NASHVILLE, TN – Senator Alexander, lots of people who don’t have $3 Million have been loyal to you for a long time. Brother Roy Exum was one of them. He jumped ship on you today. Roy isn’t going to vote for you for the first time ever. He explains why below.
Senator, I have listened to what you told The Tennessean editorial board on Dec. 8, 2013, from minute 8:40 – 11:19. Roy may not have actually heard what you said. He may have been relying on The Tennessean reporter’s account when he made up his mind.
Senator Alexander, I am going to hold off for a little bit on my decision until I know where you are on this matter. I feel there are some things you need to know before you make your final decision. I am going to put those things next to what you said, but before I do so, I am going to address what I think is one of the most important things you told The Tennessean. You said, “I am told by veterinarians and people who show horses that it would decimate the tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse.”
Senator, since you made your appearance before the editorial board, native Tennessean Dr. John C. Haffner, Vice President of the Tennessee chapter of the American Association of Equine Practitioners wrote a letter to Congressman Ed Whitfield that I published.
JOHN C. HAFFNER, DVM – FACULTY, HORSE SCIENCE DEPARMENT – MTSU
“November 25, 2013
The Honorable”¨ Ed Whitfield – “¨United States House of Representatives
Dear Mr. Whitfield,
I have been asked to relate my experiences with the Tennessee Walking Horse industry to you. This is my opinion which was developed over many years of experience from several vantage points from within the industry. I have experience in the business as a farm worker, a horse show spectator, a local horsemen’s association member, an exhibitor and seller of colts, a brood mare owner, an owner of horses in training, and as an equine veterinarian.
I graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine in 1982, I am certified in equine practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, I am a member of the AVMA and AAEP and I currently serve as Vice- president of the Middle Tennessee Academy of Equine Practitioners. I would like to stipulate that this letter is written with no endorsement from any person or group other than myself.
My first experience with Walking Horses was at 15 years of age when I began working at Harlinsdale Farm in Franklin, Tennessee. This has been one of the preeminent Walking Horse Farms essentially from the beginning of the breed registry. In addition to the routine farm work I got to help in the breeding shed and breaking yearlings.
During the first few years, my involvement with show horses was limited to showing yearlings and attending the shows as a spectator. I became a fan of the big lick show horses. During my time at Harlinsdale, I met many trainers and owners of walking horses. I also became enthralled with the veterinary care of horses primarily by watching equine veterinarian Dr. DeWitt Owen Jr. pregnancy check mares and provide veterinary care to the horses on the farm.
After working at Harlinsdale for a few years, I worked for Dr. Owen in his equine practice in Franklin. At the time, Dr. Owen was one of the most highly regarded equine veterinarians in the walking horse and thoroughbred industries. He served as president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners while I was working for him. He took care of many world champion walking horses, and during my time in his employment, I was in many of the breeding and training barns in middle Tennessee. On occasion, we would travel to Kentucky to work.
After graduation from veterinary school, I worked for Dr. Owen a year and then started my own practice in Spring Hill, Tennessee. I was very involved in the walking horse industry. I owned broodmares and raised and showed colts. I did work for many of the top trainers and was at the Celebration almost every night. I saw what went on at the shows on the weekend and what happened in the barns during the week. I was one of“¨ them, so there was no need to hide anything from me. I saw the soring. I saw the treatments to remove calluses. I saw the efforts to get get horses “fixed” just right to get them past inspection and into the show ring. I saw the pain. I did not only see these things, I helped do them. Gradually I became aware of the inherent wrongness of the training required to achieve the big lick. I say gradually became aware, but that is not accurate. I think I always knew it was wrong, but because of many factors, I lied to myself. Factors such as: horse shows are fun, the big lick is exciting, I was making a lot of money working with the horses, I liked the people, it couldn’t be all that bad because so many people that loved their horses were doing it kept me willingly blinded to the harm that was being done in the name of showing horses.
This came to a head in the early 1990’s at the Columbia, Tennessee horse show. I was asked to examine a horse that had been turned down by the USDA. After I examined the horse and could find no problem with it, I repeated the exam with a videographer recording my examination. To make a long story short, about two years later the case was settled in favor of the defendant in Federal Court in Nashville. Part of the judge’s decision stated that he had relied on my testimony to acquit the accused.
I was unsettled by the ordeal because I thought someone would ask if soring was a common practice. It is. But the prosecution never asked. So although I told the truth about that horse, that night, a lie was promulgated. That lie is that Walking Horses are not routinely sored, and that only a handful of unscrupulous trainers resort to soring to get an unfair advantage.
The trial occurred in February, and it was a great victory for the industry. They had been exonerated, and the USDA was put in their place. The trainers became very bold that spring. I saw more open blatant soring in the months following the trial than I had ever seen in my life. I vividly recall a person in a training barn that walked by me carrying a can of their mix of mustard oil and kerosene, and the smell was strong enough to cause me to recoil. After that season, my blinders were removed and I could no longer be a part of helping to promote and benefit from a practice that I knew was wrong. I sold my practice, and I have stayed involved in veterinary medicine in different ways since. I have been removed from the daily routine of training for quite some time now, but I have remained in contact enough to know that nothing has changed the essence of the practice. It cannot change any more than a leopard can change its spots.
Shortly after I left practice, I was contacted by an individual involved with the industry. He asked me if I would be interested in being in charge of the DQP program. I asked him if they were interested in stopping soring or only wanted to get the government off their backs. I told him I would be interested in talking with them if they wanted to stop soring, but I had no interest if was an attempt to merely get the government off their backs. He had other people call me to talk about it. Without exception, when I told them that I was only interested if they wanted to stop the practice of soring, not a single one of them wanted to continue the discussion. The fourth and final person to call me about it became angry and hung up the phone.
The fact is the big lick can only be accomplished by soring. When one soring technique becomes detectable, another one is developed. The big lick is a learned response to pain and if horses have not been sored, they do not learn it.
It takes skill to be able to teach a horse the big lick and then determine the proper amount of soring and the proper timing to have a horse ready on a Friday or Saturday night. The horses must have the memory of the pain, but they must also be able to pass inspection.
It takes a combination of the built up pads for the weight and the chain to strike against the pastern that has been sored to produce the big lick. Other methods have been developed, but the traditional method is oil of mustard placed on the pastern and a chain put around the pastern to strike against it. The hair must be protected and this is generally done by applying grease on the pastern with a stocking over it. Calluses develop as a result of the chain rubbing against the skin. Later, the calluses are removed with a paste made by mixing salicylic acid with alcohol and applying it over the calluses and putting a leg bandage over it for a few days. This practice is also very painful to the horse. I have seen many horses lying in pain in their stalls on Monday morning from an acid treatment on Saturday.
I want to stress that the people involved in the walking horse business are no better or worse than people in any other walk of life. We all suffer effects of a depraved nature. The people who have these horses love them and take care of them many times to the extreme in expense and “good” care. They spend small and large fortunes on their horses. They provide the best of care, and they are truly remorseful when the horse is injured or dies. They spend money they know they will never recoup when the horse gets sick or needs surgery. They just don’t see anything wrong with the way the big lick is achieved, or they don’t think their trainer really sores their horse. I think they are blind to what they are doing and until they have a personal epiphany of what lies at the bottom of the big lick, they will be unable to see it. That is what happened to me, and it appears that it happens to others in the business from time to time.
Finally, I thank you for your bill to try to end soring. But you need to know, as long as a horse is doing the big lick, there will be soring. It will not be the few “bad actors” doing it. It is inherent to the gait and unavoidable in training. Unfortunately even without the big lick, there will still be soring. Flat shod horses develop a higher stepping gait if they have been sored. However, the techniques are different and it seems to be much less acceptable to the people within the industry. It is also more likely to be successfully policed. As long as there are people, there will be people trying to beat the system. The difference is that the flat shod horse has a natural gait which is not of necessity dependent on soring. There can be flat shod shows without soring. I think this is where the future lies for the walking horse industry, and the sooner that the big lick dies, the sooner the business can get on the road to recovery.
John C. Haffner DVM ABVP(Eq)”
Senator, if you are being misinformed by nice sociable people like John Bennett, DVM who was a paid witness for the Big Lick crowd, then I don’t think you can reach a properly informed conclusion of what needs to be done in the best interest of the State of Tennessee regarding the future of the Tennessee Walking Horse.
A band aid isn’t going to fix the problem this time.
HIGH POINTS OF WHAT YOU ‘ACTUALLY’ TOLD THE TENNESSEAN
- “I visited with Congressman Whitfield about this Bill, and I know he’s sincere.”
- “The Tennessee Walking Horse is one of the state’s traditions – right up there with Elvis, Jack Daniels, Dolly and The Tennessee Waltz.”
- “The Celebration is one of Tennessee’s signature events.”
- “I have been to the Celebration a number of times.” Senator, I don’t when the last time you attended, but I was away for a while, and when I came back things weren’t the same. The people who vote for you do NOT go to the Celebration any more.
- It’s right up there with Elvis”. Senator, Elvis has left the building. His widow recently told the Celebration to give back the Elvis Presley – Graceland Challenge Trophy – her reason was the “inhumane methods (SORING) used on these horses”.
- “It’s an important Tennessee tradition – it’s a big part of Tennessee”. -Senator, it has been, but it’s dying. Look at these numbers. Please don’t let it die. Please support S 1406 so the Celebration can continue the way Founder Henry Davis intended. The economy won’t be hurt – just send it down the Sound path, not the sore path your $3 Million Campaign Chairman Steve Smith has trod. Look at these numbers. The public isn’t coming back until the soring is gone which mean no more pads and chains.
- “Soring is wrong. It’s illegal. People are being indicted. It ought to be cleaned up and stopped”. Senator, to stop the soring, the pads and chains have to go.
- “It has unnecessary provisions in it.” Senator, they are misinforming you. They are trying to tell you that weighted shoes cannot be used. Congressman Whitfield addressed that:
- “Concerning Congressman Whitfield’s Bill, I am told by veterinarians and people who show horses that it would decimate the tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse.” Senator, the tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse has been decimated because of the soring. It’s time to clean it up. Please lead the way. This is the future as shown at the UT Homecoming games in 2012 and 2013. Please lead the way, Senator Alexander.
- Here is the “non-sore” Celebration of the near future:
- “I am not an expert on veterinary medicine ““ but I know of the inspections that they have there. Almost all of them are 96 to 98 % successful.” –Senator Alexander, the soring goes on at the barns before the shows – the inspection is just where the ‘game’ is played to see if the sore horse can get by and show. This link tells you all about what they do to ‘sore’ the horses: http://democrats.energycommerce.house.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Testimony-Benefield-CMT-PAST-Act-2013-11-13.pdf
- Senator Alexander, what Larry Joe Wheelon in your home town of Maryville, Tennessee was accused of doing was done at the barn on Tuckaleechee Pike – torturing those animals – so please don’t lend yourself to the Big Lick propaganda about 96% or 98% inspection at showa. Senator, the truth is about 15% of the horses at the shows are sore. You only have to look at Aug 30, 2013 when SHOW HIO found 0 for 138 horses sore, and USDA found 10 of 75. Don’t believe me, get Secretary Tom Vilsack to get you the numbers for that night. He has them.
- “It comes down to the industry itself doing a better job of self regulating finding a way to more resources into hiring independent vets whenever possible to do the examinations.” Senator, respectfully, that’s the wrong answer. What the industry has is the moonshiners watching the moonshiners. Its a system that is inherently corrupt. Inspection is the way they fix horse shows, Senator. They have had 54 years to self regulate and enough is enough. It comes down to paradigm change. SIr, you should lead the way. It can be your legacy for doing the right thing for the good of your state and its economy.
Senator, aren’t you tired of Tennessee being the enclave for animal abuse? The entire country is lined up against the sore horse interests. Tennessee is like a cancer. The vocal sore minority is a small sliver of your constituents. The majority want soring gone. You will have to remove the pads and chains to have a chance to do that.
Senator Alexander, please continue to do your due diligence.
Your $3 Million Campaign Finance Chair Steve Smith and his sore Big Lick crowd are misleading you. They want you to be the “lipstick” on their sore pig.
And if Celebration Chair David L. Howard’s lips are moving, he is lying about sore the Big Lick and the root cause of this problem. He is just trying to keep his Cash Cow “Cha Ching” healthy when he should be leading the way to paradigm change as his legacy to his grandchildren.
Senator, I know you were the proud President of The University of Tennessee. And you grew up 20 miles from Neyland Stadium. The place where Larry Joe Wheelon had that barn on Tuckaleechee Pike. The Celebration can remain a signature event for State of Tennessee – without the soring. The University of Tennessee at the 2012 and 2013 Homecoming games has shown the way. Wouldn’t it be better for Tennessee to have that image or this one ? http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120521/COLUMNIST0202/305210012/
Senator, the Big Lick can’t be “fixed”.
It’s time for paradigm change time for Tennessee.
Your Friend and Supporter (but without $3 Million),