Never Let Them See You Sweat (with apologies to Gillette)

For a forgotten fact is news when it comes (around) again.
— Mark Twain in Following the Equator

Veteran ad man Phil Slott gets the credit for the “Never let them see you sweat” campaign begun on June 7, 1984,  for Dry Idea antiperspirants.  The phrase is now part of  America’s lexicon and has been applied to countless situations where both dubious practices and difficult times have been met by    the cool exteriors of    people  who can best be described as smooth operators  and  cool as cucumbers.  Mr. Keith McSwain appears to be a person who   knows  the importance of keeping his cool.   


To recap, after years of disappointment from the inspection zone, the owner of the 2016 Celebration World Grand Champion, Honors, got  what amounted to a  get- out -of –jail- free injunction    good for nine named  horse shows after prevailing in  a suit he filed  in April 2016 in federal court in Georgia.  He  must have felt that,  at long last, Beulah land was in sight.  Honors,  and by extension his honorable owners and trainers,  were finally going to get what they had          been denied and, in real time,  no inspector was going to be able  to    stop them from entering the show ring    under the terms of the injunction.


 Those in the “know” winked at the presence of the other horses in contention for the WGC  title this year    because  unless the black stallion fell over in the arena and refused to get up, he was going to make the spotlight victory pass.  The other six entries in the class were there as window dressing.  The judging at this year’s event, which was described by industry supporters  as ‘all over the map’ , showed unanimous consent in crowning Honors king of this year’s heap.


Honors 2016 was as sure a thing as there can be in the horse business. His victory was made even more secure   after an existing HPA case being heard by Administrative Law Judge Jill Clifton brought by the USDA against the stallion’s trainers, Gary and Larry Edwards of Georgia, was continued     in May 2016.    Conveniently, Larry Edwards was going to be  free to make that spotlight ride thanks to the lack of a finding in this  still ongoing case.


What the rest of the folks following the Celebration from the cheap seats would never know,  because  the local newspaper has not seen fit to  report it  after the fact (even as Honors was becoming a Wikipedia entry describing how he was neither sored nor scarred according to references from the Shelbyville Times Gazette’s stories) , was that  a federal complaint for violation of the Horse Protection Act had been served on     owner  Mr. Keith McSwain before stake night   and the subject of the complaint was this year’s World Grand Champion, Honors.


HPA Docket 15-0139, USDA v Robert Keith McSwain, an individual, was filed on July 25th, 2016, alleging that there was “reason to believe that the respondent named herein has violated the Horse Protection Act” and that on five separate occasions, McSwain allowed the horse he owned, Honors, a stallion foaled on October 2, 2007 and registered with the TWHBEA, while sore to be entered in or shown in horse shows.   That’s definitely not cool.  


Turning up the heat,  Honors, according to the complaint, was inspected on five occasions by USDA VMOS and found to be sore. In addition, on one of those occasions, reads the complaint, he was bearing a prohibited substance on both pasterns.   The complaint alleges that these violations took place between August 24, 2013 and July 1, 2016.


The federal complaint is not the first time that Honors' suitability to be in the   show ring has been called into question. He received an HIO ticket in his two- year- old year for a scar rule violation, had a ticket in 2010 for scurffing,  and   USDA   evidence photos show a horse identified as Honors with what appears to be weeping lesions    that had been covered over with some sort of foreign substance according to an affidavit from the USDA VMO who took information on the stallion. 


One of the generally overlooked or not understood  facts surrounding Honors' appearances in the show ring is that he is trained by Larry and Gary Edwards, of Georgia’s Carl Edwards and Sons Stables. These are the same trainers  whose 1996 case, In re Gary R. Edwards, et al 55 Agric. Dec. 892, has become a standard in HPA  legal  proceedings    footnotes.  The Edwards are famous for more than training horses down in Georgia.


It’s commonly understood, that the local Shelbyville newspaper, The Times Gazette, prefers not to take or make note of the many violators of the federal law that routinely win ribbons at the local horse show, The Celebration. By intentionally ignoring the rest of the story, they  fail in their responsibility as a newspaper  to fully inform their readers  of the backgrounds of the individuals   featured  so prominently in photographs of the event, in feature stories, and in their dutifully printed   quotes regarding the unfairness of enforcement by the USDA.


 In the post show hoopla surrounding Honors,  this remains the case.  No mention has been made in the home of The Celebration  of the federal complaint that has been filed by the USDA against the latest Celebration celebrity’s owner.  That’s not cool either.



Purposeful overlooking by the paper’s editor and management is the whitewash that is helpfully  extended to the industry while keeping the general public in the dark about the seedier  side of the business which  never seems to make the news.   But without the paper reporting   it,  participants in the industry somehow manage to  know by name the trainers with both histories and active  federal HPA findings of fault and consent decrees. They keep their horses in training with people who have a track record of soring horses and they know,  when their trainers of choice are sidelined by  suspensions, who will be showing their strings, as the 'wink-wink'  trainer of record,  in competition. 


The case of  smooth operator, former Hall of Fame member, and HPA federal violator  Jackie McConnell comes to mind. It was proven in federal court that McConnell    used the names of others as trainers to continue showing his string when he was on federal suspension for a violation of the Horse Protection Act.  His long time and loyal  customers knew that he was on suspension for soring horses  but continued to leave their horses in his care and custody for both showing and training, claiming that they had told him that he was never to sore their horses. ( That’s a very chill  excuse hiding under a very small fig leaf. )    

Only an undercover report airing on ABC’s Nightline brought   McConnell’s dirty little secrets out into the public air for a look- see,   while    a real federal conviction finally guaranteed that no more horses would be subjected to McConnell’s version of care and training for the show ring.  At long last, Mr. McConnell was revealed as both dishonored and dishonorable.


So, how does the McConnell   and   customers situation         relate   to Mr. McSwain?  Honors, too,  is trained by individuals with a history of  federal HPA violations,     a fact that should be very much in the news and the point is made in the complaint, which reads, “ Respondent McSwain chose Gary and Larry Edwards, notwithstanding their history of violating the HPA, to be Honors trainers and custodians, and to enter and show Honors in horse shows.”


Perhaps,   like those McConnell customers     would have    you believe ,    Mr. McSwain had   no   reason to believe there might be a problem with the Edwards and their training practices? But,  Mr.  McSwain, according to this complaint, had received letters of warning on more than one occasion  regarding Honors and the belief that his condition violated the HPA.  Those letters should have been a clue.


  It is also    noteworthy that the previously mentioned federal HPA case being heard in May, which has been continued ,   involved two horses, one of which is    a horse named A Victoria’s Secret  belonging to  recorded owners Maisie and Mandie McSwain. The mare was   alleged    to be in violation of the HPA in a USDA VMO    post- show inspection from the 2010 Celebration and the trainers, to review , were Gary and Larry Edwards.  A reasonable person could say that with one   HPA case underway for one horse,  and in receipt of   a series of letters of warning for another,  that   Mr. McSwain could hardly have been unaware that there might be a a question about   his trainers of choice.     


“Never let them see you sweat” was a good slogan in 1984 and it’s a good slogan now.  It fits a  determined owner who didn’t  let the facts of a history of HPA violations by Honors’ trainers, hopefully forgotten, get in the way of the fairy tale surrounding his stallion.   The story was   under construction   for years, although delayed by pesky inspection results.  Wearing a coolly crisp white shirt, Mr. McSwain,   finally,  got  his  happy ending at Celebration 2016, on a sultry , late summer night    in front of a half empty stadium.   


This all    happened    with more than   a little help from a good attorney and U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story of the Northern District of Georgia.  In   granting   the requested injunction, he  must have   found compelling  the argument made by McSwain’s lawyer    that: “ The USDA knowingly engaged in a scheme to destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse culture and industry by violating   the 5th Amendment due process rights of horse owners, including the McSwains, and those owners, persons, entities and corporations that make the industry possible. ”  (The judge must be a fan of    hyperbole. )


There was also an assertion   that a USDA  “once scarred always scarred rule”  upheld by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in USDA v Rowland, a case decided years ago, was somehow intended for use specifically   against Honors.  The law and its pliable  interpretation  when it comes to the HPA remains fascinating to observers.


How the facts play out, though,   in the next installment of the Honors saga should prove to be worth watching   as the federal government again suits up to enforce the law intended to protect show horses from abusive training and treatment.   


To paraphrase another of adman Phil Slot’s famous tag lines, one  that was created for the military but seems made for  the USDA lawyers tasked with   litigating   HPA cases, “ It’s not just a job; it’s an adventure!”


Echoes of Womack

Dr. Bob Womack, who was on the staff of Middle Tennessee State University at Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for years, earned  the well-deserved reputation of being the breed historian for the Tennessee Walking Horse. He was  the person who collected the stories as well as the bloodlines that went into the development of this great breed of horse and   combined all of his knowledge into    a series of books entitled The   Echo of Hoofbeats.  If you actually  read Womack,  rather than simply thumb through the pages and look at the pictures,  you’ll find much within his pages that you might not expect to find, especially from    his second edition published in 1984 by Dabora, Inc., the parent company of The Walking Horse Report.   Dr. Womack, it turns out, is what would now be described by some as an “anti-agriculture,  radical” for his stated views.


With the Celebration now upon middle Tennessee at the same time the USDA is covering the country with its public listening sessions regarding the proposed rule that would eliminate pads and chains from so-called performance   horses,  those in support of the rule have made appeals based on morals, ethics, emotion, personal experiences, bio-mechanics, and a variety of other beliefs regarding the   40 year documented history of the sored -for- show horse.  


Predictably, they have been scoffed at and derided by the anti-rule contingent as computer jockeys and people who don’t know anything about horses, one of whom so eloquently announced, after hearing from a pro-rule speaker, that she   “had never heard so much BS in her life.” 



During the Celebration, The Walking Horse Report likes to run stories from 10 years in the past regarding previous Celebrations. Those stories are very popular with the Celebration audience. Thus, it seemed appropriate to    reprint a portion of the Echo Of Hoofbeats from 1984, written by someone who could hardly be described as a “computer jockey” or a bleeding heart because Dr. Womack came from the heart of the walking horse community. 


It’s possible,  as with the Auburn    Study and the Ames Study so frequently quoted    by people, but so incompletely read, that these same folks have had the Echo on their bookshelves for years and never really got into the section entitled The Evolution of Training Techniques.  There on page 249-250, Dr. Womack, speaking from 32 years ago,  gives a summation of where   the issue was and,  without knowing it,  wrote a piece that could be written today about the situation as we know it now.    Without further ado, in   honor of Dr. Womack and his prescience, the following excerpt ( some emphasis added) :


“ The years following the passage of the Horse Protection Act were marked by a constant battle between the Humane Society and the Walking Horse industry.  Caught    between these two forces is the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose role as mediator casts it in a “no win” situation.  Most proposed regulations aimed at enforcing the act have been considered too harsh by the industry, but not harsh enough by the Humane Society.  The most significant concession achieved by the industry has been the legalization of chains inside the show ring.  Unfortunately, that seemingly apparent victory may prove to be a costly error on the part of the industry.  With the chain’s appearance as a “performance aid” as opposed to its traditionally interpreted role as a “training aid” the Walking Horse industry admitted to the world that it had bred a show horse whose potential could be controlled through extreme measures.  Even more significantly, the industry advertised to the world that its show horse was an extremely complicated animal in constant need of technical knowledge and highly skilled labor.  The market for such a horse is quite limited.


The training techniques in vogue at the time of the Horse Protection Act’s passage   have changed only in matters of degree since 1970.  To be sure, the attention accorded the pastern area of the horse’s foot has improved immeasurably and as a result the physical appearance of that area is quite acceptable. But it would be an extremely naïve or uninformed person who would suggest that the soring of Walking Horses has ended.


In the final analysis the question must be asked as to why the Walking Horse industry has deliberately followed a course of action leading toward self-destruction.  There seems to be no simple answer. If a complicated answer can be stated simply, it is that long-range goals were sacrificed for short-range goals.   What a particular horse does at a particular show seems to take precedence over what is happening in the industry. Whereas previous eras in the Walking Horse’s history were marked by a gradual evolution towards an accepted ideal, the “Desperate Era” has been marked by an impatience for immediate results even if these results entail socially unacceptable training techniques.  For this mistake, the entire industry must assume responsibility.  The Lebanese philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote, “ And as a single leaf turns not yellow but with the silent knowledge of the whole   tree , so the wrong doer cannot do wrong without the hidden consent of you all.”  This statement seems applicable to the Walking Horse industry.” 


You might  wonder if Ms. Stewart, when faced with this blast from the past  written by  Dr. Bob would  respond in the same way, “ I never heard so much BS in my life!”   as she did at the public comment session.   But in view of the rest of her comment at the USDA   listening session, that without pads and chains her own horses, show horses,  would be worthless,  she might be interested in what Dr. Dave Whitaker the Director of Public Service, Horse Science, also of MTSU, had to say in that same 1984 Echo edition, p.252:


“ … if the Walking Horse had been left without the extreme action devices, it would today have an animal registry numbering at least five or six times that of what it is today.”  


In short, if Whitaker was correct   there would have been a large market for Walking Horses, outside of   a specialized use for them in a small and steadily shrinking population with disproportionate influence in the Congress of the United States,  waving     checkbooks to finance large legal challenges. 


Walking Horses could have been, would have been, should have been,  a valuable   “commodity” had they not been relegated to a pariah   state in the minds of the public and the larger equestrian community after a documented history of 40 years of abusive training techniques intended to produce an unusable but highly exaggerated gait.


   The steady decline of the registry numbers at TWHBEA shows that Whitaker like Womack actually knew something about the future of the     breed that others ignored as they pursued,  and by extension continue to pursue,   their own self-interest at the expense of the welfare of the horse. 


In conclusion,  again from Echo of 1984, this quote from Burt Hunter writing in 1939. ( How he would weep if he could see what has happened to the   horse that he favored. )


“ The Walking Horse, like the poor relations, has been with us since the beginning, but unlike some of them he works for a living. The Walking Horse, as conceived by the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders Association of America, should be a large, handsome, gentle horse, capable of real work in harness and bred as is compatible with gentleness and utility   as well bred as is compatible with gentleness and common sense.  The ‘show’ type horse, scared of the shadow of a horse fly that he cannot switch off his back, with feet like stilts and legs puffy as pop-corn muffin, just cannot do on the farm. They have the blood and the quality all right, but they have been prostituted to the perverted taste of the audience that wishes its four legged favorites to be as far from nature as the good Lord will permit without    striking them dead.  One would break down in twenty miles on a modern highway, if indeed his rider could keep him in the highway.  … What with    being scared from colt-hood into looking the part of the ‘show’ champion and trained to travel up and down, instead of forward as the Lord intended, they are the very antithesis of the Tennessee Walking Horse, which is, of all things, the horse of the people.”   


The people can have their say by commenting on the proposed rule at the USDA website.  The comment period is open   through October    26th.   Meanwhile, find   a copy of The Echo of Hoofbeats, 2nd edition,  and read it all the   way through…. it will entertain, delight, and inspire, as well as educate,   the reader who takes the time to really    read it. 


At Long Last, the Federal Government finally Says, Enough!

Much will be written and reported in the next 60 days regarding the USDA/APHIS’ just released proposed rule that would give the department the tools to  effectively and efficiently enforce the Horse Protection Act designed decades ago to protect breeds of horses whose gaits have been exaggerated through abusive training and flat- out cruelty.   Everyone who supports the USDA/APHIS position   must weigh- in during the public comment period and,  it can only be hoped,  that the news of the proposed rule will spread far and wide,  using all the resources of social media and every equine publication and blog that cares about the welfare of the horse.

These so-called “show”  horses have one  purpose :  to flail around   a track in endless loops in order  to sustain  a tradition that should have ended long ago.  Ignoring what real horsemen understand about  the bio-mechanics of how   horses move, what constitutes appropriate shoeing, the necessity for all performance to be based on balance, good training, and the welfare of the horse’s mental and physical condition as the first requirements,  this   small group of   die-hards, who love to use  the   term “government over- reach”, except when the government through pet politicians have over- reached on their behalf to thwart all attempts to end soring,  are completely out of touch  with  the growing movement to put the horse first in all aspects of equestrian sport.


 They do not see themselves as the rest of the world sees them; in point of fact, they are so busy seeing lawyers and raising funds to pay them, they do not see the rest of the world at all.


The USDA, responsible for  enforcing  the law and protecting not only the horses but competitors who have been cheated and defrauded by those who resort to illegal means to take that spotlight ride , has, regrettably over the years   been out -lawyered and out -politicianed   at every turn.  


And, also regrettably,  fissures, fractures, and personalities  within the sound horse community have kept it for years  from being as united as the opposition has been.  The road to hell has been paved with good intentions, while the hell of it is, the opposition just kept paving its   road to keep on keeping on.   Today, a new road crew is in town.


In the real world, not the world of    hopes and dreams, it  has been a long and  often  discouraging haul to make progress on the issue of  eliminating the sore horse from the show ring. Advocates and activists have wandered in the desert , or so it has seemed, with the promised land of ending  soring,  often   visible in the distance but in the end  always just out of reach. 

Laudable    progress has been made recently through protests of conscience   in depriving these    grotesque parodies   of horse shows  an audience;  yet, ultimately, federal law and strict   enforcement are   needed to stop this abuse in its tracks.


The department’s publication of the proposed rule, demonstrates that at long last, help for the horses could be  on the way.  Although  we can expect that the opposition will raise the money that it needs   to fight the USDA in court , having already called the proposed rule “unconstitutional and illegal” before it was released to the public,  momentum is a mighty force in all campaigns and, when we work together,  there’s more of “us”, then there are of “them”.  


Today,  thanks to the efforts of the HSUS, the ASPCA, the AHC, the AVMA, the AAEP, organizations like FOSH and the All American Walking Horse Alliance,  grass roots efforts like the Citizens Campaign,  riding organizations across the country, and individuals in the United States and internationally who have said “enough”, the momentum is  on the side of enforcing the law and stepping into the 21st century regarding animal welfare. 

The court of public opinion has ruled in the case of the sored,  built-up horse and the verdict is “No More”.

One person who is surely   entitled to blog on this subject is Wayne Pacelle, the CEO of the HSUS.  Under his leadership, the organization has   been    directed   to   devote   thousands  of hours and make full use of its   resources  in the    effort   to  bring   about the   end to the  soring, stacking and chaining of walking, racking, and spotted saddle horses .

In his blog today, Mr. Pacelle wrote:


“No one should get away with animal cruelty. Not an individual and not an industry. But that’s what’s been happening with scofflaw owners and trainers within a segment of the Tennessee walking horse show industry.


This week, we applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for issuing a proposed rule, fulfilling a number of the requests in a February 2015 rule-making petition filed by attorneys for The HSUS with pro bono help from Latham & Watkins. The proposed rule contains game-changing reforms to end the half-century-long battle against the soring of Tennessee walking horses, racking horses and related breeds – a vile practice in which caustic chemicals, chains, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques are used to injure the horses’ front legs and hooves and force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the “big lick.” This sort of calculated, appalling cruelty should never be tolerated.


Since 1970, a federal law intended by Congress to end soring – the Horse Protection Act (HPA), 15 U.S.C. § 1821 et seq. – has been on the books. The USDA was charged with enforcing the law, but due to under-funding and political interference from those defending the horse sorers, for most of the past 40 years the very segment of the show horse world that created the soring problem has been allowed to police itself and perpetuate the rampant abuse.


Mainstream horse industry groups and veterinary organizations such as the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and American Veterinary Medical Association have tried to work with and encourage the walking horse crowd to bring about change from within – but more than a few stubborn horse owners and trainers continue to think they are above the law. Humane groups have lobbied the USDA for stronger enforcement, supported its efforts, and even sued the agency in an attempt to secure long overdue protections for the stoic, majestic equine victims of a culture of abuse as seedy and dark as the nation’s worst cockfighting and dogfighting rings.

The HSUS has conducted undercover investigations of leading horse training establishments, exposed the corruption and cruelty within the industry, and demonstrated that – as the USDA’s own Inspector General determined in a 2010 audit of the Horse Protection program – the current system is still hopelessly broken, and nothing short of significant reforms will fulfill the intent of Congress and break the cycle of cruelty that is so endemic to the big lick walking horse circuit.

In recent years, Congress has attempted to close loopholes in enforcement of the HPA through federal legislation. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.3268/S.1121, has garnered vast, nearly unprecedented endorsements by virtually all sectors of the horse industry, veterinary community, animal protection movement, law enforcement, key individuals in the walking horse show world, and a broad bipartisan majority in both the House and Senate with 314 cosponsors combined currently. But a handful of obstructionist federal legislators aligned with the soring crowd have thus far managed to block this broadly supported bill from coming to a vote. No longer can a handful of lawmakers stymie the will of the vast majority of key stakeholders and Americans.


The USDA has the authority under current law to strengthen its own HPA regulations to more effectively crack down on soring. The lead House and Senate sponsors of the PAST Act and 175 cosponsors sent letters this spring calling on the administration to move forward quickly with this rulemaking and ensure that it covers the key reforms. The agency has agreed, recognizing that these changes are necessary in order to effectuate the purposes of the HPA, and has put forth for public comment a robust set of regulatory changes in this proposed new rule, including the following:


  Abolishing the current system of industry self-regulation and in its place implementing a network of independent, third-party inspectors licensed, trained, and overseen by the USDA, at no new cost to the taxpayer


  Prohibiting the use of stacked horse shoes, ankle chains, and other “action devices” at competitions, on horses in the Tennessee walking, racking, and related breeds (those that have been chronic victims of soring).


These provisions, consistent with key elements of the PAST Act, The HSUS’ 2015 petition and the congressional letters, should finally help bring an end to soring and salvage the walking horse industry, securing its place in the humane economy of the 21st century and beyond.


It’s time for equestrians, animal lovers, and humane-minded people across America to step up and show their support for this proposed rule during the public comment period which ends September 26th. We should show a zero tolerance policy as a nation for this intentional cruelty to horses – especially when the goal of the sorers is nothing but a few ribbons at horse shows and notoriety within their small, insular subculture."



Amen  and Hallelujah!  ( Rejoice and then remember: this is good news but the battle is not over.   To get to the finish line,  find the avenue that best suits your style of advocacy, then   get involved, stay involved,  and don't quit five minutes before the miracle.  We shall never, ever,   give up until the sore horse is only a sad footnote   in the history of what is a wonderful breed.  )





Ask and You Shall Receive or Be Careful What You Ask for. You may Get It.

I thoroughly disapprove of duels. If a man should challenge me, I would take him kindly and forgivingly by the hand and lead him to a quiet place and kill him.
— Mark Twain

Back in May of 2016, Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), whose name is usually prefaced with the words “ the powerful head of the appropriations committee” sent a letter off to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack that could be charitably described as abrasive and accurately described as arrogant in tone.  In a city where it is hard to get congressmen to speak directly about any subject, Rogers’ letter stood out for its finger- in- the- chest approach. 


Representative Rogers,  who has long carried the water for the  performance walking horse trade  up on Capitol Hill and whose former staffer Jeff Speakes is now the lobbyist for big lick interests,  was clearly  angry.  Because the walking horse bunch was asleep at the wheel, cozy in their appeals court victory over the USDA against mandatory minimum penalties, Rogers, too, was blindsided when  the USDA announced its  intention to go to rule making regarding the Horse Protection Act.   


With  the PAST Act, whose bipartisan support led the legislative pack of bills in 2015, unable to get to the floor of either the House or the Senate, thanks to the efforts of people like Representative Rogers and his fellow Kentuckian Senator Mitch McConnell, joined by tag team member Senator Lamar Alexander,  the folks living in the land of denial were confident that     once again they had prevailed in the on-going attempt to bring about an end to more than 40 years of soring horses to obtain exaggerated gaits useful only for brief periods of flash and labored performance around an oval, increasingly framed by empty seats.


   When powerful people are paid to bottle things up, they like the cork to  stay put. Rule making was an unexpected POP that sent the big lick contingent to general quarters and hence to Representative Rogers who controls the purse strings in the House.  Having threatened USDA funding before on this issue, he could be expected to play his part again. 


Rogers demanded in his letter  that Vilsack report to him how funds obligated in fiscal year 2015 for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act had been spent.  He directed the Secretary to provide documentation of all    threats over a period of the last five years that the USDA/APHIS had received while enforcing the HPA.  He was combative  in requesting that USDA/APHIS certify personally to him that the department had not consulted or engaged with any non-governmental agency in drafting the proposed rule that so raised his blood pressure because it raised the ire of his loyal campaign contributors.   


If Rogers’ letter had been a movie script, you might  describe the lead character    as: “ an opinionated    man of mature years  in a position of power takes out his white glove and strikes another  official across the cheek, the classic insult  in years past of one Kentucky gentleman to another, having    discarding all pretenses of mannerly civility.”

These days, thankfully,  pens and committee hearings   are the preferred weapons  in D.C. duels between  government officials.


Secretary Vilsack did not respond under his own signature, an action   some might  say was a version of the cut direct;  but he did, through the formal response made by the USDA’s Todd Batta, Assistant Secretary for Congressional Relations, take Representative Rogers “kindly and forgivingly by the hand” ,  and in producing the information that he had  demanded, killed him, figuratively, with the results.  


Be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.


According to Batta, the APHIS obligated $681,000 in FY 2015 and had, as of June 20, 2016 obligated $383,722 in HPA enforcement activities.  If those numbers make your eyes blink, they should. 


The amount of money being spent to try to regulate a rich man’s hobby based in animal cruelty,  which has limited participation and even less social benefit , should make tax payers seethe, especially as this drain on the public purse has continued for more than 40 years.  This  small segment of the horse world has gone its own way despite repeated attempts to enforce the law and has made the taxpayers of America pay for the privilege of trying to stop them from hurting horses for show.


  This works out to an  average of  just over 13K spent on each of the 52 horse shows that USDA VMOs attended in 2015 with  another 6 K spent to provide security for the veterinarians who were at those shows  doing their jobs.


A person familiar with the  USEF  and  FEI programs that control equestrian sport in the larger equestrian world would find it impossible to believe that money like this is spent year after year trying to ineffectively   police  a small group of miscreants showing a very small group of horses.  In contrast,  effective inspection programs within these two bodies are self-policing, self-financing, and self-penalizing in mandatory ways, including meaningful suspensions,  after hearings are conducted by the organizations when horsemen are accused of breaking the rules.  The names of the violators including the offense and the penalties are published by the organizations for all to see. Why? Because these organizations want to stop such behavior in its tracks rather than make bad behavior a condition for entry into a Hall of Fame.


What should have made Representative Rogers’ eyes blink    was the additional  amount that APHIS has had to pay for security to protect its VMOs from the big lick community. 


According to Batta , providing  complete information,  $315,560.00 was spent on security in 2015 and as of June 9, 2016, another $188,588.00 has been spent to ensure that government employees were not harmed and/or threatened by what can be a pretty rough crowd (  the sort of people, as an example,  that tried   to run down with a truck   a protestor armed only with a sign, as happened in 2015, and was proven in court).



Security dollars do not, Batta courteously reassured the rancorous representative, come out of the HPA budget but are included as a line item in the USDA’s physical and operational security category.  This line item provides necessary security when needed for all of APHIS’ programs where, no surprise, regulation is notwelcomed by the people and industriesbreaking the law who arebeing regulated under the laws of the United States.


And why are such sums necessary?   Batta was also   able to provide those answers to Representative Rogers who had seemed to imply in his letter that he believed the USDA was blowing smoke about real and present threats to its personnel.  


According to USDA records, since 2011 to the present, the time period requested by Representative Rogers, 99 threats have been documented.



 In 2016 alone (and the show season is still young), there have been 13 threats made against APHIS personnel. Four of these, according to Batta’s response came from The Gulf Coast Trainers’ Charity  Show held in Panama City Beach, Florida.  This show saw 40% of the entries inspected by USDA VMOs considered to be  in violation of the HPA.  Another threat came from the Spring Fun Show, held in Shelbyville, Tennessee, where “fun” and misbehavior    travel hand in hand.  


If he believes Mr. Batta, Representative Rogers must have been  surprised to find that the ‘good clean family tradition entertainment’ that he has been supporting all these years, in addition to its documented reliance on animal cruelty, also has documented verbal thuggery associated with its participants.  And, as we are all too aware,  in modern times  violent words can quickly become  violent actions.  It’s necessary   when walking into a lion’s den to have security at   your back.



Batta also certified that no non-governmental entity had a role in drafting the proposed rule that USDA recently submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for review. 


As of today, the proposed rule has yet to be published, but it would be reasonable to presume that it would contain both elements of the PAST Act and address concerns voiced earlier by the Office of the Inspector General about   failed industry inspection schemes and the resultant failure to fully enforce the HPA, which is the sole responsibility of the USDA/APHIS.


Now that Representative Rogers has his answers, it will be interesting to see exactly what he does with them.  It can be anticipated, however, that he won’t be changing his mind or his attitude about full support for the big lick cabal at any time in the future.  Instead, Batta’s measured response is more likely to simply add gasoline to an already burning fire.  


This can be ascertained by the misleading comments made in an industry paper covering Batta’s response to Rogers,  regarding the cost of inspections should the USDA, using a PAST Act- like system, take over the inspection program for all shows  currently regulated under the HPA. 


If these folks had taken the time to read what has been proposed by that legislation, including the how- it- would- work information sheets, they might discover that inspection costs could go down for both show managers and for exhibitors, but that’s a story for another day. 


Just as with their selective reading of the Auburn Study, much quoted by people who have never read   it,  as well as   those who ignore the parts that don't fit their narrative , it’s better  to yell, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling” and rally the faithful, especially when there is a fundraising move now    afoot to sue the federal government once again.


 It’s   also    easier to divert attention away from the real problem, that the only regulation this group    is interested in is self-regulation with no penalties for violators, while claiming  that it’s going to cost the federal government another $5,000,000 to take full responsibility for the inspections and enforcement of the HPA.  This was the  original intent of the law, before the HIOs were foisted on the USDA by certain legislators.


If the  removal of pads and chains should be included in the proposed rule,  the whole inspection system would become both easier and more  cost effective   than it has ever been.  It’s documented fact that  the problems found with the big-lick horse, including verbal altercations,  are not found at well attended    flat- shod only shows like those put on by WHOA.


Wouldn’t   you think that a person like the Honorable Mr. Rogers, a person  in the appropriation’s business,  should applaud rather than resist a future that looks like that?

   Wouldn’t   you think that after receiving the answer to his questions,  a man who is supposedly a representative of all the people   might at least start asking questions from the other side, getting a balanced view of the issue,  rather than trying to appear to be interested   in fairness,   all   the   while   keeping his weighty thumb on the big lick side of the ledger he controls?  

Probably not.




The Game of What if and What’s Next?

My Daddy told me if you whip a bully good the first time, you don’t have to do it again. Time we made the first swing.
— Comment made by a performance horse supporter, May 2016, whose attitude seems to reflect the mood of the business.

The Issue: The USDA has proposed a rule to the OMB   that would eliminate pads and chains from show horses and would return complete enforcement of the HPA to the USDA, as was envisioned when the federal law was first signed into law in1970.


 The Status: No surprise! The  industry has rallied, just as it did when Judge Gasch stopped a horse show in its tracks many years ago and pads and chains were placed  in jeopardy. 


Some History: The person who rallied the troops to fight the federal government in the 80s was Reese Smith of Tennessee, the late father of current TWHBEA president Stephen B. Smith.  Mr. Reese was responsible for raising the first sizeable war chest for  industry sponsored litigation against the USDA.  He appealed  directly to industry supporters under the auspices  of an organization he founded called the Friends of the Show Horse.


For years, a part of every inspection fee on every horse shown  in  walking horse venues using the NHSC, the precursor to SHOW, as an HIO, was back-channeled to the Friends.  Most  exhibitors were unaware of the practice.


The Friends later morphed into the Show Horse Support Fund after questions about its funding and its spending began to be asked at the TWHBEA level by members unhappy with the registry both  funding and supporting efforts they considered not to  be in the best interests of the breed.


Reese was very  successful in his quest.  He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars earmarked to fight the government, back when hundreds of thousands of dollars was real money. The Friends  later went on to help pay for HPA cases filed against individual exhibitors  that had been carefully selected by the industry because they believed that a win in these cases would be precedent setting for later cases that might be filed.  They won some and they lost some.


The late Charles Terry, an attorney of renown who had fought and wonnumbers of major cases in his private practice , was also a  supporter of the industry and  an owner of performance horses.  He remained active in the fight against what he saw as federal overreach in the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act almost until the day he died.  He  used his considerable resources and the resources of his firm to see to it that the use ofpads and chains remained intact.  


  As a result of the Auburn Study, the 10-ounce chain then legal in shows was  reduced in size to the 6-ounce chain, now standard issue in show rings. Like Chicken Little, the industry claimed that the loss of the 10 ounce chain would ruin the show horse but has gotten along with the 6 ouncer ever since,   even as much heavier chains often used in combinations are still routinely used in training barns.  


Like Mr. Smith, Mr. Terry was a personal friend of David L. Howard, the publisher and owner of the Walking Horse Report and former chairman of the Celebration.  Working together, a group of  confidants thus   managed to control the destiny of the walking horse business for many years, albeit quietly and behind the scenes. Only in recent years have the people and the connections in the   walking horse business become more open to the general public’s scrutiny.


(Power, however,  is never as effective as when it is wielded silently and with a velvet glove.  Contributions to the right palms over many years and investments in the right lawsuits have paid better dividends for the industry  than the  moral outrage  of sound horse advocates over the abuse   called training and shoeing    has ever returned. )


While fighting in the courts, industry leaders also invested in politics and in  politicians they believed would be sympathetic to their positions.  In addition to personal contributions, TWHBEA once had a PAC that was in the top 100 donors for Mitch McConnell’s re-election and contributed to many other industry friendly  officials and candidates  during its existence. Again, many members were surprised to discover that TWHBEA    had a PAC and that money under the registry’s name was being funneled to hand- picked politicians, not reflective of their views on animal welfare issues, without their knowledge. 


  Influentials  like Mitch McConnell, Hal Rogers, and Lamar Alexander are still serving.  Other   former heavyweights were engaged to push back  almost as soon President Richard M. Nixon signed the Horse Protection Act into law on December 9, 1970. Over the years they  went so far as to threaten in writing the USDA’s annual funding in order to keep the walking horse industry intact and functioning. They were instrumental in the amendment of the original HPA in 1976 and were responsible for foisting the HIO system, which became full scale  self-regulation supported by Steve Smith's relationship with Lamar Alexander while Smith   was serving a term as president of the TWHBEA. Self-regulation   left the USDA as a sort of   second string inspection force in partnership with the people former APHIS head   Dr. Ron   DeHaven once described, after he left his office,  as the “foxes guarding the hen house”.

 On the scorecard, although the industry folks  have had some rough patches in recent years, the outcomes for the industry position have been  affirmative  because the HPA has never been fully enforced as it was written and intended.  


The Present: Now comes the 2016 Annual  Fun Show, held in Shelbyville, Tennessee, over the Memorial Day weekend.  Here  a memorial of a different sort, a back to the future with new faces,  was held for owners and stake holders before the Saturday night session at the Blue Ribbon Circle Clubhouse on The Celebration grounds. Approximately 150 people were in attendance.


What’s Old is New Again: Once, the  industry’s longtime lobbyist Neils Holch, former  chief of staff to Mitch McConnell, guaranteed steady access to the Kentucky Republican over many years.  Holch moved on but his position has now been replaced with the new industry lobbyist,   Jeff Speakes, also of Kentucky,  who briefly addressed the crowd.


Speakes was forthright in saying that they ( the lobbyists)  didn’t see the USDA  rule coming until it was upon them, adding that this was because the HSUS had 19 lobbyists working on this issue full time, while the industry only had two, one of whom is Mr. Speakes,  who also represents other clients.


  He also told the crowd that the PAST Act had, in the last session, the largest number of co-sponsors of any piece of legislation that came before the Congress yet it never managed to get to the floor.  

Mr. Speakes is too modest about his role in protecting the industry's interests. In addition to representing Terry Dotson, the president of PSHA and a major business owner, Speakes has long professional ties from service on the staff of Kentucky Republican Hal Rogers, who also happens to hold the purse strings on the Appropriations Committee and is a walking horse industry vote.  Rogers  has had stiff words on more than one occasion to various USDA functionaries who failed to treat the walking horse industry with deference and Speakes has his ear.  Jeff Speakes is the new Neils Holch and his fine, behind- the- scenes, hand, is both  actively involved in bottling up PAST and in making sure that the proposed USDA rule never becomes an active rule.  To date  he has delivered on his industry paycheck.


The “new” combination of Charles Terry and Reese Smith  at the meeting   was counselor and owner of the largest breeding facility in the walking horse industry, Frank Eichler.  Eichler described himself at the Fun Show owners’ meeting as a triple A attorney, one of the “a’s”, a self described reference to the word a**h***.  


After telling the assembly that the industry had really not done anything on this issue ( presumably anti-PAST activity)   for the past six months ( essentially since the win in the mandatory penalties case), they were now playing catch- up ball,   that things were going to happen quickly, and they were behind.  Eichler briefed the attentive group on the basics of the proposed“what’s ahead” strategy for the industry.


The strategy as he described it appeared  to be centered on a large public push-back during the public comment on rule making for the current USDA proposed rule, running out the clock until the upcoming elections, and challenges in the federal court, with a focus on the court headquartered in Washington, D.C. 


The audience listened attentively, but     no one jumped up waving a checkbook,  when he said to get the process  started would require half a million dollars for rule making and half a million dollars for litigation.   In short, Mr. Eichler proposed (as the unnamed commentator featured at the top of this article wrote) to take the first swing and whip the bully, hopefully this time for good, and was clear that it was going to take a lot of money to do it. (Remember, too, that another industry lawsuit is already underway being led by Mike McGartland     of mandatory penalty fame   and that one is going to have to be paid for as well. ) 


Eichler is now    searching for the best legal talent that money can buy.  He said that three top law firms were under consideration to represent the industry, although one of them, he added, had turned down the overture because the firm  did not want to be associated  with the walking horse issue.


The   self-appointed seven person    leadership council for the industry that includes Eichler,  Duke Thorson, whose Thorsport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the subject of an undercover HSUS investigation in 2015, Stephen B. Smith, the current president of TWHBEA and son of the late Reese Smith, Jeffrey Howard, the son of David L. Howard, Terry Dotson, the president of PSHA and personal employer of Jeff Speakes, and Mike Inman, CEO of The Celebration, will make, according to Eichler, the final decision on which firm will lead the crusade against the USDA and its enforcement of the HPA.  It appears that , as Eichler described them “tax-efficient donations” ( meaning tax deductible donations)  made through FAST, an industry supportive non-profit, will likely be used as the channel to fund these projects. (Although Mr. Eichler said there were 7 on the council, he identified only 6).


The entire industry is being asked to step up and to help fund the fight. Comments from the floor expressed criticism of anyone showing a horse at a show that was not using SHOW as an HIO as part of SHOW’s inspection fees go towards paying industry lobbyists (shades of Friends of the Show Horse days).


Where Are We?: With the striking down of mandatory minimum penalties by a federal court, the   recent granting of the preliminary injunction for the McSwains, the owners of Honors, in the 8th circuit court   and the current  suspension of the HPA case by Administrative Law Judge Jill Clifton against the Edwards clan of Larry, Gary and Paige Edwards, including a decision to remove Paige from the case altogether, the industry, although down, is feeling more empowered in May   then of late.

The Edwards are, as a matter of record, both the trainers of Honors and the recipients of one of the longer HPA suspensions in a previous case ever awarded, along with former employee Ernest Upton. 

But,  what a happy coincidence:  with the 8th circuit’s injunction in his pocket, it is anticipated that Mr.  McSwain will enter Honors in this year’s Celebration.

The Celebration will certainly use the presence of the popular stallion to hype the horse show, hoping to manufacturea level of excitement that has been missing for years and wasn’t much elevated by the back to back grand championships of I Am Jose.

And, as there is unlikely to be a decision in the Edwards case before Celebration, the Edwards’ will be there to show the horse.  How’s that for a convergence in the heavens of the courts?       


The old horse trainer saying,  “ If I can’t beat you with my horse, I’ll beat you with the rule book!” seems to be taking on a    new application.  With the industry on the winning side in recent contests with  the USDA, also   recently    slapped on the wrist with critical comments about avoiding Congress   concerning the HPA in the appropriations bill language,  about 500 people attended the final night of the Fun Show. Many classes had 6- 8 horses, not enough to fill the ribbons but enough to make a respectable turnout. There was a larger crowd than was seen at the Trainers Show earlier in the year and conversations overheard on the show-grounds and in the stands were full of fighting words. 


As the rank and file has been fed a stew of fictions about the intent of the HSUS to eliminate the walking horse breed and  are routinely told that once the HSUS gets rid of the walking horse, they will turn their attentions to other show horses,  (“ They’re next but we can’t get them to believe it,” was a comment heard at the owners’ meeting.)  hostility towards the HSUS, the targeted “other” continues to build. 


The activities of other groups, individuals,  and organizations working to end the abuse, boycotting horse shows,  and supporting    the PAST Act go largely unmentioned ( although not unnoticed one supposes by Sister Milligan of the Gulf Coast Charity Show or by trainerJamie Lawrence who was convicted of assault after trying to hit a protestor at the 2015 Columbia horse show in Tennessee).

The chosen    enemy is the HSUS who strongly influences the USDA, they say, without considering the irony ofcriticizing the actions of the HSUS while overlooking the    influence and actions that the industry has taken   in the Congress which kept the PAST Act from getting the vote it deserved.  


It’s as if the walking horse culture, which is   largely a southern culture, is   now   using   the horse as an actor in one of its long running dramas, the desire to struggle against the federal government or against anyone else  telling them what they should or must do.  Struggle is in their DNA and the struggle to sustain the big lick horse is going to be a fight to the end.


Industry supporters anticipate that the “others”, although more troublesome this time than in the past and with more staying power than anticipated, will give up long before they do, or that the USDA will be cowed, or that the upcoming election will put politicians in place that will continue to ensure that no legislative action is taken that will upset, further, the apple cart.  Once again, the aim is to get through this year’s horse show season and to consolidate their position,  using the courts to do it since the court of public opinion has turned against them.


So, What if from the beginning  the USDA had actually rigorously enforced the HPA and had not been arm twisted by certain politicians to “partner” with an industry determined to evade and avoid the law?


The McSwains weren’t around in 1979 when the USDA issued its “final scar rule “, imposed only after the industry told the USDA in 1976 that there was no need for the government to impose the specifics of a scar rule because the industry would write its own rules to guarantee that no scarred horse would be shown. 


It should come as no surprise that self- regulation didn’t work then, either, but,  led by the industry,   we were off in the weeds of whether or not hair could be grown through the scar, how much hair was enough hair, what the real definition of a scar was, and on and on it went and continues to this day. 


  Due to lack of enforcement by the industry of its  own voluntary  scar rule, the Department determined that adding an official  scar rule in 1979 rule to its HPA program was required.  It has always been clear that horses foaled after the 1970 HPA and the  1976 amendment to the HPA was enacted should carry no scars on their pasterns  of the type associated with soring practices.  


The McSwains wouldn’t have bought a horse foaled many, many years after 1976, that had already had a scar rule violation as a two- year- old, the ticket issued by the industry’s own inspection program, with subsequent information taken over the years by the USDA,  if   the scar rule had been enforced as required by the law;  Honors would not have been scarred had the law been followed,    and   the  McSwains would have had no need to  be in court in 2016 .


What if the USDA had held scrupulously to the standard that “a horse shall consider to be sored, including by  the use of chains or boots, if these devices can reasonably be expected to cause inflammation”? 


The Auburn Study and the Ames Study both stated conclusively that inflammation comes about in performance horses through the raising and lowering of heels and toes in performance shoeing, as well as with the application of chemicals and with the use of   chains of various weights with and/or  without the presence of chemicals.  The benchmark for a sore horse is inflammation no matter how it is achieved.


Nowthe USDA has thermography studies that show inflammation is present in big lick horses that have been scanned with the latest technology. The presence of inflammation alone is a violation of the HPA.

  Swabbing of horses also shows conclusively the presence of agents used to deaden pain responses, to cosmetically conceal scars, as well as the presence of chemical  agents known to be used in soring. The only substance permitted on a horse’s pastern is petroleum jelly. Anything else according to the HPA is a prohibited substance. Prohibited means forbidden. 

The science is there;  where are the prosecutions?


What if industry participants had paid better attention to a scar rule presentation made in 2007 by the USDA in Lexington, Kentucky?  There,  the Department explained that inflammation also includes scurfing and that, as to the scar rule, horses should “therefore bear no scars whatsoever if the law were being complied with, as the scar rule applies only to horses that were foaled and trained well after the passage of the HPA and after the 1976 HPA Amendments.”


What if people who have had information taken by federal agents were actually prosecuted on a timely basis instead of waiting years to discover if they were going to win the HPA federal case lottery or get off with a benign letter of warning? There is room to feel some sympathy for people who are left twisting, sometimes for years, even as they continue to show horses, wondering if they are going to find themselves offering a defense in a federal HPA case. 


Due process should mean a reasonable time to be charged and get   a court date.  The  USDA should also  consider what message taking information on allegations of violation of a federal law  but failing to prosecute  sends to individuals within the industry.  Keeping horses out of a horse show by disqualifying them for that event not   only doesn’t get the attention of alleged HPA violators, it only makes them angry and more determined to get the horses through inspection the next time.  Then,  when they do, they claim this as evidence that inspections are both unfair and subjective when carried out by VMOs.


What -ifs aside, we are now 46 years into enforcement of the Horse Protection Act:  46 years of sored horses and denial of same; 46 years of tax payer funding to try to control the illegal activities of a small but dedicated group of individuals who feel that the law does not apply to them; 46 years of court cases and judgments and suspension lists, including a recent case brought against world grand champion trainer Chad Baucom for allegations of violating the HPA,  a decision in the HPA case of John Allan Callaway II dba Allan Callaway Stables, and a list of 7060s released in April on the USDA website   that seems to cover much of the walking horse world;   yet,  the business continues.  


What exactly are we doing   and why does the industry seem to have better luck in the courts that count than the USDA has? That’s a question for the ages.


The facts are that we are now focused on the second and third generation of people associated with suspect training of walking horses for exhibition,  as well as a second and third generation of judges hearing new  cases for different people who are  still getting caught for doing the same old things.


A case in point, Chad Baucom’s father passed away while serving a federal suspension for violation of the HPA with numerous horses; Chad’s son is now a young horse trainer with his own violations.   There are many examples of law-breaking fathers whose sons have followed them into the family business, which includes selling horses, some of them scarred horses, to people who may have no idea of the history, the law, or the studies that demonstrate as the Ames Study said so clearly:


 “  Soring consists of deliberate irritation of the pastern areas by chemical and/ or mechanical means until they become so sore that movement and or the bearing of weight causes considerable pain to the animal.


As a result the hind feet are placed further forward under the horse so that the rear quarters bear a greater percentage of the body weight.  Likewise when the front feet come into contact with the ground, they are hyper flexed and extended (snapped forward quickly).  Long hooves plus pads and weighted shoes aid in this action. 


This combination results in a long rear stride and a high, far –reaching action with the front feet. When everything works together in the proper rhythm the Big Lick is produced. 


In reality, the “Big Lick” should be called the “Sore Lick” because it is performed by a horse which, by all diagnostic criteria, is unsound and unfit to show.”


What’s Next? There really isn’t much left to say after that, except,   it’s time to acknowledge that this is no longer simply about the right to show horses or to do with your property as you see fit. This has become an industry high stakes poker game of    'we’ll raise a million dollars, get a blue ribbon law firm,  and see you in court'. 

It remains to be seen if the USDA has the cards and the talent to call the industry’s hand and to actually win one,  when the inevitable next challenge comes,  for the horses.  




The Voice for the Horse is Back and He's in Fine Form

Some of the better writing surrounding the outrage that is the big lick show horse has come from Roy Exum, a columnist from Chattanooga, not a horseman, but a person not short on horse sense who discovered after becoming involved with the Jackie McConnell case and then following the trail and the money of other industry insiders that something is terribly wrong with the picture the industry keeps trying to sell. He also knows that there is something wrong with the politicians who continue to roll in the dough they collect from the people who are determined not to see federal legislation that would protect walking horses from abuse become law. Mr. Exum’s been missing from the public debate on this issue for awhile now and people wondered if he had decided he had said all he could say on this subject. Wonder no more. Mr. Exum is back and what he has to say goes directly to the heart of the matter.

reprinted with permission ( emphasis added)


 Tennessee’s Dirty GOP

Wednesday, April 6, 2016 - by Roy Exum


For the third straight year there are two bills simmering in Washington against sadistic horse abuse that insiders believe don’t stand a chance. The reason the United States cannot stop the rampant abuses of Tennessee Walking Horses is because of the elected Senators and members of Congress who represent the Republican Party in Tennessee, the very state where the cruelty is the worst in the nation.

Oh, people like Senator Lamar Alexander and Rep. Chuck Fleischmann will tell you they don’t abide intentionally hurting animals. Yet the truth is every Republican in Washington from Tennessee is awash in money from the “Big Lick,” which is what the nauseating side of the horse industry is called. If you think our state representatives in Congress “represent” you and me, you are “sorely” mistaken.

This is the third year the P.A.S.T. Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics) has been introduced for legislation. This year the bill in Congress (HR 3268) has 255 co-sponsors out of 535 who can vote. Of those 255, the only one from Tennessee is Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis. Scott DesJarlais, known widely for his heavy criticism of USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) horse inspectors, sponsored an alternate bill that is about a lukewarm as spit where he and the other Tennessee members of Congress can shirk the public’s wrath.

The Senate bill, although sponsored by Republican Kelly Ayote of New Hampshire, has 49 of a possible 100 who can vote. Of the 49 co-sponsors, it is somewhat disheartening that 40 are Democrats and two are independents, leaving only seven from the GOP. That’s because the majority of the “Big Lick” cash goes to Senator Alexander and his Lick-loving partner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (where they also sore a lot of Walkers.)

Get this right – not one Republican from Tennessee is a co-sponsor of the P.A.S.T. Act. Don’t that make you pop your blue jean buttons?

McConnell has openly battled the USDA over its attempts to rein in the sicko owners and trainers who slather acid on horse’s forelegs (wrapping the mess in heavy Saran wrap so it will “cook”), who use electric shock and nails in the hooves, as well as any other method to make the horses’ legs hurt. There is actually a letter McConnell once signed threatening the USDA on behalf of the “Big Lick.”

Of course, the quest of the hideous and lengthy torture is to make the horse’s front legs flail high, which results in a grotesque and unnatural dance the cheaters in Shelbyville call “The Big Lick.” That way the cheater gets a flimsy ribbon, forgetting the fact many veterinarians and horsemen believe soring leads to a premature death. (The ‘Lickers’ call such poisoning ‘the colic.’)

But perhaps not all is lost. It has been learned that last week the USDA sent some proposed “rule changes” on behalf of the Obama Administration that would alter the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970. The changes were sent to the Office of Management and Budget, which is required before the changes become public.

Anti-soring proponents, including the Humane Society of the United States and every group of veterinarians in all 50 states, have pleaded with the USDA to update the HPA that would forbid stacks, chains, pressure devices and other means of sadistic training methods. All sane horse people, from the American Horse Council to the American Veterinary Medical Association, have urged the USDA to please update and regulate the nasty “Big Lick” crowd, all to no avail until now.

At the 2015 Walking Horse Celebration, it quickly turned into the “Sore-abration” when 87.5 percent of horses randomly selected for USDA inspection had signs of being sored. Trainers are on record as saying soring is the only method of achieving the “Big Lick” and, while public scorn is still high, many owners and riders have already adapted the “flat-shod” approach that is gaining in popularity.

Then there is one other juicy morsel and, when applied, gives the USDA petition an even-better chance of success. This is priceless … Senators Alexander, McConnell and Tennessee’s Bob Corker are loyal to the “Big Lick” but not so much to Mr. President. With Obama getting ready to turn over the front door keys to the White House, what a dandy twirl to the Potomac goose-step would it be to craftily cut some campaign funds from the heartless statesmen and gutless women in the Tennessee GOP.

If Obama took a swing-blade to the “Big Lickers” it would most nobly serve a three-fold purpose. First, it would be the single most popular moment that Obama would have ever had in the South. Two, it would be a definitive pop to those who chose dirty money over animal abuse, and three, it would go a long way toward the ethical and humane treatment of animals. In short, it would simply be a most delicious masterstroke.

* * *

This is an election year for many politicians. Tennessee is controlled by Republicans and, if you are faced with a tough decision between two friends running against one another, or candidates you equally admire on Election Day, remember what the Republican Party has done to foster the illicit and contemptible abuse of horses in Tennessee. Never vote for a political party; instead go with decent and ethical people.

If a candidate on the state, county or city level is Republican and vows he had nothing to do with the shameful scourge in D.C., simply point toward Fleischmann or DesJarlais and tell the GOP whiner very succinctly, “You did nothing to stop it, either … and you are in the same club as these jerks.”

Don’t dare throw good money where it will spend just like the Lick’s dirty money. When the politicians come around for campaign cash, send ‘em directly to Shelbyville. Animal abuse in any shape or form must be once and forever stopped.

Doing What Comes Naturally (or apples do not fall far from their trees)

Down in Panama City Beach, Florida, city officials and members of the Tourism Development Board continue to wrestle with the question about whether or not big lick horses are subjected to animal cruelty in their manufacture. The founder of the show, Sister Milligan, an attorney and a well-known big lick exhibitor has said in public: no: it’s all-natural; we love these horses; and there is no such thing as a big lick.   The show was once sponsored by The Celebration who abandoned it after it proved to be not beneficial financially in a rare example of straight talk by Mike Inman to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, but was then taken up by the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association as one of its flagship shows.


Animal welfare advocates intent on bringing the other side of the sordid story of the performance horse to this lovely beachfront community in an attempt to save it from being associated with animal cruelty partially funded, it appears unwittingly, by Tourism grants to the Gulf Coast Charity Horse Show Association, a non-profit, have pointed to the violation histories of prominent trainers as well as the federal case which is currently pending against Milligan and her multi-ticketed trainer Dick Peebles. They cite these as examples of the words not matching the tune that Milligan has been singing to Panama City Beach for many years now.


The tune is beginning to sound more and more off key, even to those who have helped fund her horse show efforts in the past.  Local media and residents of Florida are starting to ask questions that have never been asked before.  Both cruelty and character are becoming issues in the ongoing debate over the exhibition of big lick horses.   Who are these people and how are they all connected, inquiring minds are starting to ask.


Officer of the court Milligan, according to the ad she placed in the trade publication that serves the industry and was available to the public at the recent Trainers Show held in Shelbyville, Tennessee, the epicenter of the business, has at least one horse in training with Alabama’s Jamie Lawrence, himself a fan of the Panama City Beach horse show.  A jury, you may remember, recently convicted Lawrence, of assault. He tried to run down a protestor at last year’s version of the Gulf Coast Charity show that was held in Columbia, Tennessee.  The protestor, ironically, happened to be Teresa Bippen, the president of FOSH.


Even with all of the factual information available, if Panama City Beach officials are still having a difficult time wrapping their heads around the aberration called a performance horse and questioning whether or not cruelty is involved in what it takes to produce one, a blog,, helped move that discussion along this week.  It showed this photo, which has since made its way around the world, causing gasps and howls of outrage.  

Then, in a follow up article, News of the Horse showed the world these photos with the same jockey riding more mature horses in rigs that can only be described as medieval.

The photos speak volumes. Clearly, if this is what it takes to MAKE a horse that supposedly does the big lick naturally, there is a problem with this sort of training.   Anyone, except walking horse fanatics,   can recognize on its face that doing this to a horse is simply nuts.  To do this to an equine 16 months of age is simply despicable. 


Although News of the Horse made its point by publishing these photos and have provided, in doing so, a public service, some of the facts were wrong and some of the interpretations were not fully developed because of lack of specific knowledge of the mechanics of what these photos show.   Let’s put those errors and omissions right, also in the public interest.


The horse in photo 1 above was identified as a 16-month-old colt ridden by Douglass Todd. In fact, the filly is actually being ridden by Chad Cotten, the son of Walking Horse Hall of Fame trainer Joe Cotten, suspended several years ago for seven and a half years by the walking horse industry.


The sin for which father Cotten    was punished was that he had revealed on social media pictures of the condition of a horse that had been sent to him for training from another big name trainer.  The horse  had been horribly sored and he had the pictures to prove it.   Cotten is known to have a temper. When he went public as the result of some sort of internecine struggle within the industry itself and Cotten’s opinions regarding the DQP program, the industry thumped him with everything they had.


In reality, industry leadership made an example of him for daring to air dirty laundry in public, while piously intoning against soring.  (This was reminiscent of the anguish they showed while throwing Hall of Famer Jackie McConnell under the industry bus after he had the misfortune of being shown on undercover video doing what comes naturally to a barn filled with high dollar performance horses that also made ABC’s Nightline program.  )   


Until his fall from grace and becoming an official “bad apple” Mr. Cotten like Mr. McConnell   had been doing what they all do, making performance horses, for some of the biggest “names” in the industry orchard, and doing it with the full knowledge of all that, that entails by his other brethren.


He has also apparently passed on the tools of this dubious trade to his son, Chad, whose own documented show record of riding walking horses began in 2005 at Centerville, Tennessee.  There he rode The Midnight Falcon in the 11 and Under class.  This photo shows proud papa in the same year bringing home the silver in 2005 from The Celebration with the entry of one of his many name customers, Patti Pollack of California.


Between 2005 and 2012 there is a documented record of Chad Cotten showing first as a youth, as a teenager, and then as an adult amateur in pleasure, pony, country pleasure, and big lick classes.  He was the jockey on more than 35 horses, including two and three- year- old performance horses, entries owned by recognizable industry names.  Joe’s son, it appears, was destined for a career in a horse barn, doing just what you see him doing in these photos, some of which have now mysteriously disappeared from the Internet sites where they were once so proudly displayed.  What he’s doing to these horses and how he learned to do it is, to quote a famous country song “ a family tradition”.



Continuing to shake the tree in the industry orchard, the filly, according to a search of the TWHBEA IPEDS program, is owned by Douglas and/ or Sue Todd of Hazel Green, Alabama.  The Todds also own Man of Excalibur Farm. Mrs. Todd, an engineer by profession, describes herself as an equine reproductive specialist who also cares about animal welfare.  Both Todds have entered in-hand horses at various industry venues from 2003 through 2015 including The Celebration.  They also are involved in spotted saddle horse shows.


Branching out, Mr. Todd, according to his social media site, is a supporter of Protect the Harvest, the group supported by Duke Thorson, whose Thorsport Farm was the subject of a multi-month undercover investigation conducted by the HSUS in 2015 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  There chemical analysis of wrappings and swabs taken from the pasterns of various horses at the facility showed signs of soring agents.


Another limb, one of the trainers employed at the time of the investigation, Brock Tillman, who has since left Thorsport but is still training, is currently the subject of a federal USDA HPA case.  It was Tillman’s wife who cheerily observed in 2015, after the protest incident with Mr. Lawrence, that it was “too bad he missed her, Let them walk on!”  She was speaking of the protestor whose close call with Lawrence’s truck and trailer made the Columbia papers.  


Mr. Todd also supports Humanewatch, a front group dedicated to upending the efforts of the HSUS, and the Missouri based Cavalry Group, active in the effort to stop the PAST Act from becoming law. 


Also in the basket, Walker Blankinship is identified as one of the Todd’s’ Facebook friends. You may remember Mr. Blankinship from the Equine Film Festival held in NYC in 2015.  He appeared on the Soring Panel as a spokesman for PSHA (Performance Show Horse Association), even though he admitted he had never been in a walking horse training barn or actually seen a performance walking horse in action. (For more of Mr. Blankinship’s expert opinions in New York, please refer to an earlier blog on this site)


Mrs. Todd also offers to the Facebook audience, regarding Wayne Pacelle, of the HSUS, typed in Humanewatch fashion as H$U$, that “It’s a disgrace that he holds his position when he doesn’t like animals and says so.”  (This would doubtless come as a surprise to Mr. Pacelle’s personal animal companions.) 


Apparently, Mrs. Todd does approve of people who so clearly like animals and show it in their respect for the animal training techniques they employ, people like Chad Cotten.  In photo 2, Mr. Cotten is shown riding a horse in wraps and a double set of action devices. 

While News of the Horse indicated that these wraps contain caustic chemicals that is unlikely. These wraps are the sort put on horses to keep them from knocking off the hair on the pasterns when being worked in action devices. The chemicals themselves are applied to the pasterns, which are wrapped in plastic wrap or paper towels covered with an overlay of fabric leg wraps, usually held in place with duct tape.  This ensures a steady contact, that the horses cannot remove the wrap, and provides the heat required for the chemicals to penetrate the skin.


However, rollers like the ones clearly seen on this performance horse are prohibited by the USDA in show rings, as are double sets of action devices.  Back in the barns, though, anything goes.

 Apologists for the industry insist that the action device is no different than a woman wearing a bracelet on her wrist and that the devices do not cause pain. The evidence is clear in this photo that double chaining or rollering of horses is taking place as part of training and that such devices clearly do cause damage to the horse, why else would it be necessary to wrap them to keep hair from being knocked off and scars from being raised?


Photo 3, says News of the Horse, shows a horse being worked in ropes. These are actually shackles, attached to a bolt screwed into the performance package on one foot.  The shackle made of surgical tubing is then run from one foot over the withers and connects to the package on the opposite side.  There are a variety of “theories” on why shackles are used in performance as well as some pleasure   horses but natural horsemanship isn’t one of them.


In combination with full blinders, tie downs, and severe bitting, in photos two and three, and an extra set of chains that can be seen attached to the saddle, should adjustment be needed, on the filly in photo one, you have an inside look at what goes into the making of a performance horse.  You can also see exactly how much trainers are prepared to do to get the look that wins horse shows, just like the one scheduled to be held in Panama City Beach, Florida in April.


And where is Chad Cotten, a young man on the rise in the industry hanging his hat these days? Newsof   the Horse reported   that at the time the photos were taken Cotten was   working in association with Justin Jenne, another young man who grew up in the walking horse show world, while   other sources report that at present   he is   working with anothertrainer Ben   Beard of Alabama.     Jenne   is an interesting case, a prime specimen  in the apple  orchard, that   Celebration CEO Mike Inman says    has only a few bad ones. 


According to the records of USDA proceedings against Jenne, in 2012 he owned and entered a horse named Led Zeppelin at The Celebration.   Jenne did not personally lead the horse through inspection; he let his hand, Roberto Ricardo,  do that, and Ricardo was the one determined by a USDA VMO to have presented a bi-lateral sore horse.  As these things go, Jenne, as the owner and entrant of the horse, was served with a federal complaint in 2013, which, after hearings,  appeals,  objections, and other related flopping around, was finally decided against him on April 13, 2015. He was awarded a $2,200 civil penalty and a one-year federal disqualification. 


But there was more federal action on Jenne’s horizon, in March of 2014; he was the subject of a yet another federal case for presenting a bilateral sore horse, Jose’s Flamingo Dancer, at the 2009 Spring Jubilee Charity Horse Show. Again, after taking almost five years from the date of the event to the first video hearing, and additional time appealing and protesting, in July of 2015, the decision of the Administrative Law Judge in this case was    upheld. Jenne was awarded another $2.200 civil penalty, this time as the trainer of record, and a one-year, uninterrupted federal disqualification.  This disqualification becomes effective on April 14, 2016; one day after the previous disqualification period is completed.


Jenne and Cotten are two examples of young trainers who learned their trade at the knees of their mentors, and their mentors learned the trade from people like Billy Gray who once signed autographs as a star in the Celebration’s autograph booth, and has also signed more than his share of federal consent orders.  Currently on federal suspension, the elderly Gray was recently awarded the first lifetime achievement award by the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association,  the sponsor of the Gulf Coast Charity horse show in Panama City Beach, Florida.    His son, Tim, also a trainer, was on federal suspension with him.


What goes on in thefamily that is the   walking horse world can be viewed as a tragedy on more than one level;  but,   the real sad story came unwittingly from the mouth of an advocate with long experience in trying to combat the cruelty that comes with the spotlight ride. “ I knew this happened to young walking horses, but I thought, hoped,  “ she said, after viewing the photo of Cotten and his filly, “ that it only happened to a few.”  It was hard to remind her that in the glory days of The Celebration, the two-year-old performance class was one of the biggest classes in the show, often being broken down into divisions of more than 15 horses in a single group. 


Where do you think all of those two- year -olds come from each August and at the Trainers Show each March? Where do you think the “ Freak of the Week” segments, so proudly put up on YouTube so that the world can see them, come from? Here’s a link to one such segment here that just happens to include a reference to Justin Jenne:


The two-year-olds laboring in the show ring come from trainers who start them   just as the filly now shown to the world was started. They start them at 16-18 months of age, these full grown men collapsing   babies with undeveloped knees and backs not yet ready to carry weight, urging them to hit a lick that will make them short term winners and long term victims.  And, they come from owners who think that this is not only OK but is what is necessary to win a horse show ribbon or sell a high price colt.   They come from people who grew up in the business and don’t have a clue about what real horsemanship is and don’t care to learn because to do so would mean that they would have to change what they do.


As to the young horses   ruined by these methods, well…. That’s just part of the cost of doing business in the business.  There’s plenty more where they came from.


As an example, one of the industry’s well-known breeding horses was once a two –year- old whose knees gave out under the training regime.  An old timer related, that he saw it, that his knees just broke down. “The vet came out and told the ownerand the owner packed him up and took him home and said, “Well, I guess, we’ll breed him.” And breed him they did.

Apples that don’t make the cut for eating can always be pressed into cider or used for seed to make new apple trees.