A majority of responses to a privately organised mailout survey of members of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeder’s and Exhibitor’s Association (TWHBEA) supported federal legislation aimed at toughening anti-soring measures, it has been revealed.
Of the 7000 or so members of the association, the accountant who tabulated the results said he received 1795 returns, with 1132 in favor and 663 against.
Cookeville-based Pat Stout, a Tennessee Walking Horse owner who headed an effort to poll each member of the breed’s registry regarding pending legislation to toughen federal laws against soring, was reportedly elated by the result, with the 1132 in favor representing 63 percent of respondents.
She told columnist Roy Exum, writing from The Chattanoogan: “I believe that the TWHBEA board is polarized by the fact the Big Lick segment of the industry will do or say anything to keep the pads and chains, but this pretty well proves the overall membership doesn’t support that notion.
“The thing that triggered me on a mailout to the general membership was when our Executive Committee voted to support HB1518/S 1406, but our entire board of directors voted just the other way.”
Stout, who owns 14 walkers with her husband and has been active in the association for nearly two decades, told Exum she resented the “stigma” now associated with the breed.
The walking horse industry has been damaged by elements who indulge in soring – the use of caustic chemicals on horses’ forelegs in an effort to make them pick up their front hooves in an unnatural gait called “The Big Lick”. It has been outlawed for 40 years.
The pending legislation forbids the pads, chains and “performance devices” also used in efforts to encourage the higher gait.
Stout said: “The Tennessee Walking Horse should be just as big as the Quarter Horse in America, but until the pads and chains go away, our entire breed will suffer because of the soring stigma that has been attached by the Big Lick faction,
“It bothers me that now we have federal legislation that will strengthen the Horse Protection Act of 1970, we have people from Tennessee representing the Big Lick going to Washington and lobbying to have these bills defeated.”
She said of her mailout: “I thought it was really important for everybody’s voice to be heard.”
Stout said she was unsure if efforts to get rid of soring would be successful. “It is now a felony to abuse a horse in Tennessee but we know that some trainers still do it. I believe getting rid of the pads would really help but these [Big Lick] people have found a way to get around every rule we’ve tried,” she told Exum.
“I think it is important that we make sure everybody is involved. I felt like our Executive Committee and our Board of Directors was sending a mixed signal to the membership of the breed registry.
“Now we can say that a group representing two-thirds of us is for the Prevent All Soring Act that is currently in Congress and the Senate. That certainly sends a message to those who will vote on the bills.”
Association president Loyd “Buster” Black, who recently resigned due to health reasons, voiced concerns over the mailer in a statement to members on September 26.
He said the mailer was not sent out or paid for by the association.
“In fact, TWHBEA makes no request or requirement that you answer this mailer or do anything whatsoever with the mailer, and you can certainly throw it away if you want.”
The association, he said, was investigating whether there had been unauthorized use of its logo.
In a followup statement on October 17, the association told members they would most likely see the results of the mailer survey in coming days.
“TWHBEA is currently investigating the legal issues of whether there has been unauthorized use of our TWHBEA logo and whether there has been improper use of a corporate office.
“This matter has been turned over to the TWHBEA Enforcement Committee for investigation, with a report to be returned to the Executive Committee.”
The statement continued: “Many of our members have reported irregularities with the mailing such as a lack of receipt of this post card mailer. Many members, knowing that this was not an official TWHBEA request simply discarded the mailer.
“TWHBEA has no assurance that everyone eligible to receive the postcard mailer in fact received one, or that only those that were entitled to receive the mailer in fact received one. TWHBEA had no control over the distribution of it or the counting of it.
“The bill proposed by Representatives Cohen and Whitfield has many parts, and we feel that an adequate survey would have addressed the individual components of the bill, giving our members an opportunity to express their true feelings on the various aspects of the proposed legislation.
“In addition, since the names of each voting member were included on the mailer, this poll violates TWHBEA’s long-standing tradition of secret ballot to ensure the privacy protection of our members.
“For those reasons, TWHBEA does not feel that the results of this mailer fully and accurately represent the views of all our members. Please be aware that any publication of the results is not a TWHBEA product.”