Filled with Sound and Fury, Signifying—You Guessed It

Noise proves nothing. Often a hen cackles as if she laid an asteroid.

— Mark Twain

According to the dictionary, in the electronic age, noise is defined as any bad change in a signal while the more old- fashioned definition is that noise is an unwanted, unpleasant, or loud sound. In the case of Mr. Twain’s chicken,  noise emanating from the nesting box was a vain attempt to get attention for laying    something earth shattering that was, in reality, routine for a chicken. 


On July 30th, the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association   laid a routine egg with its latest noisy squawk that the “WHTA Seeks Support of All Disciplines”. (Whoever is writing this stuff for the trainers is, however, getting better at the use of language in propaganda game.)



The Trainers have been putting  noise into the atmosphere for years, spinning permutations, trying new faces and new tactics, but always returning to the same old message:  everything’s fine here; nothing to see folks; those that aren’t for us are both uninformed and against us; that leg throwing machine that you see operating out there is simply an enhancement obtained, through the efforts of  “talented” trainers, of the breed’s natural gait.   



The organization, whose ranks are filled with violators of the Horse Protection Act and whose clients also share that dubious honor, are now co-opting the language of legitimate equestrian sport. Where front-men like Mike Inman of The Celebration   have routinely talked about divisions in the breed (more truth than poetry there, ironically), the trainers have chosen to move up to the use of the higher- toned “discipline” , favored by the USEF and the FEI in describing legitimate equine athletic activity by category.


They   piously intone that: “ The WHTA and its members take seriously the welfare of all horses under our care, regardless of the discipline of choice for that horse and/or owner.”  


These are the same folks that continue to have Larry Wheelon as a member and whose current list of high rollers for Riders Cup payouts have what can only be called “interesting” pasts and, often, presents.


The use of language traditionally associated with the USEF (United States Equestrian Federation), the recognized body for equestrian sport in the USA, is not by accident but by design. As the result of years of both allegations and proof of animal cruelty associated with this small segment of users of horses, the USEF   will not allow a big lick class on the grounds if a show wishes to retain  its sanctioning. Further, the  USEF supports the PAST Act and does not consider the big lick horse to be any sort of “discipline” that it will  recognize or regulate.


The obvious attempt of the performance crowd to piggyback on the organization’s long established name and reputation is a new level of   cynicism in a business where cynicism is second nature. The new super HIO (first contemplated back in 2006 by the same people bringing it back to you in 2015),  with an application for approval filed with  the   USDA,  is presumptuously named The Walking Horse Equestrian Federation; news releases about the Celebration sponsored and funded Veterinary Advisory Committee, go on about its blood testing program being patterned after the USEF’s program. 


All of this, including the new use of the word “discipline”,  to describe how people on walking horses will decide to go around and around on an oval or compete in versatility events, is intended to lure through language the unsuspecting into thinking that somehow this activity known as the big lick, now trying to hide behind what is still acceptable about the breed to the general public, the natural gaited horse, is  part of legitimate equestrian sport.  The public can no longer be fooled, no matter  how many horses running free through the clover billboards the PSHA ( Performance Show Horse Association)  puts up in Bedford County, Tennessee.




With a well attended, at least in the number of horses, WHOA International now  finished, and a stinging front page story printed in July  by The Tennessean, explaining that flat shod shows are growing and that the breed will do  fine when returned to a more natural way of going, the WHTA, in its letter, decided to take  a direct swipe  at WHOA, saying that the organization:  “encourages all of its members, customers, and exhibitors to support those organizations that promote all disciplines of the Tennessee Walking Horse.” 


As WHOA no longer offers any classes for the big lick horse and does not inspect, through its HIO, any big lick horses, it is clear that the WHTA thinks that WHOA is an organization that should not be supported by its “members, customers, and exhibitors”.  This  whack from the trainers is  the "thanks" that  WHOA gets for continuing to think that by  not speaking out against the performance horse, they  will  appease their members who continue to support the big lick portion of the business. Fence straddling time is about over, ladies and gentlemen.



And now, let the real   cackling begin.  The WHTA letter continues , with a tone of considerable indignation, that: “ For any organization or news outlet to question the welfare of any discipline of our horse in competition simply implies their lack of knowledge of the commitment to the welfare at all Tennessee Walking Horse Shows and especially our World Championship.”  


First, where did  the WHTA get the notion  that The Celebration is viewed by all of the people who own Walking Horses as a legitimate World Championship? The group that likes to talk about “our horse” and “our championship” is certainly smaller than the number of people who have walked away from anything that this particular group of people supports and while support is  increasing on the sound side, support is  decreasing for  the performance camp.


The Celebration remains a privately owned and operated horse show, whose primary claim to legitimacy as a breed championship, is that years ago, under the same leadership as the people who are currently running  the TWHBEA into the ground, the titles from the Celebration were   put on TWHBEA registration papers. The decision, even at the time it was made, did not have unanimous support and just because you say  that  you are the self-appointed  breed championship doesn't mean that everyone believes that it's so.


Secondly, news organizations question the commitment of the big lick crowd to the welfare of the horse because they have access to public databases showing violations; they can see the violation history of this year’s Celebration panel of judges; they talk  to veterinarians, owners, trainers and breeders who have turned their backs on the big lick horse and have given their personal testimony about what producing this totally man-made aberration of a gait involves; they have researched the stories going back  more than 50 years that chronicle the abuse in this particular presentation of a horse  and have noted that the excuses, the explanations and the defenses, as well as the promises of change, sound exactly the same, even as the explainers- in- chief  have grown old and  passed away,  turning over the snake oil to new mouthpieces.


News organizations of all sizes and shapes watched what happened with the use of Dr. Goble’s good name if not Dr. Goble himself   during last year’s VAC; they have seen, thanks to,  the statement from Hagyard-Davidson-McGee indicating  that Dr. Hunt clearly believed he was asked to participate in this year’s VAC as a way to figure out how to abolish the action device and to eliminate other “lower leg” practices involved with the big lick horse, a total load of codswallop.  Dr. Hunt, citing personal and professional conflicts has resigned from the VAC. Hagyard says it supports the PAST Act.


Reporters  have read the statements from the AAEP and the AVMA about what soring is and why it is injurious and how performance packages and chains are part and parcel of the soring process.  In short, neither uninformed nor merely buying the press releases that come from the establishment,  reporters are starting to do  research and homework--what used to be called in the good old days before hash tags-- investigative reporting.  Fertile fields remain to be explored on this subject, as reporters continue to dig deeper into the dirt.


The WHTA would also like the readers of its letters to note “ that it is important that the equipment used by our performance horses, which includes the use of pads and action devices, is in full compliance with the law as well as veterinary science.” 


The sentence is partially correct in that at present the equipment seen in the show ring is legal. The counterpoint is that the equipment used in training barns is not the same as the equipment used in the ring.  In training,   back in the barns,  is   where  harm is done on a daily basis.  Without the existence of packages and chains, of all weights and sizes, along with chemical assistance,  the lick now on display  can  not be produced and without the ability to use these devices in the show ring  there would be no reason to continue to produce it. 


The trainers, however, saved the big noise,  their asteroid,  for the end: “ other breeds of horses utilize similar equipment that are not subject to the inspections of the USDA and the HIOs that our members are at each event. To draw any conclusion or to infer because of the equipment the horse has been abused or is not in compliance with the HPA is again simply a lack of knowledge.” 


Aside from the racking horse, also a subject of the PAST Act, there is, no matter what the WHTA keeps on trying to tell people, no other breed that uses a chain action device or a package that in any way resembles the nightmare shoeing seen on a big lick horse. 

In fact the rock- back pads made of sections of truck tires cause people from around the world  involved in real equine  disciplines to roll their eyes in disbelief, or as one dressage rider from Austria observed, the "swinishness of this sort of display is not understandable". 

The idea of sticking lead in the bottom of a horse’s foot to level out an unbalanced horse causes fans of other animated breeds to shake their heads in disgust. They look at the bitting of these horses and are aghast; but, as the members of the Trainers' Association don't get out much, at least other than to their own horse shows, they have no real understanding of how they are viewed in the rest of the world.


The  Horse Protection Act applies to all breeds of horses.  At some sound horse shows,  featuring  classes for other breeds,  every horse on the grounds is inspected.  However, the reason that walking, racking, spotted saddle horses, and some of the other gaited breeds where soring has been found, remain the subject of USDA’s emphasis for enforcement of  the HPA is because that’s where the problem is, has always been, and remains.  


As to the continuing and persistent myth of big lick heavy shows having a   95% compliance rate…. if a reporter could find the person who constructed the WHTA’s most recent blast, he or she might  ask about the statistics from the USDA that show that at this summer’s Red Carpet Show in Pulaski, the USDA VMOs found that over 30% of the horses that they inspected were believed to be in violation of the HPA.  The VMOS did not inspect every horse on the grounds.


 Rumor also has it that some of the WHTA’s leading citizens were caught up during inspection over the Belfast/ Wartrace weekend.  Other members of the association continue to show horses only  because their wives and other family members are the ones that have been put on  federal disqualification. Over the years,  they also serve who quietly  take tickets and then  sit and wait on the sidelines serving suspensions  while the shows go on.


Meanwhile, the “uninformed” ( at least  according to the Walking Horse trainers)   among us are waiting, patiently, for the USDA reports on the most recent shows to be made available . Those numbers may  say something more  about  how the WHTA’s welfare and compliance argument is faring.   

The  days of summer dwindle down;   the outcry  surrounding big lick horses and the people who support them  continues to go up.  The WHTA's noise is finally getting the attention it   deserves and that is informative.