by Sharon Rondeau

Screenshot from ABC News “Nightline” report on soring

(Aug. 24, 2017) — On Thursday evening, Tennessee’s largest annual horse show, the “National Celebration,” featuring Tennessee Walking Horses and other classes of show horses will launch, now in its 47th year.

The Celebration grounds are located at 1110 Evans Street in Shelbyville.  The show runs for 11 days, ending on September 2 this year.

A horse-welfare group, CCABLAC, led by “BillyGoBoy,” whose real name is Clant Seay, claims that the Celebration allows torture of the animals prior to competing and has done so for many years since its founding in 1939.

According to a number of sources, the practice of “soring” Tennessee Walking Horses became widespread throughout the South to appeal to judges favoring a high-stepping gait not obtainable through normal training methods.

In its natural state, the Tennessee Walking Horse is known for its sure-footedness, comfortable “running-walk,” gentle disposition and intelligence.  The breed came about as a result of combining a total of five other breeds, resulting in a reliable and hard-working farm horse.

Not long after its registry was created in 1939 and the United States became more industrialized and less agricultural, it was discovered that the naturally high-stepping Tennessee Walking Horse would snap its foot a bit higher after a treatment of mustard oil intended to cure a medical ailment. From there, the breed has reportedly been subjected to cruelty with a variety of similar irritants to produce what Seay and many others call “the Big Lick.”

Detractors of the Celebration and other horse shows where “sored” horses allegedly compete say that the cruel actions of a few have ruined the reputation of the walking horse industry.  In BillyGoBoy’s numerous videos taken at the shows, horses are shown noticeably bobbing their heads and shifting their weight onto their rear legs while lifting their front legs unusually high.

The training method often includes the attachment “action devices,” including “stacks,” to the horse’s front hooves which sometimes contain lead or another type of weight inside.  Chains are often used to “make the horse step a little higher,” according to a National Celebration organizer with whom The Post & Email spoke in April, who denied that the chains cause the horse pain as it walks.

Owners, trainers and riders of Tennessee Walking Horses deny that the horses are mistreated.  Last December, National Celebration organizer Mike Inman told The Post & Email that the horses entered in the contest are checked multiple times at various levels for any signs of soring, which can include loss of hair on the horse’s pasterns, gouges, and other irregular marks as well as hypersensitivity to an inspector’s touch.

Soring is illegal under the 1970 Horse Protection Act, but Seay and others maintain that it continues to this day. During the waning days of the Obama administration, horse-welfare advocates had expected that a new federal rule would be published in the Federal Register to strengthen the Act.

However, the rule was not published, and when Donald Trump took office, he ordered a moratorium on all new federal regulations until they could be scrutinized more closely.  Thus far, the Trump administration has taken no apparent action on publication of the proposed federal rule under the USDA.

Congressmen from both parties have denounced soring and in 2015 attempted unsuccessfully to pass a new law, the PAST Act, to more strictly enforce the Horse Protection Act.  More recently, Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL1), a large-animal veterinarian, said that he would re-introduce the PAST Act in the 115th Congress.

Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request earlier this year, Seay obtained documentation showing that the Charles Gleghorn, Vice President of the Tennessee Walking Horses Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) was found twice to have shown a sored horse at last year’s National Celebration. Seay launched a petition which quickly garnered thousands of signatures demanding that Gleghorn resign from his position in accordance with the organization’s posted rules and regulations.

With the matter adjudicated, Gleghorn is barred from showing a horse anywhere for three years.

Last month, The Post & Email attempted to reach TWHBEA representatives to ask about Gleghorn’s status by several methods but received no response.

Seay takes credit for a lower-than-ever attendance at last year’s Celebration through the activism of his group, which has traveled to Washington, DC and other horse shows throughout the Southeast where sored horses are allegedly allowed to compete.  He has met with Yoho and assembled not far from the White House to communicate his intent to permanently stop the practice of soring.

On Thursday evening, Seay told us:

We’re going down here, the first night of the Celebration, when they have the classes at night.  We speak for the horses who cannot speak for themselves.  We represent hundreds of thousands of people who support our determination to see that this is not supported by the public.  We ran an ad in The Tennessean newspaper, which is the largest paper in the state, asking the public to boycott.  We’ve also asked for an official at the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association to resign because he had two sore horses at the Celebration last year.  We hope that the attendance is the worst that it’s been in 47 years; last year the attendance was the worst it had been in 46 years.

We’ll be able to tell tomorrow and Saturday night where things are with the attendance.  I feel the wind at my back, and I feel very good about what we’re doing.

Update, August 25, 2017, 1:10 p.m. EDT:  On Thursday night, Seay posted the first video report of what is expected to be multiple updates he will be providing from the National Celebration grounds.  In his video, Seay thanked local law enforcement for their work toward maintaining the public’s safety and allowing CCABLAC its First Amendment right to peacefully assemble.  He described the opening night’s atmosphere as “dull.”

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