Tennessee's beautiful horses
It's walking horse time in Tennessee.
Those used to be wonderful words signifying the 11-day Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was about to commence during the last two weeks of August.
But in the last decade, as pads grew taller on the walkers' front hooves and the abuse with chemicals and objects hidden beneath and around those pads - known as soring - became more and more public, the image of Tennessee walking horses became dark.
Soring makes horses' feet or legs so painful that they will exaggerate a naturally high stepping gait to reach higher and farther for the "big lick."
This year's 75th annual Celebration, Aug. 21-31, is just two weeks away, and once again the show and the industry are mired in controversy.
In addition to Hall of Fame trainer Jackie McConnell, more than a half dozen other trainers, grooms and farriers have been convicted in recent months on federal charges related to the abuse, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture has cracked down on the sport. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Congress are again trying to strengthen the 1970 Horse Protection Act with amendments to toughen sentences and eliminate pads, chains and other "performance" devices.
Walking Horse Chat, an industry Web page and blog, recently carried a story that Celebration CEO Mike Inman "is reaching out" asking the community for support as the Celebration is "in critical financial waters."
"In the last six years, the organization has lost close to $1.5 million ...," Inman ssaid. That amount includes funds the Celebration spent to oversee industry-based horse inspections, which last year found 98 percent compliance with USDA regulations. USDA disagreed, recently stating that federal testing at the 2012 Celebration revealed 145 horses out of 190, or 76 percent, tested positive for prohibited foreign substances.
Inman, in his support plea, also said that in the last two years, box-seat sales were down a total of 478 boxes, equaling $376,000 in lost revenue.
Celebration officials and the industry oppose the new Horse Protection Act amendments, saying among other things that they will put the walking horse industry and Shelbyville, Tenn., underwater.
In a forum on the Walking Horse Chat, one writer said the controversy, not the proposed law, hurts the industry and town more.
"The impact of the last seven years has taken its toll. ... In the glory years many businesses banked big time. These days, we notice the traffic is bad and there is a spike in business for two weekends. Most every horse barn in Bedford County is for sale. That tells the story. When this law passes it will save the breed and possibly give Shelbyville an opportunity to re-establish itself."
Backers of the bill last week said it has been introduced in both the Senate and the House, where it already has 137 co-sponsors.
Perhaps this is something Congress can actually pass.
No tax and no teach
Fiddle-dee-dee! No tax increase in Hamilton County? In fact, property taxes are going down for most people?
What's a tax-and-spend liberal to do?
Well, I could offer kudos to county officials, but the fact is lower property taxes are really not of their doing - though at least the Hamilton County Commission did vote to keep the 2012 tax rate instead of adopting the new higher certified tax rate to make up a $255,000 expected shortfall in the county's new budget.
What really is lowering taxes is the very thing most property owners never really want to see: that their property values went down.
The real puzzler out of the county officials' comments Wednesday was where the $255,000 budget shortfall will be made up. Initial estimates from the county mayor's staff said about $255,000 would be removed from the general fund and $255,000 from schools.
Schools? You've got to be kidding, right?
Haslam's health solution
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he's still holding out on a decision of whether to take free money from Washington to expand Medicaid under Obamacare. For now, he says he continues to negotiate with federal officials about his version of TennCare expansion. His version would use the federal money to allow uninsured adults to buy private insurance on the federal health insurance exchanges.
His version also apparently involves putting big state government into how you live your life.
His new initiative is called "Healthier Tennessee," and it seeks to push Tennesseans to exercise three days a week, eat healthier and forgo smoking. It will also include closer "tracking" of outcomes, said Haslam.
Let me get this straight. Obamacare is big government because it requires everyone to have health insurance, but the big state, according to Haslam, wants to police what we eat, if and when we exercise and whether we smoke in this still-free country.
Did I doze off and have a bad dream?