Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was mighty quiet without Clant Seay
SHELBYVILLE, Tennessee––The 85th annual Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, held from August 23, 2023 through September 2, 2023, was mighty quiet without the protesting presence for the first time in a decade of Citizens Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty founder Clant Seay.
Seay, 76, also known online as Billy Goboy, died from complications of COVID-19 on March 6, 2023 in Oxford, Mississippi.
Hardly rated media coverage
Without Seay, the Celebration, once among the biggest and best-attended annual events in Tennessee, scarcely rated even local media coverage.
The biggest headline the Celebration got all week came in the August 25, 2023 edition of the Tennessee Tribune, and was attached to an entirely different issue: “Shelbyville Renters Hold Public Hearing During Walking Horse Celebration, Release Shocking Report about the Housing Human Rights Crisis in Rural Middle Tennessee.”
But even in absence of Seay and his legion of blue-shirted protesters, though there were some, and in absence of most of the paid attendance of which the Celebration formerly boasted, someone was watching.
Amundson & Block were watching
“Members of the Humane Society of the United States’ Equine Protection team traveled to Tennessee to evaluate the condition of the horses,” wrote Humane Society Legislative Fund president Sara Amundson and Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block on Septenber 6, 2023 in a jointly signed blog post.
“In the weeks leading up to the show,” Amundson and Block said, “we posted billboards in town to expose the cruelty of horse soring, painful methods that create an artificial, exaggerated high-stepping gait, which is celebrated at this annual event.
Top Celebration prize went to convicted cheater
“What our team witnessed at this spectacle,” Amundson and Block continued, “was further evidence of the need for drastic reform in enforcement of the federal Horse Protection Act. Horses, some of them so obviously lame that a judge in any other equestrian discipline would have disqualified them from competition, struggled in the show ring, flailing their legs in the air in the performance of the pain-based ‘Big Lick’ gait produced by soring.
“John Allan Callaway,” Amundson and Block added, “who served an eight-month federal disqualification ending in 2018 for alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act, won the Celebration’s grand championship.”
“The overriding question”
Clant Seay, attorney, journalist, and the “Big Lick” industry’s worst nightmare, would have publicized the award to Calloway from Charlotte in the east to Memphis in the west and beyond.
“The overriding question that our staff left Tennessee with,” Amundson and Block said, “was ‘Can this be the last Walking Horse Celebration where animal cruelty is displayed and even handsomely rewarded?’”
“We believed we had that answer six years ago,” Amundson and Block answered themselves, “when in 2017 under the Obama/Biden administration’s secretary of agriculture Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finalized a rule to upgrade its regulations to end horse soring.”
Trump screwed horses
Unfortunately, as the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service [APHIS] itself acknowledged in an August 17, 2023 media release, “In 2017, APHIS withdrew its initial Horse Protection Act final rule from public inspection in accordance with a memorandum that was issued by the Executive Office of the President,” then newly inaugurated Donald Trump.
“We sued the USDA for failing to follow the legal procedures to withdraw a final rule,” Amundson and Block recounted. “When Vilsack returned as secretary of agriculture under the Biden/Harris administration, we hoped the agency would restore it.
“However, this July, the USDA announced that it would withdraw the rule legally.”
“We and more than 92,000 supporters objected to this during a comment period and urged the USDA to work swiftly to implement a new, strong rule to end soring,” Amundson and Block said.
USDA introduces new rule
Under pressure of the lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the U.S. and the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund, the USDA introduced a new rule which, according to the August 17, 2023 media release:
- relieves horse industry organizations and associations of all of their regulatory responsibilities, which will eliminate potential conflicts of interest and ensure impartiality of inspections;
- establishes qualifying criteria for people applying to be inspectors, as well as processes for denying applications;
- allows event management to appoint an APHIS representative to conduct inspections;
- prohibits any device, method, practice, or substance that could mask evidence of soring, as well as all action devices and non-therapeutic pads and wedges, and substances applied above the hoof;
- clarifies the ‘scar rule’ by modifying the description of visible changes that indicate soring, and;
- amends recordkeeping and reporting requirements for management at horse shows, exhibitions, sales, and auctions to increase oversight and prevent those who have been previously disqualified from participating in events.
What the new soring rule does
“Together,” the USDA/APHIS media release asserted, “these changes will allow APHIS to screen, train and authorize qualified persons to conduct inspections at horse shows, horse exhibitions, horse sales, and horse auctions to ensure compliance with the Horse Protection Act.”
“The proposed rule does much of what the 2017 rule did,” exulted Amundson and Block.
“It eliminates the use on Tennessee walking and racking horses of ‘action devices’ to sore their ankles, and pads nailed to their hooves that cause pain, conceal sharp or hard objects jammed into their tender soles, and hide other damage intentionally inflicted on the hooves,” Amundson and Block explained.
What the new soring rule does not do
But Amundson and Block acknowledged having some reservations.
“We believe that the rule should include spotted saddle horses, too, as they are also victims of soring, and ban the use on all three breeds of heavy shoes that are known to cause pain to and even tear off part of horses’ hooves,” Amundson and Block said.
“The USDA says it plans to delay the ban on hoof pads until 270 days after the rule is finalized,” Amundson and Block pointed out, “claiming that horses need six to eight months to come down off the tall platform shoes, a claim rejected by the veterinary community, even though the agency says soring continues through their use. That’s not acceptable.”
Gen’s Ice Glimmer
Clant Seay often showed video to anyone he could get to watch of his own rescued former walking show horse Gen’s Ice Glimmer, before and after his stacked shoes were removed, demonstrating that even a severely neglected horse can walk, trot, and run once stacked, weighted shoes are removed.
“While the new rule replaces the failed existing industry-run self-policing scheme with one administered solely by the USDA,” Amundson and Block added, “it appears to allow event managers to choose which USDA-approved inspectors to hire to diagnose horses for soring at their events.
“This leaves open the potential for inspectors to turn a blind eye to soring in order to secure more inspection jobs, as has been the case with industry inspectors in the current system.”
“All a dog & pony show” says Marty Irby
Marty Irby, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association from 2010 to 2012, who was ousted after speaking in favor of “rigorous but fair enforcement of the Horse Protection Act,” told ANIMALS 24-7:
“I’ve been watching things on this front, but have zero faith in the USDA regulatory process and Secretary Tom Vilsack. Honestly, I think it’s all a dog and pony show between USDA and HSUS.
“I would of course support the new rules under the parameters the USDA has described in their press release,” Irby said, “but only federal law can increase penalties, and until we see a new law with increased penalties, soring will persist.”
Horseracing Integrity & Safety Authority is off and running
Irby lobbied, first with the Humane Society of the U.S. and later with Animal Wellness Action, for passage of the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act, signed into law in 2020.
The Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act created a federal government agency called the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Authority.
Implementing the HISA, as it is called for short, was delayed by horse industry opposition to the existence and regulatory scope of the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Authority.
Deaths at Saratoga
At last off and running, the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Authority “is examining a spate of recent equine fatalities at Saratoga Race Course, which had 12 horses perish during the season that began July 13, 2023 and ended on Labor Day,” the Albany Times Union reported on August 26, 2023.
HISA “said it is collaborating with the New York Racing Association and state Gaming Commission in the review, which includes ‘reviewing necropsy results, veterinary records, racing and training histories, surface maintenance logs and weather records gathered by local veterinarians and other officials,” the Albany Times Union said.
New York Racing Association spokesperson Patrick McKenna told the Times Union that five of the horse deaths during the 2023 racing season “were a result of catastrophic injuries during races that featured 2,390 horses starting in 314 races. Another horse — Burning Bright — died during a race as a result of a heart attack,” the Times Union reported.
“Four other horses suffered catastrophic injuries during training exercises at Saratoga,” the the Times Union said.
Horse doper goes to prison
Meanwhile in Manhattan federal court, Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil on July 26, 2023 sentenced Jason Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security, disqualified as the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner, to serve four years in prison for drugging racehorses.
Servis, 66, of Jupiter, Florida, pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor charge of using unapproved drugs on horses he trained.
In addition to the prison time, Servis sentenced to pay $311,760 in forfeiture, $163,932 in restitution and a $30,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Servis was among more than 30 defendants, including veterinarians, who were charged in March 2020 with participating in an international drug distribution scheme that allegedly affected the outcome of races in Florida, New York, New Jersey, Ohio, Kentucky and the United Arab Emirates.
The Churchill Downs race stewards initially disqualified Maximum Security for interference after the 2019 Kentucky Derby. Maximum Security was later found to have been running with the help of a performance-enhancing drug called SGF-1000.
Country House, who finished the 2019 Kentucky Derby just behind Maximum Security, was declared to be the actual Derby winning.
Maximum Security nonetheless won the Eclipse Award as the top 3-year-old male horse in the U.S. in 2019, and won the Saudi Cup in 2020 before Servis was indicted.