Presleysaid she didn't know the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebrationstill awarded the trophy, given in memory of her ex-husband, ElvisPresley. She attended the Shelbyville, Tenn., event in 1983 and donatedit as part of an exhibition featuring Ebony's Double, the last walkinghorse Elvis Presley ever bought. She thought it was a one-time award,but it's been given every year since and is listed in the latestCelebration program under prizes for the Four-Year-Old Walking HorseWorld Grand Championship.
Today, she owns two Tennessee WalkingHorses, stabled on the grounds of the Presley family's Graceland estatein Memphis, and is a vocal supporter of a federal bill seeking to endabuse of the breed.
"Graceland isn't going to support this, knowing what we know now," Presley said Tuesday. "We want that trophy back.
"I can't support the trophy when inhumane methods are used on these horses. I can't support it."
TheCelebration hasn't yet received the request, said CEO Mike Inman, butthat could be because the offices are closed for the holidays. He saidhe would like a chance to speak to Presley before she makes a finaldecision.
"I believe she'd come to a different conclusion," Inman said.
At issue is H.R. 1518, a bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield,R-Ky., and co-sponsored by more than 200 others, which would end the useof the tall horseshoes and ankle chains used by the breed's performancedivision to accentuate its naturally higher, longer gait. Someunscrupulous trainers chemically burn the horses' pasterns or hideirritants in the shoes to exaggerate the gait even further, a processknown as "soring."
The bill also would reform horse inspections at shows and stiffen penalties for soring.
Industryleaders oppose it, saying the bill would prompt a dramatic negativeeconomic impact without addressing underlying problems - which they sayalready are being handled. They cite measurable improvement in thenumber of citations written for suspected abuse and a study that showedthe light chains are harmless.
But severe cases recently uncoveredin Tennessee drew national attention to the problem. Jackie McConnell,once a Celebration Hall of Fame horse trainer, was convicted ofviolating the Horse Protection Act last year after the Humane Society ofthe United States released a stomach-turning undercover video of abusein his Collierville, Tenn., stables. A grand jury indicted Maryville,Tenn., trainer Larry Wheelon this month on charges of similar abuse.
Presleysaid she learned about the Celebration trophy from Keith Dane, theHumane Society's vice president of equine protection, and has thrown hersupport behind the bill. She said calling on her friends to do the sameis the biggest project she's involved with right now.
Dane saidsupport from Presley, a respected celebrity and once a part of one ofthe nation's most beloved couples, is significant. "She knows that thislegislation is the only thing that will protect walking horses from theabusive practice of soring and end it once and for all," he said.
Presley,a business manager, actress and designer who lives in Los Angeles, saidshe has loved horses since childhood but got to know the TennesseeWalking Horse breed when Elvis purchased Carbon Copy to ride around thegrounds of Graceland.
"We both fell in love with this horse," shesaid. "We knew a little bit of the lingo, but we didn't know what wenton behind the scenes. We were very naive in thinking that's just the waythese horses were. We were novice horse owners.
"We rode justabout every day all over the 13 or 14 acres, and people would stop theircars to watch. Elvis was an entertainer; he loved to show his horses.To be honest, we didn't know anything about the soring, the pads and thebracelets. If we did, we never would have been behind this horrendoustorture."
Inman said he had not received any other requests totake back trophies, and he actually had to turn away trophies for thisyear's Celebration in some classes because there were getting to be toomany.
The printed program shows a total of 10 trophies, ribbons,awards and floral arrangements in the class where the GracelandChallenge Trophy is given.
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