By Mitzi Oxford

To say the past few years in our industry have been tough is an understatement. As the 118th Congress convened at the beginning of this year, the outlook remained cloudy for enforcement of federal laws against the soring of walking horses. FAST, the Foundation for Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse might be the best bet to turn the tables on behalf of the breed.

Kasey Kesselring is the president of FAST and one of the founding members of the nonprofit organization. As an owner and exhibitor of Tennessee Walking Horses, he has served on the board of the TWHBEA and has owned and shown horses for 25 years.

“In 2010, a small group including Kathy Zeis, Mike Inman, Janice Fostek and I felt we needed a voice, an organization, to support, protect and promote the Tennessee Walking show horse. That’s when we filed for a 501c3 and formed FAST,” Kesselring explained.

Tennessee is known for the beautiful Smoky Mountains, the Grand Ole Opry and the state’s official horse, the Tennessee Walking Horse, a breed which dates back to the 1800s. 

The fertile soil of Tennessee is gold if you are growing anything, whether it’s soybeans, corn or hay, the state’s main cash crops. Some of those fields were plowed by a Tennessee Walking Horse, which would later emerge into a magnificent show horse. 

The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration started in 1939 and attracted over 40,000 people. Over the years Grand Champions including Midnight Sun, Ebony Masterpiece, Gen’s Armed And Dangerous, Pride’s Jubilee Star and I Am Jose’, sired a host of other champions.

The Celebration became a tradition like no other for the walking horse industry, including fans, exhibitors and trainers from across the country. 

FAST facts

Several organizations were in place to deal with the backlash including the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) and the Walking Horse Owners Association (WHOA). 

Mike Inman, past president of FAST and past CEO of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration (TWHNC), knew that a focus was needed for a future legal defense fund, which was why he partnered with Kesselring and others to start FAST to begin with.

“Not to point fingers at other breeds, but compared to the thoroughbred, saddlebred and rodeo industries, the walking horse business was low hanging fruit and we needed to be prepared for the future. That was years ago and now here we are,” said Inman.

How does FAST guide the future of the breed? Here’s a rundown for more than $3 million raised to support the Tennessee Walking Horse industry and the impact moving forward:

Research & Development
Horse Show Development
FAST Gala & Show
Marketing & Promotion

“It’s a concerted effort and a vision to move forward. The research is an important part of reacting to outside pressure in a strategic way.”

The University of Tennessee conducted a study to determine the effects of stacked wedge pads and action devices applied to the forefeet of Tennessee Walking Horses on behavioral and biochemical indicators of pain, stress and inflammation. The result of the study concluded that no pain or stress resulted from either action devices or stacked pads. To read the full results of the study, click here

As someone with a love for walking horses, as an owner and exhibitor, Kesselring agrees that research is important for providing the full story.

“What started as a hobby for me and my family became a passion. I could see there was a problem and the need to provide a fair and equitable balance was a necessity when we became the target audience.”

More acronyms than NASA

Whether you’ve been involved in the business for years or recently, keeping up with the laws that now govern the industry and the inspection process at horse shows can been daunting to say the least. But, it doesn’t have to be rocket science.

Congress focused attention on the walking horse industry with a bill, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST Act), but due to opposition from Kentucky and Tennessee senators, the bill has stalled repeatedly. 

The Horse Protection Act (HPA) which in 1976 was amended is still in effect and has in place the Horse Industry Organization (HIO) or Designated Qualified Person (DQP) system. DQPs can be veterinarians, farriers, past horse trainers and other knowledgeable horsemen whose past experience and training would qualify them and who have been formally trained and licensed and certified by the USDA.

Then there’s the USDA’s Veterinarian Medical Officer (VMO) who can be tasked with performing inspections at a horse show. Here lies the rub. With subjective inspection methodologies inspectors can disagree with findings on the same horse at the same show.

“I have an objection to subjective inspections,” said Kesselring.

There’s a right way and a wrong way to inspect a horse and both Kesselring and Inman agree that pressure applied to the pastern could solicit a reaction for any number of reasons, not just as an indication of soreness. The inspections aren’t just targeted at the performance horse but also the flat shod Tennessee Walking Horse. 

“But, make no mistake, the financial driver of the industry is the show horse. As the show horse goes, so goes the industry,” Inman said, “and all of them, flat shod or padded, are show horses.”

The advocates

Spencer Benedict is a well-respected trainer and breeder in the walking horse business. Even amid moving his operations from Glasgow, Kentucky, to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, this week he stopped long enough to weigh in on the importance of FAST.

“We need intervention and the money being donated to FAST is helping preserve our industry and fighting government intervention. It’s creating a much-needed balance between trainers, owners, and what we are dealing with moving forward. We are growing together,” said Benedict.

He also said that inspectors at shows are tough because they need to be, but trainers are doing a better job at doing the right thing.

“We always try to abide by the rules because that means our breed can survive.”

Carrie Martin DeJarnette is another supporter of FAST. She trained horses for two of the organization’s founders, Kasey Kesselring and Kathy Zeis. DeJarnette has also promoted walking horses outside of the United States.

“I can tell you there are no bigger enthusiasts for the Tennessee Walking Horse anywhere than in Europe,” DeJarnette said.

She is an advocate of flat shod and performance horses and believes FAST changes the dynamics for the industry.

“Following the government crackdown on walking horses, it’s hard to imagine what our industry would look like without FAST and I’m a huge advocate for sound horses.”

Leading the fight

Waging a battle of any kind involves strategy, just ask any general. Perhaps many folks aren’t familiar with FAST, just like many have never heard of LT. General Frank Andrews. He was born in Nashville and Andrews Air Force Base bears his name. His strategy for winning battles was to stay ahead of the enemy. General Andrews was also a born horseman. 

The Tennessee Walking Horse base stretches from coast to coast. FAST is now in a position to lead the legal fight for the breed with a little help from Tennessee’s US Senators Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty who are highlighting the industry’s role in the economy, which includes supporting 20,000 jobs nationwide and pumping $3.2 billion into the nation’s economy.

There is strength in numbers and supporting FAST is key to winning the battle that is being fought in court. One of the ways you can help is just by doing what you love best. Showing up and showing out at this weekend’s FAST Spring Showcase. The show runs this Friday and Saturday, April 14 and 15 at Cooper Steel Arena, formerly Calsonic Arena, in Shelbyville, Tennessee.

If you aren’t able to support the show this weekend, FAST is in the middle of a capital campaign to ensure the funding is available to continue the legal battle in support of the Tennessee Walking Horse. To volunteer or donate visit

FAST Board Members

Dr. Kasey Kesselring, President
Barron Witherspoon
Bob Roach
Dee Broom
Erica Way
Heather Beard
Jake Jacobs
Jeffrey Howard
Jill Derickson
Kim Lewis
Kimberly Walden
Kyle Bush
Margo Urad
Ron Lawrence
Sarah Coffee Burks
Freda Dean, Secretary/Bookkeeper
Sarah Smith, Event Coordinator