An open letter to Mike Walden:
I am a big admirer of yours and, while we don’t know one another, I have followed you since you were a police officer in Chattanooga. I have great respect for the brilliance that you have shown in building Walden Security into what is today a thriving national organization and appreciate how you serve the community as Chairman of our Hamilton County Election Commission.
That said, I believe you are standing on a very slippery slope and should get out of the “Big Lick” horse business while the gettin’ is good. Mike, what you may already perceive is a mess is getting ready to get a whole lot worse and while I know your four-year-old horse “I’m Copperfield” is considered a true contender for Grand National Champion at the Shelbyville Celebration in late August, I’m begging you to get away from those people while there is still time
Just this week, as you know, your trainer and rider, Knox Blackburn was suspended for four weeks when swab tests from either the Eaglesville or Woodbury shows in June came back hot. The swabs tested positive for caustic substances on the forelegs of two horses he showed and, brother, the “Big Lick” ain’t worth going to jail over. Those weren’t your horses, were they? I am told Knox’ son, Alex, rode one of yours up there in the youth class.
Trust me, I know zero about the Walking Horse industry. I stumbled into it this May, when millions like me were nauseated by tape that went viral of Jackie McConnell sadistically beating a horse and abusing others. I thought Jackie was beating it with an electric cattle prod but a trainer in Kentucky told me it was a four-foot club. He claimed the cattle prod was used to shock the horse’s lips.
Anyway, a national outcry over abuse in the horse industry has since been fueled nearly every day and, my interest piqued, I have discovered horrible abuse is widespread in the “Big Lick”. This week the first views of Michael Vick’s book came out and he is very remorseful about the two years he spent in Leavenworth for fighting dogs. He said watching his son fall to pieces over his Daddy going to jail was awful.
What’s the difference in fighting dogs and pounding a nail into a horse’s foot? Ever touched a cattle prod to one of your horse’s lips? Of course not, but what’s the difference between Jackie McConnell and Michael Vick? The word around the stable is that Knox Blackburn is married to Jackie McConnell’s niece. And everybody’s laughing over Knox’s suspension; it ends August 12 –in plenty of time for the show – but the entry deadline is August 7 and a suspended trainer can’t enter a horse in a show, right?
Heck, Mike, the biggest question in the entire industry is why you are even messing with it at all after the way you got yourself toasted in 2006. No doubt you’ll recall they had to vacate the Grand Nation Championship when five of the eight finalists were disqualified for soring. One horse was yours – Private Charter – and, yes, the trainer back then was – hello -- Knox Blackburn.
But you are the one your “Shelbyville friends” threw under the bus, alleging that you offered three trainers $10,000 apiece to withdraw. C’mon, it was all over the news. Your “Shelbyville friends” then slapped you with a two-year suspension, despite the fact you explained to the Nashville Tennessean it was a total misunderstanding, what you called “an act of goodwill.”
It’s okay to forgive, Mike, but, for goodness sake, don’t lose your memory! Don’t you see this set-up, Mike? These people are not your friends. All they want is your money. Tell you what you should do -- go to Shelbyville and walk in any barn on what’s called “Walking Horse Row.” They’ll tell you everybody in town is whispering this rumor or that, some type of Federal investigation the hottest this week.
Federal officials are mad, we all know that. Five men have already pleaded guilty in Chattanooga’s Federal court this year to violating the Horse Protection Law. I suspect the Feds are all over the “Big Lick” empire and I am virtually certain there will be more violators of the Horse Protection Act prosecuted in both Federal and state court.
After McConnell is sentenced here Sept 10, he’s still got 14 unrelated counts to face later in the month at the Fayette County courthouse. I don’t like his grip on the rope, no sir, but with the public outcry what it is and volumes of mail being delivered to the judge, the good news is that Jackie’s rope ain’t attached to some gallows.
This summer two huge veterinarian groups called on the nation’s lawmakers to outlaw stacks, or pads, chains and any other action devices. In the state of Tennessee it is now a felony to harm a livestock animal. Mike, there is a picture being circulated, taken just last year, of your “I’m Copperfield” wearing stacks and chains. Trust me, you are fooling with something that can burn you. And now people are wondering while I’m Copperfield’s name was changed from Gen’s Magic Prescription.
Mike, my grandfather had a wonderful saying, “Take low and go.” It meant take your losses and get out before it really costs you. Believe it or not, you can have just as much fun showing sound horses. So many horse owners are fleeing the Shelbyville crowd that they just discounted the annual horse card from $150 to $75. Shelbyville may be panicking but “clean” owners are finding flat-shod shows are fabulous with no soring anywhere to be found.
For some unexplainable reason, the Shelbyville bunch is actually suing the federal government (us) over the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s new rules. SHOW, or whatever part of alphabet soup the Celebration crowd calls it, didn’t sign the USDA required letter so – now what – they think they are bigger than the Federal government and an outraged public? The USDA can shut the Celebration down, brother.
You know who is the maddest? The owners of Tennessee Walking Horses are united in writing Congress, talking to state representatives and doing whatever it takes. Fifty years of lip service is over. Shelbyville could well become a dead-end street, my friend, and I am pleading with you. Get away from these people. They are not your friends.
Please give this some serious thought. You might tell your true friends to whistle up their dogs and douse the campfire, too, because the Shelbyville bunch has hurt the Tennessee Walking Horse for way too long. The “Big Lick” is on its last lick.
Call me if I can ever help you.
P.S. Did you know that you and I live on the same street?