By Sadie Fowler

The bill before the Metropolitan Council of Nashville and Davidson County that would ban the showing, exhibiting and sale of Tennessee Walking Horses, Racking Horses and Spotted Saddle Horses in Nashville was deferred last week at the request of Councilmember Kathleen Murphy, who also introduced the bill. She has replaced the original bill with a substitute bill that reflects changes including some of the language, however the intent of the bill remains the same. 

The minor differences between the language of the original and substitute bill fall under section B and touch on items pertaining to action devices; such as what deems an action device protective, therapeutic, safe as well as who has the authority to make these calls.  

The substitute includes more specific language than the original, in which Murphy only included general information that could be interpreted as vague in several areas.

After filing the bill and receiving a heavy load of criticism, Murphy also made some changes regarding the language about the transport of horses in an attempt to compromise. 

Critics of this last-minute legislation for the Nashville Metro area, which has basically hosts no events related to walking horses with the exception of the State Fair, question the need for such a bill for a couple different reasons. In addition to the area being home to zero horse shows, critics say Murphy’s bill is in direct conflict with existing federal legislation covered in the Horse Protection Act.

“From a legal standpoint alone, I don’t think any of the council will want to support this,” said Celebration CEO Mike Inman. “For one, who’s going to enforce it? How much are you willing to spend to enforce it? And third, are you willing to subject yourself to a lawsuit as a result of the bill contradicting existing federal law? I don’t think so.”

In regards to the bill being in direct conflict with existing federal legislation, the Horse Protection Act allows for action devices, pads and weighted shoes where as Murphy’s bill prohibits them, which is unlawful in and of itself.

Since current legislation already covers the issues Murphy’s bill intends to address, many are reiterating Inman’s question about the cost of enforcing the new bill, as well as what the purpose would be of spending unnecessary dollars on redundant legislation. 

More questions about the “why” behind this bill have popped up over the last week as the walking horse community catches on to what blind-sided them last week, at the July 17 meeting. Only just a week before this meeting it was by pure chance that a leader within the walking horse community heard about the bill Murphy planned to propose from a colleague in Nashville who works in the legal profession. By chance, this person has a friend in the walking horse business and decided to give the friend a head’s up.  

“We wish we had learned of this earlier,” Inman said. “Even if this was required to be made public I don’t know that it was published, and even if it were I wouldn’t know where to look for it. Nobody was there at the first meeting to speak on behalf of the walking horse industry but if we had known, you’d better believe people would have been there to voice their concerns.”

Once they were made aware, the walking horse community rallied together to share their strong opposition to the bill. Some have asked how this bill could have snuck up so quickly without anyone in the industry knowing or hearing about it, with no resolution except the bill stems from the agenda of the HSUS, a long-time opponent to the walking horse industry.

It is believed that perhaps Nashville was a good choice for the animal activist group to target with an irrelevant bill such as this because of its growing popularity and the attention it receives from a broad spectrum of eyes.

In the meeting, Murphy cited reasons for the deferment to be the last-minute nature of the bill’s appearance. Murphy admitted during the July 17 meeting, just before requesting the deferment, that she had heard from many walking horse business owners and exhibitors at the last minute. These folks expressing their concerns about the bill, of course, had only just heard about it. 

Additionally, some members of the council had their own concerns about the bill,  with one council member calling herself an avid animal lover, yet still saying she was confused about some of the language, legalities and logistics of the bill. As a result, Murphy said it would be in everyone’s best interest to defer the bill to the next meeting to allow ample time for all questions to be addressed.  

Interestingly, the timing of the bill and the next council meeting, which is Aug. 6, falls just on the heels of the Tennessee State Fair’s walking horse exhibition, which is scheduled for September. This exhibit serves as the only formal or official event of the year in Nashville that would be affected the bill.

The bill would ban the use of weighted shoes, action devices and pads on any Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse or Spotted Saddle Horse in Nashville, which has for several years been the mission of the HSUS.

Murphy has been linked to this group as a result connection to HSUS Tennessee Director Eric Swafford, whom she invited to Nashville to help lobby for the bill prior to the July meeting.   

Coincidentally, Murphy’s bill mirrors much of the language in the PAST Act, written by HSUS and originally introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield from Kentucky, who later retired from Congress while under ethics inquiries related to his handling of the PAST Act.  Whitfield’s wife was a lobbyist for the HSUS at the time when Whitfield agreed to introduce the PAST Act.

The deferral of the bill will only temporarily delay the vote on the city ordinance that would go against federal law and ban the use of equipment that is allowed under the Horse Protection Act and proven to be safe for horses by the Auburn Study, which confirmed the use of action devices weighing six ounces or less would not cause harm to the horse. 

There was confusion among many of the council members that had been told the proposed ordinance didn’t do anything not already done by federal law. Those members were surprised to learn that the federal law did in fact allow the use of the equipment attempting to be prohibited by Murphy in her proposed bill.

A copy of the original bill proposed by Murphy can be seen by clicking here.

A copy of the new bill can be seen here.

“The HSUS is using a lot of metro areas lately where there is not a population of horses, so in this case, they used Nashville as their platform, where clearly there is no voice to speak on behalf of the walking horse industry,” Inman said.  

Inman said he’s not surprised to see the inaccuracies within this bill, given the HSUS is supporting it and he’s seen them promote many agendas that lack the truth. However, Inman said he doesn’t believe those inaccuracies will affect the outcome of the vote, which he hopes will stem from black and white legalities alone.

“I’m used to seeing them use inaccuracies, but that doesn’t matter much in this case because we are hoping this will be easily defeated on simple legal merit alone,” he said. “We are hoping the legal department will not do something that’s blatantly in conflict with existing federal law and I don’t think they will. It’s a no-brainer.” 

Lobbyists consulting with the walking horse industry regarding this bill have applauded horse enthusiasts for their grassroots efforts in combatting this bill, and they also encourage anyone with a Nashville connection to voice their concerns where appropriate. 

The video from the meeting follows, with the discussion pertaining to walking horses beginning at 4:01. 

Click here to watch the video.