If only you could See My Magic.
Chances are, you probably never will.
Hidden under tall pines surrounding a little blue barn in rural Western Washington, See My Magic, a 13-year-old, chestnut-colored Tennessee Walking Horse stands alone in high heels, waiting, perpetually, for anything.
From his little window covered with white metal bars, he can watch his owner mow the lawn, smell the early morning dew and hear horses in neighboring pastures whinny and play, but See My Magic’s hooves haven’t touched the grass in more than two years.
His owner, Ted Taylor of unincorporated Pierce County near Roy, Wash., says he has kept the horse locked up this way since Taylor suffered a stroke and back injuries two years ago. Animal control reports filed by concerned neighbors in this affluent gated community suggest it has been much longer.
Waiting for Taylor to heal however, is no retirement from discomfort for See My Magic. Nailed to the bottom of his front hooves are hard plastic and rubber pads — wedged performance shoes that elevate him and cause him to walk with an exaggerated gait. Unlike a woman wearing platform heels, See My Magic never gets to take them off. The angled pads, around 2 inches at the fore, have been affixed to the bottom of his hooves for almost 12 years.
His treatment raises questions about the rights of horses in Washington state whose emotional and physical well-being are left out of current legislation, and exemplifies some of the reasons new laws are challenging the tradition of the Tennessee Walking Horse entertainment industry.
In 2012, neighborhood resident Emily Bower loved to take trail rides with her horse around the forested outskirts of this quiet gated community. Cows, chickens, cats, dogs and horses roam freely and nestle snugly in their backyard pastures, grazing here and there, basking in the sun, snorting in the clean air. It is peaceful and serene.
One day Bower noticed a horse watching her from a backyard stall. Surprised, she asked her neighbors about it. They told her the horse had been locked up for a long time. She called Pierce County Animal Control.
By law, there’s not much enforcement officers can do. Horses, considered livestock by federal, state, and county laws, are not required to be exercised, receive mental stimulation or companionship, or wear a certain kind of shoe.
Taylor’s wife, Mary, told officers that they take See My Magic out on weekends and that he is moved daily so they can clean the barn. Officer Kerry Bayliss advised them to exercise their horse on a regular basis, and the case was closed.
More recently, another complaint was filed. On July 15, 2015, Officer Leah-Marie Whitman visited the Taylors’ home and found that everything was not only suitable but exceptional. She wrote in her incident report, “The horse is well taken care of, not sick or injured, the barn has plenty of light and ventilation for the horse, and county code does not require that the horse be removed from its stall.
“The owner even had classical music playing for the horse,” Whitman added. ”I did not see any signs the horse is not being cared for.”
Case closed, again.
Two weeks ago visitors playing with dogs at Diana Crimi’s house next door looked up startled. “What’s that noise? What’s wrong?” they asked. Crimi responded, “That’s the horse that’s locked in the stall 24/7. He hears us talking and he’s calling out for help. I’ve contacted Pasado’s Safe Haven and someone called (Pierce County) animal control and nobody can do anything for him. It’s terrible. I live next door to it and I hear it everyday.”
Tennessee Walking Horses
Known for their gentle dispositions and smooth, easy stride Tennessee Walkers, a gaited horse breed, are the pride of their owners. Shown in equine competitions around the country many compete in classes that show off their elegance. Most of them are also enjoyed as riding companions afterwards. But for those competing as performance show horses with the high “stacks”, or pads, on their hooves, it’s another lifestyle. It’s not unusual for them to be locked up in a stall indefinitely, allowed out only for training in an arena.
Holly Reynolds, who was president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association of Oregon for 10 years, says padded Tennessee Walkers should be banned. She owns two champion Tennessee Walkers who wear regular shoes. Three years ago, the Oregon club decided it wouldn’t allow padded horses as members. “Those horses are never turned out,” she says.
According to a promotional booklet distributed at the Northwest Walking Horse Classic in Tacoma last summer, “Many owners remove the pads from their performance show horses during the winter months to enjoy trail riding with their equestrian companions.” Regional horseshoer Todd Graham from Chehalis, Wash. confirms that is common. But Ted Taylor does not. He justifies See My Magic’s perpetual detention saying he’d get hurt walking around with those shoes on outside and swapping out the shoes for something possibly more comfortable is not something he is willing to do.
Animal advocates would like to see horses included in animal cruelty laws protecting pets, rather than livestock, but thus far nothing has come to fruition.
“I believe horses are pets,” Reynolds says. “They’re a part of our family, and they’re not a part of agriculture anymore. We don’t raise horses for meat. You don’t see herds of horses being grown for meat. People don’t come up to me and say we need to buy a horse to go to work.”
Even so, there is no law protecting even dogs and cats from being locked outside perpetually with no social stimulation. An anti-tethering bill for dogs has failed in the Washington Legislature several times in recent years.
The big lick
Reynolds explains that in the Tennessee Walking Horse performance show division, “The whole gait is created through pain.” Known as the “big lick,” the high pads, or stacks, cause the horse to pick up his front hoof and throw it in front of him in order to walk. At any given time, the horse has two or three feet on the ground moving in a lateral gait. “It’s like sitting on your favorite couch. They’re easy to ride,” she says.
In addition, horses shown in this manner wear chains, or “action devices,” wrapped around their ankles and are known to endure a painful practice called “soring”. Before the horses are shown in a competition, caustic chemicals such as mustard oil or diesel fuel, are applied to a horse’s ankles, burning the skin. The only way for the horse to get relief is to suspend the hoof high off the ground. When it brings it back down, the metal chain wrapped around their ankles hits the sore skin exacerbating the pain. To get past inspections owners put temporary numbing agents over the wounds which wear off by the time the horse is in the ring. The result combined with the pads on their front hooves, is an exaggerated high-stepping gait.
Flat shod horses – those not wearing the high pads – can also be sored chemically or endure “pressure soring” by applying a foreign object between their hoof and pad, but the practice isn’t as prevalent.
The Horse Protection Act outlawed soring 50 years ago, but animal advocates say the practice continues. To deter riders from soring their horses during competitions, the industry has a self-appointed “designated qualified person,” or DQP, certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, on site to make sure no one has an unfair advantage. They check for current injuries or older scarring on the horses’ ankles or abnormal shoeing.
Nathan Slaven of Independence, Ore., was a DQP at a show in Spanaway, Wash., last summer. “I’ve never seen a problem here,” he says.
“I love walking horses.” Slaven, who has been a DQP for three years adds “I love the people. I want to do whatever it takes to keep it alive.”
Critics argue such protection efforts not enough. Since DQPs are appointed from within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry itself, critics say they rarely cite violations. Others argue an exaggerated big lick simply isn’t possible without soring.
New federal legislation was introduced in 2015 to further prohibit soring and the use of pads, pressure shoeing, and action devices. Rep. Kurt Schrader D-Ore., a veterinarian and co-sponsor of the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act of 2015 (PAST Act), wrote in an email: “Soring is cruel and unnecessary and, despite being illegal for more than 45 years, it remains far too prevalent in some areas of the walking horse community. I partnered with my colleague and fellow veterinarian Rep. Ted Yoho on the PAST Act to strengthen the Horse Protection Act in an effort to stop this abuse of American horses once and for all. We must end the walking horse industry’s failed self-policing of this abuse, ban the use of soring devices, strengthen penalties and make other reforms needed to end this practice.”
Tennessee Walking Horse shows are on the decline in the Pacific Northwest. In December 2014, Susie Bray of Gig Harbor, Wash., began a board meeting of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association of Washington (TWHBEA) by stating that the number of horses she expected for their shows in 2015 was “significantly reduced.”
Ask anyone who was at the Northwest Walking Horse Classic, in Spanaway, Wash., last summer and they’ll tell you it’s the economy that’s to blame and because some trainers were out of town at another competition. Animal advocates, however, say it’s because of rising public awareness. The contentious issue has also divided Tennessee Walking Horse enthusiasts between those who sore their horses, “the lickers”, and those who do not, “the flatters”, with the flatters shunning events that include the lickers.
To try to alleviate the problem, the Tennessee Walkers combined forces with Washington State Horsemen (WSH) during the Northwest Walking Horse Classic last summer hoping to attract more people by encouraging participation of all breeds of horses. Nevertheless, the number of spectators in the large arena couldn’t even fill the front row.
Sporting English attire and riding gear, including a long blazer-like coat and bowler hat, Steve Rich of Carnation, Wash., led his horse, Cut Me Loose, around the ring in a victory lap after winning a blue ribbon in a performance horse riding class. Long labored breaths gushed from the horse’s mouth as it lifted its legs and padded shoes in an exaggerated, lateral gait, each hoof coming down heavy for the horse but providing a smooth, gliding ride for Rich.
The handful of spectators politely clap. Rich had been the only entrant in his class.
“There’s a lot of misinformation out there,” he said. “We have to comply with the Horse Protection Act. We have to go through a lot of hoops to show these horses.”
Sue Williams, from McCleary, Wash., owner of an 11 year old Tennessee Walker named Tee Time says, “We treat them like movie stars. We shampoo them, we buy the best hay and grain. We fuss over them.”
Rich describes his horse as an athlete and says they have to be worked on a schedule. “They’re not trail riding horses.”
“Some owners say their horses are pampered,” says Lori Northrup, VP of anti-soring initiatives for Friends of Sound Horses (FOSH) “but they turn a blind eye towards the mechanics of soring that goes on behind closed doors.”
Williams and Rich were the only riders with a padded horse that competed during the two-day horse show. Both passed their inspections. A third dropped out entirely.
See My Magic
Back in the Taylors’ barn behind their freshly manicured lawn and tall whispering pine trees, years go by, seasons change. Every four to eight weeks, horseshoer Todd Graham comes out and readjusts See My Magic’s shoes.
Still he stands. It’s the only only social interaction with outsiders he gets.
Born in Milton, Tenn., there was never a question that See My Magic’s mission in life would be to perform. His original owners, Ed and Elaine Shirley, registered him as a weaning colt in the largest Tennessee Walking Horse show in the world in Shelbyville, Tenn. when he was not even a year old. For the next handful of years, he went on to compete and win ribbons, a champion in the making.
Around seven years ago, Taylor looked up See My Magic’s records, had a friend check him out at a show and bought him for $6,000 because he wanted a horse he could ride and show on his own. But since See My Magic arrived in Washington, “We really haven’t shown him,” Taylor says. “Now he needs a lot of work.” And Taylor says he doesn’t have the time.
There is no conclusive evidence the pads themselves cause any pain (the most current study known as the Auburn report was done in the 1980’s on horses who only seasonally wear the pads), nor that Taylor and other padded owners don’t love their horses, but according to horse enthusiasts isolating any breed of horse is very damaging to their emotional well being. Holly Reynolds, who was president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association of Oregon, describes them as social animals who need human and equine interaction.
Concern is growing around the neighborhood, with offers to help exercise and board See My Magic, but Taylor turns them all down. One neighbor even offered to purchase See My Magic for the original $6,000 price tag. Taylor upped the ante to $20,000. Case closed, again.
Instead, the gentle performance horse stands waiting in his high platform heels for the laws to change. It is unclear when, or if, Taylor will ever ride him again.
Captions can be read by clicking the little “i” icon under the photo. All photos are © Karen Ducey Photography.
Let your legislator know how you feel about the PAST Act of 2015-2016. Find your U.S. legislator here:
Regional legislators from Washington and Oregon state who are co-sponsors of the PAST Act.
H.R.3268 House of Representatives
Rep. Schrader, Kurt (D-OR-5) • Rep. Blumenauer, Earl (D-OR-3) • Rep. Bonamici, Suzanne (D-OR-1) • Rep. DeFazio, Peter A. (D-OR-4) • Rep. DelBene, Suzan K. (D-WA-1)* • Rep. Heck, Denny (D-WA-10) • Rep. Larsen, Rick (D-WA-2) • Rep. Kilmer, Derek (D-WA-6) • Rep. Smith, Adam (D-WA-9) • Rep. McDermott, Jim (D-WA-7)
Legislators in See My Magic’s District
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Pierce County Animal Control
Tennessee Walking Horse industry organizations
Western International Walking Horse association
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association of Washington
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association (national)
Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exhibitors Association of Oregon
The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration
Dateline NBC (Australia) “Walk of Shame” April 29, 2014
The Tennessean has been reporting on Tennessee Walker’s for years
Lexington Herald McConnell, Paul introduce bill to protect gait associated with soring of walking horses April 1, 2014
Reporter Karen Ducey can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter @karenducey
All photos and text are © Karen Ducey and Animal Northwest Network. This article cannot be reproduced without prior permission, wholly or in part.
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