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IS ANIMAL CRUELTY TO BLAME?
by Sharon Rondeau
(Aug. 27, 2017) — On Sunday, blogger and horse-welfare advocate BillyGoBoy reported that the annual “National Celebration” horse show held each year at this time is showing “the worst attendance” in its 47-year history.
Hosted in Shelbyville, the ten-day show featuring Tennessee Walking Horses was once a landmark event widely supported by businesses and citizens of the community, but allegations of cruelty toward the horses entered in various divisions appear to have impacted its popularity.
In 2014, BillyGoBoy, who is retired attorney and former horse owner Clant Seay, founded CCABLAC, the Concerned Citizens Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty,” to raise awareness of “soring,” a painful process of irritating a horse’s front legs with caustic chemicals in order to make it step higher in competition.
The abnormal prancing gait allegedly produced by soring is called the “Big Lick” by horse-welfare advocates.
In addition to the chemical treatments, the horse is then outfitted with eight-pound shoes which sometimes are filled with lead weights. Chains are generally added to the horse’s front ankles, which inflict additional pain as the horse is ridden around the show ring.
On August 20, Seay’s group ran a full-page advertisement in The Tennessean, the state’s largest newspaper, which reads, in part:
Boycott “The Celebration”
Do Not Support Animal Cruelty
Organizers of the event deny that the animals or mistreated in any way and that multiple inspections by qualified personnel are performed to ensure that no “sore” horse is allowed to compete.
Seay has interviewed a former Tennessee Walking Horse trainer, Carl Bledsoe, who performed a demonstration on-camera to show how a horse is prepared to pass a pre-show inspection after it has been sored by hiding the evidence.
The Horse Protection Act of 1970 renders the buying, selling, auctioning, showing, or transporting of a sored horse illegal, but according to Seay and other horse-welfare advocate groups, the practice continues, primarily in the South. The USDA is tasked with enforcing the Act, but numerous sources say that the number of qualified designated persons (DQPs) encompassed by the budget Congress allotted to inspections is inadequate.
Late last year, a new federal rule intended to outlaw all “action devices,” which would have included the heavy shoes (“stacks”) and chains was poised to be published in the Federal Register for the required comment period but never appeared. Subsequently, President Donald Trump put on hold all new contemplated federal regulations until they could be reviewed.
Seay has said that the Trump administration has been ineffective in enforcing the Horse Protection Act, the responsibility for which falls on USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue.
The USDA’s section on the Horse Protection Act was last updated on August 11 and bears a complaint form to report allegations of soring. The names, infractions, and disqualification periods of those found over the last several years to be in violation of the HPA are published along with any fines levied following adjudication.
Seay has been posting photo and video updates of his group’s activity at this year’s Celebration on his blog and Facebook page. As of Sunday night, a video of the Two-Year Old Gelding Class from Friday night has been viewed nearly by 700,000 individuals.
Seay’s videos clearly show that the spectator stands are at least half-empty.
“According to reliable and knowledgeable sources inside the event, there were approximately 3,500 – 4,000 attendees many of whom were the family members of the trainers and exhibitors,” Seay reported of Saturday night’s crowd. “In days past, the Celebration’s ‘First Saturday’ night attendance would be approximately 20,000, and the West Grand Stands would be full.”