On the surface, the situation last week in Lynchburg, Va., couldn't have appeared more normal. Trainer Wade Stepp, up on A. E. Hauser's Tennessee Walking horse Go Boy's Miss E, accepted the blue ribbon in the Walking mare class. In the way of successful trainers used to such honors, Stepp proudly left the ring with the ribbon fluttering in the breeze stirred by his horse's ground-eating walk—the gait for which the breed is famous.
But there the similarity with any ordinary horse show disappeared. Up stepped a Virginia gentleman with two summonses in his hand. He gave one to Trainer Stepp, the other to Owner Hauser. They found themselves charged with cruelty to animals—Go Boy's Miss E had been sore. The look of triumph vanished suddenly from Stepp's face. "I've been framed," he shouted angrily.
Thus began a legal maneuver which may prove to be the most important action in behalf of show horses taken in 20 years by any organization for the prevention of cruelty to animals. Behind the summonses was the Humane Society of the U.S., a new, vigorous group with headquarters in Washington, D.C. and five branches across the country. In a carefully planned, secret operation, the society imported a veterinarian, Dr. Clayton Stephens from Mississippi, to examine horses at the three-day show. He would not, the society felt, be influenced by local pressures.
He wasn't, but as often happens with intricately laid plans, the society's police action got off to a poor start. The Humane Society's agent, Lawyer John Zucker, became so entangled in legal details during the first day of the show that he failed to get the search warrant (not required under Virginia law) which he felt he needed as insurance. News that he was after one, and having little luck in obtaining it, must have leaked to the managers of the show. It was announced over the public address system that agents were on the premises. Although several exhibitors were frightened away, three obviously sore horses were shown the first night, and nothing happened.
On the second day Zucker had matters well in hand. He got the warrant, veterinarian Stephens examined Go Boy's Miss E and found her undeniably sore. Zucker dashed for the nearest magistrate and had a summons sworn out. Stepp argued that one of his rivals had sneaked into the barn and sored the mare just to get him in trouble. "Perhaps," said the Humane Society, "but you showed the mare sore, and that is cruelty."
Word of the arrest spread like a hayloft fire through the show grounds. Horses were loaded in vans with haste and whisked away. One trainer, en route from North Carolina, phoned in, learned of the investigation, turned his truckload of horses around and went straight home. When the championship stake was held, of the near dozen horses originally entered only two came into the ring.
The case against Stepp and Hauser came up before Judge Joseph McCarran in Lynchburg on Monday. Trainer Stepp was not there. Pleading pneumonia, he did not appear and Judge McCarran reissued a warrant for his arrest. Hauser was found guilty of cruelty to animals and fined $25. He has appealed the decision and, released on $100 bond, will appear in the Commonwealth Court in Lynchburg on June 7. The Humane Society, triumphant, plans to continue to swear out complaints until it is no longer the common practice to abuse a horse merely for the sake of winning a ribbon.
The battle of the sore horses was not confined to Lynchburg last week. In Columbia, Tenn., a much heralded showdown of a different but related nature brought a bloodless victory for John Amos, chairman of the executive committee of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' Association and a leader of the drive to prohibit abuse of Walking horses.
The Columbia showdown climaxed a fight over the new rule adopted in Detroit (SI, Feb. 22) outlawing the old hide-all bell boot and decreeing that in future shows a hinged boot open at the front (to reveal the presence of chains, wire or blistering) must be worn. The new rule was not popular with many trainers and owners. Behind Trainer Vic Thompson of Shelbyville, Tenn., who has been their spokesman, they organized protest meetings and the membership of the TWHBA was propagandized with letters and circulars, many of them hysterical in tone.
Before the Columbia show, Thompson paid a visit to Amos in Nashville and inquired just what Amos would do if 20 or so of the "boys" turned up at Columbia with the late, and from his standpoint lamented, bell boot on their horses. Amos, who is a coal mine operator and one of the few men ever to get the better of John L. Lewis (he successfully resisted unionization of his mines), told Thompson, "Try it."
Maybe the Thompson crowd did try it, maybe it didn't. One exhibitor who had announced that she would use the new boots at Columbia received phone calls strongly suggesting that she refrain. But when the Columbia show opened, all the horses there, including Thompson's, were wearing the association-approved boot. The revolt was a fizzle.
AND MORE TO COME
A scout for the Nashville Humane Association also was at Columbia "just looking," and saw a big improvement in the condition of the horses. "We have a tacit agreement," explained Mrs. Walter Sharp, the association's secretary. "We will give them time to clean up—if they don't, we'll act!"
If more action is needed, both Mrs. Sharp and John Amos have a powerful ally in Governor Buford Ellington of Tennessee. End the abuse of the Walking horse, the governor has said, or he will take the matter up in the Tennessee state legislature.
Meanwhile, members of the American Walking Horse Association have begun drafting plans to push for federal legislation. The Walking horse, they point out, no longer belongs to Tennessee but is exhibited in some 750 shows in about 45 states. Federal action may not be required, however. The breeders will air the question fully at their annual meeting beginning May 28. If Amos and his backers, who have been called "dictators" by their opponents, win their point, the breeders may be able to clean house without help from the Government.