Big Lick Controversy Expands: Economic Impact of Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses Questioned

False economic impact claims from Sen. Alexander and supported by Sen. Blackburn regarding the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horses.

We just want to enjoy our horses. We want to ride them, pamper them and read enlightening equine articles in Horse Nation that uplift us. The unfortunate truth is that animal abuse can occur when humans, horses and money mix. Season with politics and we have the struggle over getting the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics) voted into law.

Ex-Big Lick TWH blown hocks. Photo courtesy of Candace Wade.

On the anti- PAST side, the office of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) issued a statement [supported by Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R – TN)] with erroneous economic impact claims that the Big Lick faction of TN Walking Horse has on the national and Tennessee economies.

Why should you care?

  • Erroneous economic impact data are being used to fight the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics) H.R. 693/S.1007 – a proposed bill designed to protect specific breeds of horses from specific abuse.
  • Federal officials and voters are being misled with economic numbers that are neither true nor supported by a relevant study.
  • False information skews decision making and can crush support for policies that are in the public interest. Policies, let’s say, that require humane treatment of animals and ensure abuses are prohibited by law.

What I Discovered:

On May 17, 2019, the Chattanooga Free Press (reprinted by The Tennessean) quoted the press release issued by Sen. Lamar Alexander on January 2017 that, “The TWH industry supports more than 20,000 jobs nationwide and pumps $3.2 billion into the nation’s economy.” Senator Blackburn was quoted as saying, “The TWH industry plays a vital role in our state’s agricultural economy.”

I contacted Sen. Blackburn’s office. I left a message with a staffer for Blackburn’s Press Secretary, Elizabeth Gregory, after I did not receive a response from my email asking: “From where did Sen. Blackburn get the information for her comment and who did the study?” No response.

I contacted Sen. Alexander’s office, asking the same questions. Sen. Alexander’s office responded and provided an attachment of the “Auburn Study” as the basis for the economic impact claims. The” Auburn Study” is 37 years old. The title is: “Thermography in Diagnosis of Inflammatory Processes in the Horse in Response to Various Chemical and Physical Factors” – no economic impacts here.

A professional Ph.D. Agricultural Economic Consultant researched the issue of the mysterious economic impacts. He uncovered various sources not cited by the Senators, and none of the studies support the two Senators’ quoted statements. (Fact-a-philes can download the findings — “Alexander/Blackburn’s Economic Impacts of TN Walking Horse Industry are spurious by William W. Wade, Ph.D.”)

Dutch’s feet at slaughter pen. Photo courtesy of HSUS.

For Horse Nation readers who care about the ethical treatment of horses and for those who generally seek truth, the debate over allowing the continuation of the Big Lick TN Walking Horse training and showing techniques is an issue of national ethics. Are we committed to interact with horses without abusing them? Does truth matter when a potential Federal Law is at stake? Are horses suffering while the debate over the PAST Act continues to slog along mired in politics and unfounded economic impact claims? Truth is vital to enable Federal decision makers to cast informed votes. Truth is vital to insure the sound stewardship of the TN Walking Horse breed.

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