For many years, TWHBEA, the breed registry in the United States for the Tennessee Walking Horse, has had an odd relationship with its members. For those who support the goings -on that have made the big lick horse the public face of the breed-- the TWHBEA is a wonderful place: welcoming, rewarding, encouraging; for the rest, not so much.
Back in the days when the organization had money, it financially supported actions that did not reflect the interests of all its membership. They had a political action committee that helped to fund campaigns, including ranking in the top tier of Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) campaign contributors. They took dues and fees even as they figured out how to keep the voices of discontent tamped down. These machinations have, over the years, taken a toll on membership, registrations, transfers, breeding numbers, and ultimately on the bottom line but TWHBEA continues to play the game, blaming the recession for the downturn in its fortunes rather than blaming the animal abuse that is part of the show business beloved by many of its donor/members.
Those who quit, after trying to make a difference within the organizational structure, did so when they finally saw the light. They took their money and their horses and went home, sometimes starting competing organizations, including show circuits. Unfortunately, as TWHBEA still controls the legal identity of the breed, the association has managed to keep on its roles some members who might have preferred, as so many others have done, to vote with their feet.
These folks continue to stick around, either because they are breeders and need the blessings of the registry on their stock or because they continue to believe that the voices of conscience will eventually be heard even in Lewisburg, Tennessee. They want to believe that change will come; that the performance horse will finally be recognized as the anachronism that it is; that the TWHBEA will get into the business of protecting the breed rather than promoting at the expense of the totality the gyrations of the big lick horse. God bless those people for their high hopes and good intentions, which they retain despite clear indications that the change they are hoping for is not part of the libretto of this long running operetta.
As Gilbert and Sullivan observed in HMS Pinafore, things are seldom what they seem. When Buttercup tells the Captain that “skim milk masquerades as cream and high-lows pass as patent leathers, “ even the hapless Captain is forced to admit, “ Very True. So they do.”
This brings us to the official TWHBEA website and what the breed registry has to say about the use of performance packages on walking horses. You may be surprised to know that the registry coyly describes pads as “training devices”.
In the real world, the definition of a training device is a tool developed to enhance the learning process. There are training devices used in every field of sport. Coaches, trainers, athletes and sports organizers, however, all recognize that a device is a means to the end, not an end in itself.
In other athletic endeavors, when the training tool has enhanced the learning process, the tool is removed, presumably because the learner has learned the lesson and made the necessary improvements. If the learner can’t show an improvement when the device is taken away, then the use of the device has failed.
As an example, many training devices are sold which are intended to enhance the learning experience of golfers longing to improve their games. There are devices that help to change the pattern of the swing, increase the strength of the golfer, help to correct golfers with a propensity to slice, or to improve their stance when facing the ball of following through with a swing.
You could say, to paraphrase the TWHBEA, that these golf training devices are intended to provide a “sounder base or to change angles and paths in the motion of the “ ball. But, what you will never see is training devices allowed to be part of the competition that is a golf game. You can’t take your training device out on the green and use it to actually play the game without being laughed off the course.
If the performance package is merely a training device, as TWHBEA would have us believe, once all performance horses have been trained and their gaits enhanced and accentuated, why should it be either necessary or allowable for a horse to wear his training device in competition?
The answer is: the performance package as TWHBEA is trying to peddle it is something masquerading as something else. The package is not a training device: it is an integral part of producing and maintaining a totally artificial gait, which can neither be achieved nor maintained without this shoeing package. Just like the use of the chain, the package is an over-sized action device integral to the production of the big lick gait.
The willingness to put something forward as one thing when it is in reality something else, doesn’t stop at the TWHBEA website, it also extends to its magazine. In a recent issue of Voice the magazine featured two side by side advertisements, one for Protect the Harvest, the other for an innocuous farm coating product. This could have been simple advertising with luck -of -the- draw placement for two unrelated entities. Things are seldom what they seem.
First, aside from those nice graphics of waving wheat, what is Protect the Harvest? According to the Center for Media and Democracy, Protect the Harvest is not a simple, benign non-profit intended to promote agriculture and the values of family farmers. It is actually an advocacy-based organization representing the interests of factory farming with the stated mission of opposing the HSUS, in specific, and radical animal activists in general.
According to the Center, no matter how you feel about the HSUS, a quick look at Protect the Harvest’s website makes it clear that its take on the organization is far from fair or balanced.
This appeared on the site: “On the surface, they (HSUS) say they want to simply make life for animals (especially farm animals) a little bit nicer, safer…more pleasant. But the reality of there motives bleed through. HSUS is an organization that is at its heart a vegan organization opposed to any consumption of animals for food, clothes or research.”
Whenoverblown and also untrue statements made by an organization about another organization join up with the “agriculture, including pet ownership, is under siege mentality” that Protect the Harvest promotes, there is reason to believe that HSUS must be succeeding in putting economic pressure for change on the factory farming industry. You don't fear organizations that are having no effect even if you hate them. The conflation of agriculture with the walking horse industry means that Protect the Harvest and the people who brought you PSHA were bound to meet up. This fear of success on behalf of regulation that protects animal welfare puts Protect the Harvest and the performance walking horse faction in the same camp and that explains in part why this ad would be placed in Voice magazine.
Protect the Harvest is actually the creation of a billionaire named Lucas of Lucas Oil, who also has a boutique beef business and is a big player in the auto racing industry. Backed by big money and a sense of injury through federal overreach , Protect the Harvest hit the ground running at high rpms.
First up came the Protect the Harvest Political Action Committee, a super PAC. Based in Iowa, the PAC was dedicated, according to its site, to combating the “radical animal rights movement”, primarily the HSUS. The treasurer of the PAC was Brian Klippenstein, who conveniently was also the executive director of Protect the Harvest, itself a 501(c) (4). The group was established in 2011 as a social welfare organization to educate the public about “the benefits of farming, ranching and hunting” and to advocate “for the right to conduct such activities.”
Although 501 (c) (4)’s may engage in politics, federal law asserts that attempts to influence elections may not be a primary purpose; translated: you have to have a PAC. According to an AP story written by Seth Perlman, when filing paperwork with the FEC, the Harvest PAC told regulators that it “intends to raise funds in unlimited amounts”, presumably to help elect or defeat political candidates sympathetic to its purposes and goals.
As an example, in Missouri in 2014, Protect the Harvest donated money to a candidate who promised as part of his campaign that if elected he would amend the state’s constitution to guarantee that there would be no infringement of the rights of Missourians to practice agriculture in any way they saw fit, which translated to essentially removing all legislative protections designed to protect the consumer, animals and the environment.
Who else does business with commercial agriculture, is involved in the racing industry, has a bone to pick with the HSUS, and advertises in Voice magazine? The same guy that put the ad in Voice for a farm coating product on the opposite page of the Protect the Harvest ad. That would be Duke Thorson of Thorsport Farms and his interests are directly merged with the interests of those two pages of advertising although his name isn’t directly connected with either of them.
Mr. Thorson, through one of his other enterprises, owns the farm coating company and also recently signed on Protect the Harvest as a sponsor of one of his racing trucks associated with NASCAR. His Thorsport Farm is, as you may remember, the facility involved in an HSUS undercover investigation that documented soring practices in play at the Murfreesboro, Tennessee facility in 2015, with the story going national just before last year’s Celebration. Mr. Thorson’s daughter, who attends school in Murfreesboro, was recently elected as a TWHBEA director from the state of Ohio. ( As Buttercup would remind us, “ Jackdaws strut in peacock feathers.” ) Mr. Thorson is far from a disinterested observer in how things turn out with the federal government when it comes to the Horse Protection Act and there is no doubt that he will act on his interests.
Then, there’s one other entry in the "things are seldom what they seem" category. This one comes from the latest USDA report regarding swabbing results from the 2015 Celebration. Although the Celebration’s Veterinary Advisory Committee reported no prohibited substances found during the show (they did not test for soring agents), the USDA reports that out of 200 randomly selected horses, 175 or 87.5% tested positive for prohibited foreign substances.
Whether it’s trying to explain away the performance package as a training device, or running ads in Voice magazine that appear to be one thing on the surface while actually representing more than simple advertising, or continuing to support and endorse The Celebration as the official breed championship when continuous and numerous violations of the federal Horse Protection Act are found and documented there each year, things are very seldom what they seem to be in the big lick walking horse business where TWHBEA remains, thanks to funding provided by all its members and everyone who registers or transfers a horse with the group, an active player.
“Very true. So they do.”