Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Editorials

June 7, 2013

'Lost the public'

Future of sport at stake

ASHLAND — Tracy Boyd, president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, says he is convinced that modern-day show horses are cleaner than they have ever been.

Nevertheless, the person who heads the one organization formed specifically  to promote Tennessee walking horses admits the walking horse industry has “clearly lost the public,” and it may be too late to save the breed known for its beautiful, high-stepping walk.

While he believes breeders and trainers of walking horses have done a good job of cleaning up their act and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, the cruelty and the cheating, Boyd said no one outside the industry believes it.

When federal inspectors began showing up  at walking horse shows to look for evidence of “soring” — hooves intentionally injured to encourage the high steps by making the front legs too painful to bear much weight — so many breeders immediately withdrew from competition instead of being inspected, that some shows had to be cancelled because of a lack of participating horses.

The message was clear: the illegal “soring” of walking horses was so widespread that the sport once thought to attract graceful steeds ridden by wealth ”gentlemen” quickly became seen as a sport that promotes the cruel treatment of horses, in much the same way that cockfights promote the cruel treatment of  roosters trained to be brutal killers.

Boyd said he supports performance horses and the Tennessee walking horse breed, but he said the time for change has come. Indeed, it is way past due.

Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States and a breeders’ association board member, called Boyd’s comments a “major development” for the industry. Will it result in the walking horse breed being able to salvage its badly tarnished image?

Time will tell, but one thing is clear: The only people who can restore the walking horse industry’s reputation are those who tarnished it: the owners, trainers, breeders and riders of the beautiful horses.

Dane is right. Boyd’s comments are a “major development” but are they too little, too late?

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