"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Friday, September 19, 2014


Hello to all the sound horse warriors out there, and the animal abusers who continue to read this blog.

Due to some huge changes in my life, it's time to retire For the Tennessee Walking Horse(R).  We are leaving the breed ourselves, moving on to drafts and draft crosses.  We no longer want to be a part of the stigma associated with owning and training Tennessee Walking Horses.  The story of the Tennessee Walking Horse is now widely known, and this blog is no longer a necessity in the fight to save the horse.  There are other reasons I'm leaving the fight, but those are personal.

I thought I'd take the time to give a timeline of why For the Tennessee Walking Horse(R) exists and why everything has changed for me.

I have owned Tennessee Walking Horses and other gaited breeds since 1999.  In about 2003, I learned what soring was, and I witnessed it for the first time at a local show.  I didn't know what I was seeing at the time: a man brought his Big Lick horse out of his trailer, pulled out a small bottle, glanced around to see if anyone was looking (he didn't notice me), and then proceeded to paint whatever was in the bottle on the pasterns of the horse.  The horse reacted with pain, but I honestly didn't know what was going on.

In 2004, I witnessed soring again, and again I didn't know what I'd seen.  This was a prominent show barn in California that was at our local A-rated show, which was governed by the rules of the NHSC at the time.  The horses were all in closed, curtained stalls, even when the other breeds were in open stalls.  I witnessed grooms painting stuff on the horse's legs before they went into the ring, and the horses reacting in pain.

Then an article came out in Equus magazine that year that changed things.  It talked about the persistent problem of soring and why it wasn't being addressed.

The Equus magazine, July 2004, Issue #321, that began my concerns about soring.
I started asking questions of the Tennessee Walking Horse people I knew.  I started getting nasty comments and flippant answers.  Our "trainer" whom we used to help us train our stallion and mares for the show ring would tell us it wasn't a big deal, that it wasn't going on anymore.  She kept having us use bigger bits and bigger shoes to force the gait, which wasn't working for our need to have versatile horses that could both trail ride and show.  I asked why people would even want to put their horse on those shoes and how ugly it was; I got yelled at and ridiculed.  I did not understand this attitude; why were they defending the very thing that was not only abusive, but illegal at the same time?

So my research began.

I started using our business website, Silver Phoenix Ranch, as a reference board for information regarding soring.  I posted articles, first-hand stories, information about the Horse Protection Act.  I was the only person on the Internet at the time who was publicly exposing soring for what it truly was--even the sound horse groups didn't have much out there about soring.

Soon, people started coming out of the woodwork asking me to tell their story, or asking for help in what they could do.  So I started the blog For the Tennessee Walking Horse(R) in 2009 to gather all of the information in one place so everyone could see it.  I also brought the plight of the Tennessee Walking Horse to Facebook with a page for For the Tennessee Walking Horse(R).  As far as I could tell, no one else had done this, and it sparked a myriad of other pages--both for the sound horse and for the sored horse--onto Facebook.

This also prompted legally registering the name "For the Tennessee Walking Horse" due to people trying to steal the name to create their own Facebook pages and confuse the public as to which page was the real supporter of the horse and not the industry.

In 2005, I helped expose a horse abuser to the public who had chemically sored a horse so bad his skin was sloughing off.  I helped petition the Kentucky Racehorse Commission to stop giving Breeders' Incentive Funds to HIOs that continued to allow soring to happen.  I exposed what soring was to our local show's show management and they successfully banned the Big Lick from their show.  I helped bring in the National Walking Horse Association to our local show when Friends of Sound Horses left.

This photo is from 2005 and was first published on the Silver Phoenix Ranch website
by permission of the horse owner's wife, who took the photo.  The chemical soring was so bad
this horse's skin was sloughing off.
For the past 10 years, I've been fighting a hard battle.  Mostly I have done it alone.  However, it's been wonderful to see that this battle is no longer about a few people here and there raising their voices.  Finally, soring is in the spotlight.  Thanks to the Humane Society of the United States and the hard work of their horse division, soring is now a term known worldwide, not just in America or among a small group of people.  It's taking its toll on the sore horse industry, and to a wonderful end.

Walk of Shame?  Video by Dateline NBC, published April 29, 2014

Most importantly, dozens of people have come to me and said that because of my blog, they now know what soring is.  Dozens of others have told me they used to allow their horses to be sored themselves.  They have chosen to stop soring solely because my blog helped give them the courage to stand up and fight, to stop allowing the animal abusers to bully them into silence.

Now here we are, 10 years later.  The video of Jackie McConnell and his grooms abusing horses has been headline news.  Jackie McConnell is on house arrest and is not allowed to own or train horses for the next 20 years.  Larry Wheelon is going to see his day in court.  The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act is now at 59 Senators co-sponsoring it--60 are needed to push past the stalling and get it to the floor.  There are 305 Representatives in the House who co-sponsor it, enough to bring it to the floor after the elections November 4th.  Newspapers and online news continue to publish articles about soring.  And this year at the Celebration, there were record lows of attendance, record highs of violations, and only three horses in the final WGC stakes class, "performing" to a very, very small crowd compared to days past.  We are at a crossroads, and the new path is in the favor of the horse.

Photo of the Celebration final WGC stakes class, Celebration 2014.
Photo by billygoboy, www.billygoboy.com

For the Tennessee Walking Horse(R) was so named because my goal has been solely to save the horse.  I am truly for the horse.  I do not associate with any one HIO or association, although I have in the past.  I have discovered that once we start creating organizations and HIOs, the focus shifts from the horse being the most important to the human wants being the most important.  It is never about how many shows you go to in a year.  It's not about whether or not the rules fit your needs.  It's never about providing options for owners of all types of riding styles so they can benefit in some way.  It is truly all about the horse, and no one else.  I have done my best to stick hard and fast to this rule, and that has been the only way I can keep my focus strong.

I wish I could list every single person I can think of to thank in this long journey, but to do so would take more pages than anyone would want to read.  I have met many heroes of the breed who have put the law and the welfare of the horse first, even in the face of danger to their own family and friends.  Some have lost friends and family members, some have had their lives threatened.  You are all important parts of the sound movement for the Tennessee Walking Horse, and I tip my hat to you a million times over.

To those of you who are continuing to support the Big Lick: I truly pity you.  I hope that you will realize that the release of the video of Jackie McConnell was the beginning of the end.  I totally understand that you have money tied up in the Big Lick horse.  I truly do get it, and I can completely understand why you're afraid.  So be financially smart: move your finances to the future of the breed, the flat shod and barefoot Tennessee Walking Horse.  This year's Celebration is going to be repeated next year as long as the Big Lick still exists.  The Big Lick industry is dying by its own volition; it doesn't need the PAST Act to end it.  Get out while it's good to do so.

To those who still fight to save the horse: I commend you for your hard work and strength.  This is a hard fight, something that when you take it on and dedicate yourself to it, it eats you alive.  I have one favor to ask: stop the infighting.  No one has "the perfect" answer to end soring.  Not one person has started or lead the fight.  Too many people get caught up in what THEY have done, that THEY are so important and have made huge changes.  We must remember this: we must humble ourselves and check our egos at the door when we're working to save animals.  There is never a place for attacking others, for pointing fingers, for causing riffs.  Please remember this, and the sound horse movement will grow stronger than ever.

Be sure to check out the post previous to this one for places to go to continue the fight for the sound horse, and keep contacting your Congresspersons to get the PAST Act passed.

My friends and enemies, I appreciate all you've given me over the years.  You've taught me strength and humility, patience and outreach, how to better communicate and how to present facts.  It's amazing what a cause to do what's right--not only by the law but also by morality and ethics--can bring out in a person.

I am sure the PAST Act will eventually pass and the Big Lick will completely disappear.  It doesn't mean soring will stop, but it does mean it will be easier to detect.  It means that our country is capable of passing animal welfare laws that create a stepping stone toward better laws that protect human abuse victims.  It also means that the power of strong-willed, patient, and determined people with good hearts will always prevail.

Thanks to you all.  Remember to always be...


Unknown said...

I'm very sad that you won't be at front and center of this fight any longer but I understand the need to take care of other important things in your life. You have my gratitude for all you have done which certainly has propelled this cause to public attention. With luck the PAST act will be voted on this year and you can know that your efforts were not in vain. Happy trails to you on your journey forward.
Many thanks, Cathy.

Lisa W said...

You are the Joan of Arc of the Tennessee Walking Horse. You and everyone who came along side you in a very courageous battle. Bravo. How many thousands of beautiful Tennessee babies have been saved from the torture their ancestors knew. I wish you all the best with your future draft horses. You're going to love them.