2010 FOSH SOUND HORSE CONFERENCE PERSONAL THOUGHTS
My friend Sara and I arrived in Louisville, KY in time to join the pre-conference workshops, and chose to attend the one for judges. Dr. Jim Heird, who officiated, was raised in TN, but currently is active in the Quarter Horse world as Chairman of the AQHA Show Committee. Because he knew all about TWH and the QH industry, his thoughts on judging were of interest. We have a saying that “Judges could put an end to the soring, if they would not place the sore ones.” He took exception to that saying that it isn’t the judges’ job, and a judge cannot tell for sure if one is sore. A lot of us took some exception to THAT, as a creepy crawly pleasure or big lick horse is sore. However, he had a valid point, and stated that QH are not to have their tails deadened,(so they cannot swish them while showing) but a judge cannot tell for sure one that carries his tail flat to his butt, is deadened. The gist to me was that all involved have to end the soring; it cannot all be placed on the judges. To be honest, fair and hopeful, I do believe in many cases the walking horse classes are better, and hopefully/perhaps it is harder to tell, and a judge could get in hot water if he were wrong. That brought the issue to the judges’ governing body. Would they stand behind a judges’ decision? My personal belief is that a judge can make a difference, and certainly could have stopped soring in early years of TWH showing when it began, but then as now, they would have all had to stand together in their opinions.
On Saturday another speaker who was a trainer and judge, Chris Messick, pointed out that the spectators are a big issue, and had us listen to a tape where a big lick horse was excused from this year’s celebration because the judges (GOOD FOR THEM) thought the horse was “bad image.” The crowd cheered loudly as the horse left the ring…and NOT because they were glad to see him go! So there are lots of folks responsible for soring and many will have to pull together to get rid of it. Spectators who are appalled at the big lick classes leave if they even go, so the ones left are the supporters.
A big deal for me personally at the Conference was the opportunity to gift several of my books: The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot (http://www.rosemiller.net/ )to some notable people. Senator Tydings and his quietly elegant and gracious companion Helen attended the Judging workshop. It was told to me that Senator Tydings was incensed when told that soring was continuing. “It is against the LAW!” he responded. (The law that he was responsible for getting passed was 40 years ago.) Ah yes….
After the Thursday evening work shop ended, I had my chance to give Helen one of my books, as she noticed me waiting while the Senator was talking to someone else. I thought I would simply give it to her and she would later give it to him, but she tugged on his arm and he turned to me! So, I was able to thank him personally for the 1970 Horse Protection Act he sponsored and got into law, to help both the wild horses and the Tennessee Walking Horses. I could tell the fact the horses were still being abused weighed heavily on him, as he asked me, “Do you think it is better?” I am no expert, but I told him I thought it is better, but certainly not gone. As the seminar went along, I know he got his answer because I saw him later and he commented, “It is better…” Friday morning, the first day of the actual Seminar, I again saw Helen. She gave me a big smile and said she hadn’t quite finished reading the book. Since it is a woman’s story, she might enjoy it more than Senator Tydings if he ever has time to read it. I found Helen a most gracious lady.
The next morning I grabbed the opportunity to give a book to Rick Lamb who was the Master of Ceremonies. Rick is a popular horse education and has earned national awards and fans from his radio and television appearances. I hope he has time to read it.
Of course, the “Main Event” for me was Madeleine Pickens http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madeleine_A._Pickens (wife of T. Boone Pickens http://www.boonepickens.com/ ) who was the Friday luncheon keynote speaker. She was introduced by Senator Tydings and had been accompanied by T. Boone. She told about her effort to save the mustangs and give them a permanent home on their personal acreage. http://www.madeleinepickens.com/sanctuary-qa/ Please check out her site and note how you can also help the wild horses.
It was clear to see that Madeleine and T. Boone were very much a loving couple and supported the betterment of animals. During Katrina Hurricane she was instrumental in helping many deserted and desperate cats and dogs. They were very involved with ending horse slaughter and now are working on forbidding transportation of the horses to Mexico for slaughter. Yeah!! Now, of course, you know I sure wanted to give HER a copy of my book, but I was a little daunted by the idea of getting close enough to do it. I had asked Lori Northrup, FOSH President who put on the Sound Horse Conference, if it would be ok to give the books, and got the go ahead. During a quick break before Madeleine spoke, Lori’s husband Bill escorted me over to where Madeleine was speaking to Helen. Wow! I stood there for a couple of minutes and then Madeleine looked at me. I found my voice and said that I would like to give her my book which was my small effort to help horses, to thank her for all her work for the horses. She said, “There are no small efforts, everything counts.” Then she asked me if I had autographed it, and you can bet that I had! I would rather meet her than any movie star. (Well, maybe Harrison Ford…) By that time on Friday I had given 3 of my 4 books, and was content. I could have gone home then and been happy. But more good stuff was on the way.
We heard more from various trainers, veterinarians, farriers, and judges on the good and the bad still happening. One of the very bad is still the pressure shoeing. It is the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s front hooves in order to achieve an accentuated gait for the show ring. It is said to be on the rise since it is more difficult to detect. This is one of the awful things I encountered when I showed Praise Hallelujah in the late 90s. It is worse because unlike painting the ankle area with a caustic material, the pressure pain never lets up. I take my hat off to Tommy Hall and the International Horse Show (the one I used to love in the 90s, but quit because of all the sored pleasure horses). They had exhibitors sign a release that the show could pull off the shoes of any winner if they desired, to check for illegal pressure shoeing. Some left (good riddance). Events such as this give me hope that indeed something can be done to stop this abuse. It comes down to determined people.
Friday evening we all were treated to another good dinner buffet and horse demonstrations in the Louisville Equestrian Center. Suzanne De Laurentis demonstrated horses doing tricks at liberty. Sheryl Crow donated her trained horse, Lady C, to FOSH for demonstrations, and Lady C performed for us. http://www.twhbea.com/voice/Features/LAdyC.htm The horses stood on platforms, some small, some larger, side passed or turned around on them. I think I would love to do that (with a SMALL platform). Mary Ann Kennedy is a Grammy-nominated hit songwriter from Nashville who creates music that celebrates the horse. She sang some of her songs (Iive!) while we watched the horses. She was the other person I wanted to gift one of my books to, and the next day had my chance. She generously gave me 2 of her music CDs. http://www.maryannkennedy.com/ She is very concerned and involved with horse/animal rescue. Here is another link to see the evening performance (Compliments of Lori and FOSH!) http://www.nashvillenewzine.com
Other clinicians (Larry Whitesell, Diane Sept and Buddy Brewer) gave demonstrations of sound happy training practices insuring contented horses. Ivory Pal, a beautiful Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse stallion and Rafael Valle gave a riding exhibition.
The next day was Saturday and a lot of talk was about ZENYETTA!!!! We hoped we would get to see her final race on television (we were finished by then and did). We shared our Holiday Inn Hotel with many race fans that had flown into town to see her in person. She is a splendid lady. Now that she is retired, maybe she will present all her followers and adoring fans with a colt that might just win the Triple Crown…who know? Then maybe a movie will be made about this magnificent mare!
It was plain to see that the speakers were passionately against soring and other abuses and the fact that even when caught, seldom is there a significant punishment. Gary Lane, a former Kentucky State Police officer, author of Training the Gaited Horse, and clinician, stated adamantly that when he was an officer he never pulled over a speeder and gave him a blue ribbon! http://www.windsweptstables.net/Book-and-DVD-sales.html
The conclusion of the weekend’s events (next to Madeleine Pickens talk) was a high point of the Conference for me. It was: A Story of Change, and Winky Groover was the speaker. Anyone knowing Tennessee Walkers, trainers and shows would know of Winky (and his dad, Wink Groover). I was most interested to hear what this big lick trainer would have to say. Winky began his speech with the disclaimer that he was not a public speaker and was scared to death to be there. He said he didn’t know how his presence would be received, but wanted to come anyway. He said he was going to read his speech, and began by saying, “During my life I have done about everything wrong that one could as a trainer and a person. Yes, I have served suspensions for those acts. I am sorry for the hurt I have caused horses as a trainer and I’m sorry for the grief that I caused family members, customers, and friends as a person. I have a past that I am not proud of, but with the help of many, I made a decision to change my life and training techniques.”It was a good talk from the soul. When finished, he received a standing ovation for his honesty and yes, bravery, to come before a group of SOUND horse folks who detest the sore/abusive horse training, and stand and be counted as “one of us.”
Next time we had a break and I hustled over to him. “Can you really have a big lick show horse and not sore it?” I asked. He answered that one could indeed. It takes a really talented horse, but it can be done. Trying to make not so talented horses into world champions is part of the “why” of soring. Winky is president of the Walking Horse Trainers Association and before I left home I had received a phone call from another member asking me if I would donate a copy of The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot to their Annual Banquet and Convention auction in December. I had a good laugh. Did this person KNOW what my book was about???? I told Winky about the call and told him the book was about my life with Walking Horses, but it was against soring, as I had seen it as I showed my horses in the 90s. I mentioned that I had waited until ‘09 Celebration to publish my book so I could say “all is well, soring is on its way out,” but I couldn’t say that. I could say it was somewhat improved, however. Did he still want a copy? “Yes, Ma’m I would,” he replied. And would he like a personal copy? “Yes, Ma’m, I would.” Well ok then, off I went to get 2 autographed copies. I hope he indeed reads his. I had been told by several folks in the know that some trainers really would love to stop soring, or abusive training. He surely sounded like one of them.
The final speaker was Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for the Humane Society of the United States who oversees the domestic horse welfare programs for the nation’s largest animal welfare organization. He spoke about the future of the Walking Horse, and among other statements noted that the Saddlebred horses do not invoke the kind of intense dislike and disgust (although they are not without problems either) that the big lick Tennessee Walking Horses do. Perhaps smaller pads, no action devices (chains) around the ankles and a horse performing to a lesser degree would be a start. Films could be made of horses such as these and the trainers told to limit their gaits to this standard. It sounded like a hopeful idea to me at least.
I applaud Lori Northrup and FOSH for the Sound Horse Conferences. I missed the first one, went to the second in FL with friend Ann because I wanted the latest on the soring issue for the final pages of The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot. There I met Pat and Linda Parelli, and Dr. Robert Miller, the vet who has written so many horse books, most famous for the foal imprinting books. Dr. Miller also endorsed The Horse That Wouldn’t Trot and Mules, Mules and More Mules www.rosemiller.net which will shortly be available for purchase. Naturally, that makes Dr. Miller very special to me.
With this third Conference I can see the forward movement in the anti-soring debate. It is encouraging, but only a good beginning. Still only a few shows can be attended by the USDA inspectors, the show inspectors can be lax or good. They still do a better job if the USDA inspectors are in attendance. If very good, exhibitors with sored horses pack up and go to one that is more lax, or even “wildcat/outlaw” or open breed shows with no inspectors at all. Not all want to stop soring horses. You can help by writing your legislators asking them to support more money for USDA inspections. After all, IT IS against the law!
There were 2 other things that stood out in my mind. One of the speakers said there were 2 things wrong with the Conference. One was that it should have been presented in front of thousands instead of the group present. I totally agree, and with that in mind, please feel free to share these thoughts with your friends.
Also, Winky Groover mentioned that both animals and people learn best by positive re-enforcement. With that in mind, I certainly wish to applaud and thank Mr. Groover and any other trainers (of which I sincerely hope there are many) that are willing to change their training methods for the betterment of the Tennessee Walking Horse!