Editorial: Sen. Alexander’s “Dance around the Truth” of the PAST Act

Tennessee Senator responds to inquiries about the PAST Act — and the response is less than satisfactory.

The 75th Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee on August 29, 2013. Photo courtesy of the HSUS.

I was dished up “a two-step-around-the-truth” form letter from my Senator as a response regarding the PAST Act (S 1007). Sen. Alexander (TN-R) continues to parrot the Big Lick Tennessee Walking Horse script of falsehoods to make his argument for not supporting the PAST Act (Prevent All Soring Tactics).

The Senator started with the folksy pairing: “You don’t shut down America’s national pastime (baseball)” due to a few players using steroids with: “(If a few TWH) trainers, owners or riders ‘illegally’ sore a horse (you don’t) shut down one of Tennessee’s most treasured traditions.” Alexander ignores the train-with-pain action devices that are the foundation of the Big Lick TN Walking Horse (TWH) gait.

Those tactics can be “shut down” and still preserve the thrill of watching (and riding) the TWH breed. He ignores the actual legacy of the smooth, ride-all-day natural gait, confusing it with the exaggerated man-made plodding Big Lick.

The Big Lick is not “one of TN’s most treasured traditions,” as repeatedly argued by Alexander. Action devices were not clamped onto TWH show horses until the 1950’s. Alexander hides behind chemical soring to distract from soring created by action devices that manufacture the contrived, tendon-stressing Big Lick gait.

Big Lick action gait. Photo courtesy of the HSUS.

Sen. Alexander tenaciously claims that the PAST Act “. . . would have a significant negative effect on TN Walking Horse Industry and small business.” His economic impact over-statements were exposed by a PhD agricultural economist in the “Tennessean” on the Opinion page on June 20, 2019 (“Senators Relying on Spurious Tennessee Walking Horse Economic Data”).

The Senator overlooks photographic proof of empty bleachers at the 2019 TWH National Celebration in Shelbyville, TN. The days of filling the 7,000 seat area are long past.

Crowd size on final night of 2019 TWH National Celebration. Photo by Candace Wade.

March 2019 Trainers’ Show on Saturday night. Photo by Candace Wade.

Alexander’s misleading use of the term “industry” puts a legitimizing spin on what are show-horse hobbyists. By definition industry implies creating a substantial economic contribution. In truth, the Big Lick hobbles (figuratively and literally) the image and economic value of the Tennessee heritage horse. The notorious reputation of the Big Lick “training” methods continue to make the stacks-and-chains laden horses a pariah in much of the equine world.

The Senator states he does not support “wiping out the century old tradition.” Again, the use of the Big Lick stacks and chains is not a “century old tradition.” The PAST Act does not “wipe out” the TWH. Tennessee Walking Horses can be and are shown and ridden for pleasure – flat shod.

Trail horse “Hank,” a TWH. Photo by Candace Wade.

Alexander supports “preserving the opportunity for law abiding horse enthusiasts to compete. . . .” Law abiding? Let’s see. The top three 2019 Celebration winning trainers are:

  • Long-time competitor and repeated HPA violator Rodney Dick, a Grand Champion on “I’m Mayhem.” Dick begins Federal disqualification October 2019. The judgment includes a fine.
  • Herbert Derickson, who earned second place and a five-year federal disqualification for 26 alleged violations.
  • Gary Edwards, third place and will start serving a three-year disqualification in 2022.

USDA.gov lists recent offenders of the current Horse Protection Act (HPA). The list includes the Walking Horse Trainers Association’s Performance Horse “Trainer of the Year” Philip Trimble. A quick peruse of the disqualifications from June to August 2019 reveals Martha Blackmon Milligan, Gwain Wilson, Rocky Roy McCoy, Charles Ray Green of Charlie Green StablesBrad Beard, aka William Bradley Beard, and Cliff Wilson and King “Slim” Moore.

Offenders continue to show — and win. Repeat offenders continue to be welcomed by the Big Lick community. Time will tell if the disqualifications will be honored or ignored in the arena.

Veterinarian Angie Lingl investigates for signs of soring at the stables of well-known Tennessee walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell in Fayette County, Tenn. The undercover investigation led to felony criminal indictments against McConnell, for multiple violations of the federal Horse Protection Act. Evidence was found of soring, the application of painful chemicals, and heavy metal chains applied to the horses front legs. Photo by Lance Murphey and courtesy of the HSUS.

Regarding Sen. Alexander’s stand on the PAST Act: Is he campaigning not to support a bill (the PAST Act) that he actually knows little about? Or does he know, but chooses to parrot Big Lick myths? Alexander’s conscious — or ignorance-based — support of the Big Lick portrays Tennessee as a state that sanctions animal abuse.

Given the comments on TWH related stories in the national press and on Horse Nation, the country (and the world) supports removing the stacks and chains and other types of soring from the TWH. Sen. Alexander’s erroneous form letter muddles the purpose of the PAST Act and champions continued abuse against the Tennessee Walking Horse.

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