To date, in the Tennesee Walking Horse Abuse Condoned by Congress series, I have covered issues including the history of the breed, soring of the Tennessee Walking Horse, TWH, by unscrupulous Big Lick trainers, the Horse Protection Act, the PAST Act and some of the reasons that the bill did not make it to the floor for a vote, and the Horse Protection Act amendment to the APHIS Rules and Regulations. In this article, I will give you a closer look at the people who are, or were, involved in the reprehensible Big Lick soring industry.
The term Big Lick is used to describe TWHs that forced to wear stacks, pads and chains. Those horses compete at horse shows in performance classes created especially for them. While those in the Big Lick industry continue to claim that TWHs are rarely sored, the proof indicates otherwise.
Big Lick trainers go to extreme lengths to obtain the exaggerated gait that they desire, and to avoid detection of their soring methods by USDA inspectors that attend horse shows in an effort to enforce the Horse Protection Act. With the increase in horses being disqualified at shows during USDA inspections, trainers began conditioning the horses in their care not to respond, or to reduce any response, when inspectors test for soreness. A perfect example of this process was uncovered by the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS, in 2011 when it conducted an underground investigation at Big Lick trainer Jackie McConnell’s barn. You may view the investigative video, but Beware that it contains animal cruelty scenes – viewer discretion is advised. McConnell entered a guilty plea to 22 counts of animal cruelty.
In 2013, Larry Wheelon’s training barn was raided by the USDA. Wheelon was, at that time, the director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Trainers Association and was a member of that organizations ethics committee. Due to evidence of soring, 19 of the 28 horses that he had at his training barn were seized. He was arrested a week later and charged with felony animal cruelty. The charges were eventually dismissed due to technicalities related to the search and the search warrant.
The above are two of the most publicized arrests made to date. McConnell and Wheelon, along with many other Big Lick trainers and owners, have a long history of Horse Protection Act violations related to soring. You can view a database of suspensions spanning 20 years and a list of those who have had multiple HPA violations at Friends of Sound Horses.
According to Carl Bledsoe, you cannot have the Big Lick without soring. He is a second generation Big Lick trainer that finally realized, at the age of 46 years, that the cruelty that must be engaged in to train a Big Lick TWH was wrong.
Video courtesy of Billy Go Boy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=egI9XNKKix4
Bledsoe became a Big Lick trainer at the age of 18 years. He has been deeply in the industry and is well aware of the soring that takes place. As he stated in the video above, you cannot have the Big Lick without soring the horse.
Although I had intended this article to be the final one in this series, I have found there is too much to include in this post. As a result, I am also posting Part V as a continuation of this article.