A few days ago, I wrote about plummeting attendance at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, with the stands thin or bare on the most important nights of the two-week-long event – a resounding rejection by the public of the soring cruelty inflicted on horses in the big lick faction of this industry.
There’s a ready explanation for the fans’ waning interest: many of the participants are crooked and the game is rigged.
And it goes all the way from the top to the bottom rungs of the industry. Bill Callaway, the trainer of Gen’s Black Maverick, the horse named World Grand Champion at the Celebration, began serving an eight-month suspension for violating the Horse Protection Act right after the competition concluded. USDA disqualified Callaway from showing horses and fined him $1,000 for violations that preceded his appearance at the Celebration. So Callaway knew he’d be going on suspension but apparently cut a deal that allowed him to show at the Celebration. In a statement of how widespread and accepted soring is within the industry, the judges didn’t hesitate to give Callaway the top prize anyway. (His brother, John Allan, received the same punishment.)
In terms of his public posture on the juxtaposing of the win and his subsequent suspension, Callaway didn’t show any remorse, didn’t say he’d change his training practices, and did not promise to end his use of illegal tactics in future competitions. He merely claimed he took the suspension because it was a “great deal,” even though he didn’t agree with the USDA’s findings, which he said are “very subjective.”
The USDA purged a good deal of HPA violation data from its website earlier this year, but we’ve managed to dig up quite a bit of Callaway’s violation history as well as the history of members of his family (who all train out of the same barn – Allan Callaway Stables) from historical records. In addition to citations at the 2016 Celebration on which his current disqualification was based, he’s amassed other citations, and the family has a long history of repeat violations – with his father Allan disqualified at least twice over the years.
As if this utter disregard of the law wasn’t bad enough, during the Celebration, the Walking Horse Trainers Association presented its “Pleasure Horse Trainer of the Year” award to one Patrick Thomas, who, along Howard Hamilton, was recently found guilty of soring by a USDA administrative law judge. He appealed the decision (which is pending), so was allowed to show and win big at the Celebration. The association also named as their “Performance Horse Trainer of the Year” Jimmy McConnell (brother of Jackie McConnell, the subject of our 2011 undercover investigation) who himself has received numerous HPA citations by both horse industry organizations and the USDA, and is believed to have his own federal case pending against him. All these are more examples of this industry continually rewarding repeat violators, and thumbing its nose at the law and the USDA.
In the past, I’ve reported on evidence demonstrating that in the big lick cesspool, in order to compete, you have to cheat and violate the law. Last year, Honors, the horse named World Grand Champion, could be shown only because his owners sued the USDA and got a judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the agency from disqualifying the horse. They had previously been cited numerous times by both government and industry inspectors for violations of the HPA.
The body of proof of the widespread and rampant abuse of big lick walking horses is unassailable. Recently released USDA statistics from random testing of prohibited foreign substances used to sore the legs of horses (or mask the evidence of soring) at horse shows in 2016 show that a whopping 75.4 percent of all samples tested were positive, including 89.5 percent at last year’s Celebration. This is an increase over 2015, when 65.1 percent of all samples tested positive, including 87.5 percent at the Celebration.
It’s high time for Congress to step up and recognize that this racket is rotten to the core, with no intention of ever reforming – and that the HPA has some serious loopholes that must be closed in order for soring to be relegated to the dustbin of history. Congress should pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R.1847 introduced by Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., without delay. Tell your U.S. representative and your two U.S Senators you want them to do all they can to make sure this bill is enacted in this Congress.
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