“Big Lick” industry hopes to raise a defense fund at show finale brunches in center ring
TUNICA, Mississippi––Tennessee walking horse “Big Lick” fanciers either love the smell of horse manure in the morning, or, when converging for shows at the Paul Battle Arena, miss the odor of Sugar Ditch Alley, the open sewer for which the town of 10,000 residents was best known as recently as 1985.
Tunica, now known for nine gambling casinos opened since then, will from November 10, 2022 through November 12, 2022 host the “United Walking Horse Finale,” also known as the “United We Stand Horse Show.”
Brunch will be served in the center ring from 7:00 to 10:00 a.m. before each long day of horses goose-stepping short distances back and forth to recorded polka music.
Show judge fingered for soring by HSUS
Additional essence of horse manure is expected from the lineup of brunch speakers.
While ANIMALS 24-7 does not yet have the speaker lineup, the three show judges include Aaron Self, fingered for allegedly soring horses by a 2015 Humane Society of the U.S. undercover investigation.
According to The Walking Horse Report, the industry periodical that first announced the Tunica show back on May 20, 2022, “Thom Meek, who has led the development effort on behalf of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association, says the show has four objectives,” two of which are to “bring industry organizations together in a spirit of unity,” and to “raise money for the industry’s legal defense fund.”
Why do “Big Lickers” need a legal defense fund?
What sort of industry, other than organized crime, needs a legal defense fund?
An industry that tortures horses might be a good guess.
The torture for “Big Lick” walking horse is not just the canned polka music. Indeed, that probably tortures the rapidly thinning “Big Lick” show audiences more than it does the horses.
What makes the “Big Lick”?
To induce the “Big Lick” goose step, which involves having the horses lift their front hooves unnaturally high while duck-walking with their hind quarters, trainers frequently “sore” the horses’ legs with various concoctions and use “action devices” including chains, rollers, and heavy front shoes stacked to an extent that might embarrass even a silicon-abusing stripper.
The heavier the front shoes, the less able the horse is to take a normal forward stride.
The horses’ tail posture is meanwhile unnaturally altered with tail braces, best described as a literal pain in the ass.
Of course there is a federal law against abusing show horses.
But the Horse Protection Act of 1970 has never been fully enforced to the letter.
After decades of legislative and courtroom battles over the enforcement regulations and whether enforcement inspections would be done by employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or by representatives of the walking horse industry, as until now it mostly has been, the legal argument might have ended on July 22, 2022.
On that day a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled, in effect, that a 2016 rule governing USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service enforcement of the Horse Protection Act would have the force of law sixty days after the verdict.
That rule would put USDA inspectors firmly in charge of enforcing a rule prohibiting the use of stacked shoes, chains, and other devices and practices used by walking horse trainers to produce the ‘Big Lick.’
“Justice delayed is justice denied”
Enforcement had been delayed for nearly six years because the rule, which had otherwise cleared every hurdle to be enforced, had not yet been printed in The Federal Register when the Donald Trump administration took office and froze all new rule-making.
The November 10-12 “United We Stand” horse show in Tunica could be the first at which the new “Big Lick” rule might be enforced––although it probably will not be, because the USDA on October 6, 2022 filed an appeal against having to to do their job.
Already planning the “United We Stand” horse show as a fundraiser for the industry defense fund, months before the U.S. Court of Appeals verdict clumped down like a “Big Lick” horse shoe, were the four leading industry organizations:
- The Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse, otherwise known as FAST, as in pulling a fast one, founded circa 2010;
- The National Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, held annually since 1939 in Shelbyville, Tennessee;
- The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association, begun in 1935;
- and the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association, founded in 1968.
PAST Act time may be past
Historically the four walking horse organizations have rarely pulled together as a team. They may not now, but have been spooked into making the attempt.
First came the apparition of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act. Repeatedly introduced in Congress, the PAST Act “passed the U.S. House of Representatives by an overwhelming 333-96 vote in 2019, passed the Senate Commerce Committee by voice vote in 2014, and passed the House Energy & Commerce Committee by a vote of 22-0 in June 2022,” recalls Keith Dane, senior director for equine Services for the Humane Society of the United States.
Dane, who has long opposed the “Big Lick.” is himself a former director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association.
Despite having considerable support, though, the PAST Act has repeatedly been killed by obstruction from well-placed Senators and members of the House of Representatives whose campaign committees are on the “Big Lick” industry payroll.
As the 117th Congress closes, the PAST Act again appears to be painfully going nowhere, much like “Big Lick” show horses themselves.
A more substantial threat to the “Big Lick” industry came from longtime Mississippi lawyer Clant Seay, 76, who formed the Citizens Campaign Against “Big Lick” Animal Cruelty after political chicanery killed the 2014 edition of the PAST act.
Through his “Billygoboy” Facebook page, Seay organizes picket lines who have stood outside “Big Lick” show arenas throughout the South, coinciding with a dramatic seven-year drop in attendance.
The Tunica 2022 “United Walking Horse Finale,” also known as the “United We Stand Horse Show,” will be held barely 75 miles from Seay’s home and office in Oxford, Mississippi.
Seay promises to be there with his blue-shirted army of protesters.
Seay also wants the USDA to be there.
A Change.org petition posted by Seay, addressed to Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, opens “WE, the People of America, and around the world, respectfully ask you to please send your very best USDA veterinary inspectors to Tunica to stringently enforce the Horse Protection Act for all three days and nights (Thursday, Friday & Saturday) to impede the barbaric torture of innocent Tennessee Walking Horses.”
Vilsack works both sides of the issue
Seay, however, does not actually expect much of Vilsack.
Continues the petition, “Sadly, as the current USDA agriculture secretary, YOU [Vilsack] elected to appeal the D.C. Court of Appeals decision on October 6, 2022 – rather than simply have the USDA 2017 rule published in the Federal Register, and bring an end to the “Big Lick” animal cruelty perpetrated upon Tennessee walking horses.”
If USDA inspectors are a no-show in Tunica, collection plates reeking of horse poop may once again tell the story.