA’s website.
Three of those incidents came, you guessed it, from the memory making Celebration in the year’s 2012 and 2013.
This year protesters are making a stand, another undercover HSUS video is making the news, and ThorSport continues to make trips around the oval. That's right: the facility continues to bring horses to the Celebration and they continue to show them, going through inspections on their way to the ring, doing just as Lance Armstrong said he did, “passing hundreds and hundreds of drug checks” on his way to his "drug-free" cycling victories.
Thanks for the memories.