BRENTWOOD, TN – In a captivating uplifting message delivered last Saturday to the assembled persons attending the Sound Horse Conference, Brentwood Pastor Clay Harlin gave a compelling narrative of his speaking out in 1998 against soring Tennessee Walking Horses, and everything that followed.
The backdrop was in 1998, TWHBEA Director, and former Executive Committee member Clay Harlin was at home reading his Bible, the book of Esther 4: 12-14 which admonished Esther that “to remain silent at this time would result in ruin”. The Walking Horse Trainers had just decided to boycott their National Trainers Show. The telephone rang and it was a reporter from The Tennessean newspaper who asked Clay Harlin to comment on the situation. Harlin was tired of the lies surrounding the abuse of Tennessee Walking Horses. He was forthright and spoke out against the soring of the Tennessee Walking Horses. The retribution from the “industry” was immediate and severe. It strained Harlin’s family ties, and resulted in him, at the age of 47, leaving the Tennessee Walking Horse business to which he had devoted his professional entire life.
Here is his message:
“Break Every Chain: A Fresh Start
Thank David Pruett and Lori Northrop for inviting me to be here today
- It is indeed an honor to be with you
You are to congratulated for your courage and persistence in the on-going effort to stop soring
You are the ones who have done the heavy lifting
- who have carried the water, and broken up the ground
- Who have endure the personal abuse by those who are afraid of the truth
Most importantly, because of your efforts there is a new and sound market for the TWH,
- beyond the narrow confines of pads and chains
- That market has grown to encompass nationally and internationally 90% of the industry
So from the bottom of my heart I say thank you for making a difference
- There is now light at the end of a long dark tunnel and a new era in this great breed has begun!
I have been asked to share my journey since publicly taking a stand against the practice of soaring
I am just one of many who have spoken in the past openly about the problem soaring
- We could spend hours recalling names of those who said “enough is enough” to the immoral training techniques of the TWH industry.
- Those who got marginalized, defamed, slandered for their stand
- Who are now out of the industry
- The walking horse industry is littered with names of its casualties
The beginning of the end for me began Easter Sunday, 4/12/1998, the day before my 45th birthday
- Let me give you a brief back drop to that day
- (Set stage: Trainers boycott, call from Jay Hamburg/reporter/reading Esther)
On 4/12/98 The Nashville Tennessean quoted me saying the following:
“Horseman: It’s Gut Check Time”
- We are at a crossroads. Somebody’s got to do something and do it now or this is going to get out of hand. And we are going to lose everything that we’ve built on.
- Everybody is caught in a maddening cycle. The trainer has to eat. He doesn’t want to lose his customer. He has to win a show.
- Somewhere we’ve got to stop and reevaluate all at the same time.
- Everybody is in denial.
- It’s just like: don’t tell me the truth; I like the lie; I’d rather live the lie
- And if I tell them the truth, they’re going to hate me. But I just decided, my father decided, all my family decided””enough is enough
- We’ve got a choice of self-regulation. Either we’re going to do it, or we’re going to have it done for us. The USDA is not playing around
- (I went on to say that the industry’s trouble had hurt the industry’s reputation for decades)
- Concluding with: I’m not out to hurt anybody. These are good people in a lot of ways. And good families. They have gotten stuck in a way of doing things.
- And sometimes maybe a little waking up helps us all.
- We sort of brought this on ourselves
Speaking to the newspaper is a decision I do not regret
- But it has been journey that I was not totally prepared for
- Nor do I want anyone’s sympathy for my trials
- I am free to speak the truth about soaring
- I am a happy man, and God has richly blessed my days
If someone had told me this time last year that I would be speaking to this convention of horse people
- I would have asked them what they had been smoking
- That was a chapter in my life that had been written, closed, and sealed away in the lock box of the recesses of my mind,
- Since 2000 I had not even the slightest fantasy of ever entering into this arena again
- What I once loved had become a dark and painful memory
I grew up in the walking horse industry
- It was in my DNA, in my blood, and was at one time the overriding passion of my life
- I am the third generation of Harlins in the walking horse industry
- My grandfather, and hero, in 1935 was there in Lewisburg for the formation of TWHBEA
- I grew up under the tutelage of great horsemen:
- My grandfather Wirt Harlin, Harlin Hayes, and my father Bill Harlin.
I had the privilege of seeing the great sires of the breed up close and personal:
- Midnight Sun, Sun’s Delight, Spirit of Midnight, Midnight Mack K, Pride of Midnight, Prides Gold Coin
- Many of the great brood mares were there on our farm. A get that dates back to 1935
Faye and my children will all testify that I gave my life, blood, sweat, and tears to the horse industry
- When I walked away from it in 2000, it literally took everything from me financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Like so many who grew up in this industry, especially in Tenn., you grew accustomed to the abuses
- Exposure to most anything in life breeds a tolerance or indifference to it
Soring was just part of the industry, and like the rest, I spoke the industry propaganda
- Turned a blind eye when needed to stay in the good graces of the industry
Truthfully, when anyone remains silent while knowing an abuse is happening they are complicit
- That’s true with anything in life””Cowardice and apathy are not virtues
- I am a Pastor, and by law I have to report abuse if it comes to my attention
If you want to stop soring then apply that rule to this industry
- Any Farrier, veterinarian, and owner who knowingly/willfully commits, perpetrates, mask over, and shows an abused TWH should be prosecuted along with the trainer
Let me be very clear ““I don’t come today in an air of self-righteousness
- Even though I never trained horses under saddle I have done my share of abuse in other ways
The decision to finally come to the realization of the truth about the issue of soring was a process
- For me that process is seen through the lens which I view life, or my world view.
- In an event like this you may think it out of place but I testify to it because it is my story
Since 1973 I have been a follower of the risen Lord, Jesus Christ
- I don’t believe truth is abstract or an evolving concept
- Truth has an origin, it is a person, and He is someone you come to know.
- When you follow Him He will lead you into all truth, that truth is liberating
- My world view, or the lens through which I filter life is through His Word
The reason for my decision to be honest about soring and abuse of this great breed
- Is directly related to my love for God and no other reason
- Realizing for some of you the reasons may be different
That being said maybe it will help you in understanding the rest of my story
I served on TWHBEA board of directors for many years and in various roles
- All but the remaining few years as an executive committee member
- Primarily on the executive committee and over the breeders division
- I also served on the Walking Horse Commission
We had implemented many new standards to bring integrity to the breed registry
- The membership nearly doubled in response to sound policies that were put in place
- 10,000 members to 21,000 during that time
Also as a board we were working on judging standards and licensing of judges
- Even come out with a video determining degrees of lameness so a judge could excuse them
- That is when the heavy hands of the redneck mafia began to surface
We cleaned up most of the corruption in TWHBEA except for the one that plagued the industry
- Soring was off-limits and was not going away
It was becoming apparent and frustrating that no one wanted to end the practice of soring
The majority of its leaders were trying to keep soring contained and appear respectable
- It was obvious that the industry was never going to grow past it
- I was disillusioned that no one could see the potential for growth based on a sound industry
It was during this time in April of 1998 that I had had enough of the lies
- The newspaper contacted me and I felt it was time to lead on this issue
The backlash for my decision was far more than I could have ever calculated would happen
- Overnight I went from the top to the bottom, from friend to foe
- I was on the outside looking in
Harlinsdale went from the top of the breeding industry, to a by-word, wt the threat of boycotts
- We lost many of our world champions because of my statements in the newspaper
- The phone stop ringing for business that year
In time other horses replaced those we lost, but the damage was done.
I continued on with the farm for about 1 ½ years before I finally got out completely
- I was broken, bitter, and disillusioned with the TWH industry
- The practice of abuse just got worse and bolder
I saw no hope as long as it was in the grip of TWHBEA and the Trainers Assoc.
- I knew that unless the Federal Govt. stepped in we were incapable of self-regulation
- Nor was anyone serious about stopping the abuse, the trainers held it hostage
Public perception would eventually turn on this great breed because of the abuse
- And it has. There is too much convenient technology to keep it hidden anymore
- The practice of abuse is necessary for the big lick performance
- I am grateful for the undercover work that has brought it to light
So I started life over at 46, nearly 47 years old.
- My family had a small interest in an industrial laundry service in Tullahoma
- The plant during this same time had caught fire and burned to the ground
- The plant was rebuilt and but they were feeling the debt
- Morale was low among the employees and business was falling off as a result
I was hired to go and try to resurrect the business for the rest of its owners
- I went from the frying pan into the fire
- My daily round trip was 114 miles though the heart of WH country
- I had to drive past the barns of those I had grown to hate
- My life was full of bitterness and anger for what they had done to the industry
That is where the healing began to take place
- God and I got to know each other very well during long drives to and from work
God cleaned me out of all my bitterness
- He showed me how to forgive and love my enemies, which is a daily process
I also saw the industry from the outside for the first time
- just how small the padded industry really was
- What the general public actually thought about the abuses with the pads and chains
- I was glad to be out of the padded insanity
By March of 2005 we were able to resurrect the business in Tullahoma and sold it to Unifirst
- I would be out of a job once again
- But God opened a door for me to serve in another one of my passions
- I was hired to be on staff where we attended church, New Hope Community Church
- There I teach, preach, organize adult education, and lead people in mission trips local and abroad
- It has been an exciting adventure taking me all over the world: Haiti, Honduras, Romania, Ukraine, and India
- I also currently have a radio show “From the Heart” on WROL AM 950 out of Boston 5 days a week.
- Never a dull moment when you follow the Lord
That brings me up to last summer to when I met Marty Irby
Almost every Thursday I meet my son’s father in law for coffee. We pray for our families
- One of those mornings last summer he dropped a newspaper article in front of me
- He said DÃ©jÃ vu. It was about Marty Irby, past pres. of TWHBEA who was opposing soring
I didn’t even read it”¦just scanned it, folded it up and gave it back to him
- I said “I know what he is getting ready to go through”.
- That was it, and I moved on to other topics.
A few days later, I was taking a Friday off and cutting my grass and Marty came to my mind
- That is a time when I do a lot of thinking and talking to God
- I knew from other times like this it was more than a passing thought but a preparation.
- So I began to pray for Marty, knowing what he would be facing
I finished, went inside to get ready for a motorcycle ride.
- I was about to walk out the door when my phone rang.
- I debated whether to answer it but I did. It was Marty Irby
- He said he had been trying to locate me and found me on the internet
- I told Marty that I was expecting his call””the Lord had just been preparing me for it
He came to hear me preach that Sunday and I have been a spiritual advisor to him since that time
- We have become great friends and he is like a son to me
- God used my journey to help guide Marty in his
I have been able to help Marty by encouraging him when the personal attacks come
- That seems to be the padded groups only defense is to slander your character
- I helped him learn not to retaliate and to pray for his enemies
- Also to stay objective and stick to the main goal
Marty told me about the Congressman Ed Whitfield and the Past Act.
At first I was reluctant to say anything publicly because of the past and my position at Church
- But if Marty was going to put his neck on the line then I would to
- I wrote to Congressman Whitfield in support of the Past ACT
Also I had about a 1 hour meeting with Congressman Blackburn with no positive results
- She is very either naive or has been persuaded to look the other way.
- Either way she and the rest of the Tenn. Delegation, except for Sen. Cohen, are determined to keep Tenn. know for animal abuse state
To Marty, and Keith Dane, and Congressman Whitfield I say thank you for all that you are doing
- We are in the home stretch because of you
Let me conclude with some suggestions as one from the outside looking in
- It is time to starve the beast and let it die! I am speaking of TWHBEA
- To grant them the divorce and give them the house and all the furnishings
- To stop financially supporting the padded horse industry, its abuses, and negative image
Under the current tired leadership TWHBEA will eventually die, so let them go their own way
- Anything built on a lie will eventually crumble under the weight of that lie
- That is true with any area of life
The public has already begun to become aware and it will only continue
- You can go to the bank that they will not stop abusing padded horses
- They cannot do the big lick without pain, the soring will continue
It is time to start a new breed registry with a fresh, clean, positive direction
- The sound product is working and growing outside of this area of the padded industry
- Build on it””Have your own breed conventions in different cities, venues, and media markets
- Crown your own champions
- Create new criteria for this talented horses to display their potential and worth
There are some big obstacles in the way, it is not pads and chains, and it is each of you
- It is time to unify among light shod groups
- Blend all the factions into one unified effort and charter
- It is time to focus on the big picture of the breed””You collectively make up at least 90%
Keep your objectivity, stay focused on facts, and rise above the personal attacks
Don’t remain in a defense posture rather go on offense
- Move forward by giving the buying public a clear choice
- Which can only be done by having a new breed registry and image
- An image you don’t have to apologize for or cover up
Focus on the truth, and what is positive in this great breed
- As a good friend and author, Dr. Neil Anderson says,
“We are not called to stamp out the darkness, but to turn on the light”
- So turn on the lights, when you do the darkness scatters
Thank You again for your kindness and for this invitation to speak to you today
May God richly bless you
At the conclusion of his message, Harlin received a standing ovation from the persons in the room.
Clay Harlin’s father, 90 year old W. W. “Bill” Harlin, Jr., was in attendance at the Sound Horse Conference in support of his son, and what he had to say.