Some weeks ago, the nation's largest Tennessee walking horse group locked in an uproar only slightly less acrimonious than the government shutdown after an executive committee member sponsored her own poll to see how 6,945 members feel about the use of padded shoes and ankle chains - instruments horse advocates say hide evidence of soring.
Soring is the use of chemicals and contraband items to encourage Tennessee walking horses to step higher and farther to exaggerate the breed's natural gait. The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association's executive committee voted in May to support a federal bill that would ban the much-debated pads and chains, but the association's full board of directors voted not to ratify that action.
Supporters of the bill say the equipment encourages soring and that banning it will restore public confidence in the industry. Detractors say pads and chains are harmless, and removing them will cause fans to turn away from horse shows.
Pat Stout, of Cookeville, Tenn., the association's vice president for horse shows, took the poll question into her own hands. She paid to mail out postage-paid polling cards and asked members to mark yes or no to the statement: "I am for passage of HR 1518/S 1406 -- 'Prevent All Soring Tactics Act' -- to remove the pads and chains in order to end the public perception of soring and abuse presently associated with the Tennessee Walking Horse Breed, to eliminate HIOs (organizations with lay inspectors rather than federal inspectors) and to increase penalties for soring."
The cards were to be returned to a certified public accountant in Arab, Ala., by Oct. 15.
On Thursday, Stout released an Oct. 16 letter from that CPA, who certified tabulation of the poll results: 1,795 people, or 26 percent of the TWHBEA members, voted. A majority 63 percent, or 1,132, said they support the bill to ban pads and chains. Nearly 37 percent, or 663, voted "no."
On Friday, the Tennessee Walking Horse Report, a magazine and online trade publication owned and operated by the David Howard family, active members in the Tennessee walking horse industry, sent out an email titled "TWHBEA Comments on Recent Membership Mailer."
"In the coming days, you will most likely see the publication of results of a post card mailer that was previously sent with the TWHBEA logo, which was not authorized by the executive committee nor is it a work product of TWHBEA," the email states. The unsigned message states, "TWHBEA makes no request or requirement that you answer this mailer or do anything whatsoever with the mailer, and you can certainly throw it away if you want."
The message indicates the card's mailing is under investigation and the organization suggests "irregularities" in the card's distribution.
"The bill ... has many parts, and we feel that an adequate survey would have addressed the individual components of the bill, giving our members an opportunity to express their true feelings on the various aspects of the proposed legislation. ... Please be aware that any publication of the results is not a TWHBEA product," the email reads.
Stout and her CPA have documents verifying the mail-out numbers, and a 26 percent response to any poll is considered outstanding.
It would seem the members of the Tennessee Walking Horse group that provides the breed's birth lines and registry have spoken. They want a cleaner sport, and they believe the way to get it is to outlaw pads and chains and make soring a felony.
It's about time.
Now let's hope that Congress can find something to agree on with this bill and get the vote made.