Local Heroes for the Tennessee Walking Horse

I stick to talking about horses here and rant elsewhere, with friends, about politics, economics and what’s happening to writing and to journalism. This is one post where the both interests intersect. We all know about the decline of journalism thanks to the free content we’re all addicted to reading online: good reporting requires cash and time. The internet is something of a sausage factory in which that money and time are cut and cut again to produce a quick turnover of often poor quality journalism that goes by the name of “content” and leaves an unsatisfying taste in the mouth. I can’t pretend that I reverse this trend: occasionally I have the spare time to write something in detail, but if I really wanted to thoroughly research something I’d need to do it for cold, hard cash for a newspaper or magazine, not for my own personal horse-news churn. This blog is an aggregator, intended to point you in the direction of gems and snippets that you might otherwise miss. There are good horse news bloggers out there (Fran Jurga for one) who know their craft, and today I’d like to draw your attention to a US columnist whose work I’ve already highlighted here.

Roy Exum writes for The Chattanoogan. He neither pulls punches nor skimps on detail and, above all, he keeps track of a story that’s been unfolding for years and will probably ding-dong on for a few more. Roy is your source for the Tennessee Walking Horse shenanigans. He is, needless to say, anti-soring and anti-big lick. It’s nearly high noon for the old-school horse abusers as the government attempts to enforce the federal Horse Protection Act and end the brutal practices that have become commonplace in parts of the TWH world. The rats are leaving the ship, but the king rats fight on. The Celebration Show is turning into a showdown. Here’s Roy’s latest column:

… animal advocates promise the hardline stance being seen in Shelbyville this week is merely a battle in the escalating war to eradicate the dark and seamy side of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Harsh federal and state laws are being enacted and, in Tennessee, it is now a felony to abuse horses. Oddly, multiple violations are reportedly now being found in Shelbyville but, to the puzzlement of many, not one arrest has been made by the local sheriff.There is some indication that criminal investigations are indeed underway. Officials from the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation are said to have requested files before the Celebration and a heavy blanket of rumors now plagues the Big Lickers in the same way the increasing salvos of an incensed nation are aimed at the very leaders of this week’s calamity.

What is most unbelievable – and absolutely unexplainable – is why the Shelbyville crowd continues to perpetuate an evil and perverted method of animal cruelty when, today, any fool can tell it still thrives beneath some of the pads and chains and so-called “performance devices” that are associated with the Big Lick. …

Believe this because it is the new mantra – the Tennessee Walking Horse will win. Oh, will it ever. And when it returns to a natural gait, an intact tail, and countless loving hands, the only lasting scorn will be reserved for those filthy few who today stubbornly defend a dirty dollar at the expense of an ever-innocent horse. Their failure is now a certainty.

Keep an eye on Roy. Go through his earlier columns [if I have time I’ll add a list of links here] and get the word out.

Something Rotten in the State of Tennessee

Since ABC News exposed the horrific practices of sections of the Tennessee Walking Horse community to the eyes of America, things have begun to move. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have called for an investigation. Pepsi dropped their sponsorship of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, and it has begun to look as though the abusers will finally be both shamed and prosecuted into submission. Their gravy train is slowing to a halt, too. Tickets for the Celebration were flooding the net as their purchasers decided that they didn’t want to witness the results of all that electrocution and beating.

Hats off to Roy Exum at The Chattanoogan who has a sharp and detailed piece on the desperate scampering that’s going on behind the scenes and suggests that the offenders are going to bring about their own demise through sheer pigheadedness. We’ve already seen attempts to use the US Constitution to avoid mandatory penalties. Now  a Republican in the Tennessee legislature is trying to bring a resolution to praise the outgoing CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Dr Doyle Meadows, who’s presided over the show for four years – four years in which abuse continued to be meted out behind the scenes.

This is a show whose current five-person judging panel includes three people who collectively have no fewer than sixteen offences against the federal Horse Protection Act on their rap sheets. Increasingly the old guard’s position is looking untenable: even the Tennessee State Fair has dumped them in favour of the National Walking Horse Association, who endorse only natural gaits and not the miserable “big lick”. It looks like even friends in high places can’t save the sorers.

Roy writes:

In a recent poll on the Walking Horse Report website, asking “Why are horse shows being cancelled?” a whopping 45 percent cited the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s inspections with another 33 percent believed it was Unknown Mandatory Penalties. Oddly, “cheating” and “soring” and “suspensions” were not among the eligible categories. The USDA simply enforces the law.

Someone Trying to Stop the Abuse of Horses? Time to Invoke the US Constitution!

A leading Tennessee Walking Horse industry group sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday, contending that the government’s effort to impose minimum penalties for soring and abusing horses is unconstitutional. …

SHOW Inc., the Shelbyville-based horse industry organization, filed the lawsuit in the Northern District of Texas in Fort Worth, claiming that the new rules violate the constitutional right of trainers and owners to due process under the law. …

“Reformers within the walking show horse industry are committed to self-regulation as demonstrated by recent efforts but the USDA’s regulations are not only unconstitutional, they unfairly punish those most aggressively working to clean up the industry,” SHOW President Stephen Mullins said in a statement.

Report by Duane W Gang at The Tennessean.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Spotted by Helen Maguire at the UCCA contemporary art gallery in Beijing

If Wishes Were Horses: Diminutive Dianas

Here’s some Pathé footage of the International Horse Show at Olympia in 1920 (spot the hydrangeas and the standard lamp shades!), the King’s Gold Cup in 1921,  opening day in 1922 (plus side-saddle) and a little showjumping. You can just make out the backdrop of Lowther Castle in this film from 1923.

And this – now, how I wish I’d found this when I was writing the book! – this is a special clip of women, girls and their horses at Olympia in 1930. “Motorcars have not driven from Eve her love for a four-footed friend.” Quite right! And my goodness, the elegance of those top-hatted ladies riding side-saddle (there’s even an arena-level shot), the smart pony carriages and the girls in their felt hats. Towards the end of the film they all don costumes from the 1860s and climb onto stage coaches. Magic.

Karen Krizanovich alerted me to this site which features a “midget handsome cab” at Olympia in the 1920s: pony up front, little girl riding inside and boy playing cabbie.

World Horse Welfare have some biographical details about their founder, Ada Cole, here, while the horse home named for her is now managed by Redwings. Dorothy Brooke is celebrated by the aid organisation she launched to save old British war horses in Cairo; the Brooke has now evolved into an international charity which uses direct aid and education to improve the working lives of the donkeys, horses and mules that sustain the economy of the developing world. There’s nothing sentimental about the fact that the health of these animals can make a critical difference to the welfare of the families that own them.  I can’t endorse them strongly enough!

This post relates to a chapter of the book If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession. If you have any questions to ask about the content, please fire away in the comments. The main online index for the book is here.

Arabs at Aachen

Scenes from the All Nations Cup arab horse show at Aachen, 2011. The man in the straw hat who interposes himself between a horse and a handler is Sven Svensson, the ring master during the class.

This show was organised under the auspices of the European Conference of Arab Horse Organizations, whose regulations on showing include the following prohibitions:

33. Excessive whipping or shanking [jerking violently at the horse’s mouth], excessive stimulation by noise or intimidation, excessive circling
of the horse, use of electric shock devices or infliction of pain by any means is forbidden in all parts of the showground or stable areas, at all times.
34. The above offences are punishable by issue of a Yellow/Red card”

The ECAHO website contact page is here. Thank you to HHO for drawing attention to this. Apparently some form of hearing is now underway.


EDITED TO ADD: very interesting response here from the ECAHO!

Little Red Riding Hood

Bless. The Guardian has published a selection of photographer Gary Carlton’s images of Yorkshire county shows, including this “wolf”, ridden by Red Riding Hood. If you enjoy the spectacle of the pony fancy dress party, please spend a little time on Jane Badger’s blog, because here, here, here and here you can find some truly wonderful examples from the 1950s. It’s hard to top Humpty Dumpty and the wall, but the Abominable Snow Pony is ambitious, as is the woolly mammoth and accompanying cave children, while Mrs J Beaton’s Zulu warrior is, er, quaintly unselfconscious.