Dec. 26, 2013 | Written by Heidi Hall - The Tennessean
Elvis' former wife, who donatedthe trophy 30 years ago, says that she didn't know it was still a part of Shelbyville's National Celebration and that she can't support 'inhumane methods'
Priscilla Presley is taking back the Graceland Challenge Trophy that has been given annually at the nation's premier walking horse competition because she said she cannot support abuse of show horses.
There won’t be a Graceland Challenge Trophy at the nation’s premier walking horse competition next year after its donor, Priscilla Presley, decided to take it back after three decades.
Presley said she didn’t know the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration still awarded the trophy, given in memory of her ex-husband, Elvis Presley. She attended the Shelbyville, Tenn., event in 1983 and donated it as part of an exhibition featuring Ebony’s Double, the last walking horse 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 latest Celebration program under prizes for the Four-Year-Old Walking Horse World Grand Championship.
Today, she owns two Tennessee Walking Horses, stabled on the grounds of the Presley family’s Graceland estate in Memphis, and is a vocal supporter of a federal bill seeking to end abuse 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.”
The Celebration hasn’t yet received the request, said CEO Mike Inman, but that could be because the offices are closed for the holidays. He said he would like a chance to speak to Presley before she makes a final decision.
“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 use of the tall horseshoes and ankle chains used by the breed’s performance division to accentuate its naturally higher, longer gait. Some unscrupulous trainers chemically burn the horses’ pasterns or hide irritants in the shoes to exaggerate the gait even further, a process known as “soring.”
The bill also would reform horse inspections at shows and stiffen penalties for soring.
Industry leaders oppose it, saying the bill would prompt a dramatic negative economic impact without addressing underlying problems — which they say already are being handled. They cite measurable improvement in the number of citations written for suspected abuse and a study that showed the light chains are harmless.
But severe cases recently uncovered in Tennessee drew national attention to the problem. Jackie McConnell, once a Celebration Hall of Fame horse trainer, was convicted of violating the Horse Protection Act last year after the Humane Society of the United States released a stomach-turning undercover video of abuse in his Collierville, Tenn., stables. A grand jury indicted Maryville, Tenn., trainer Larry Wheelon this month on charges of similar abuse.
Presley said she learned about the Celebration trophy from Keith Dane, the Humane Society’s vice president of equine protection, and has thrown her support behind the bill. She said calling on her friends to do the same is the biggest project she’s involved with right now.
Dane said support from Presley, a respected celebrity and once a part of one of the nation’s most beloved couples, is significant. “She knows that this legislation is the only thing that will protect walking horses from the abusive practice of soring and end it once and for all,” he said.
Presley, a business manager, actress and designer who lives in Los Angeles, said she has loved horses since childhood but got to know the Tennessee Walking Horse breed when Elvis rode one around the grounds of Graceland.
“We both fell in love with this horse,” she said. “We knew a little bit of the lingo, but we didn’t know what went on behind the scenes. We were very naive in thinking that’s just the way these horses were. We were novice horse owners.
“We rode just about every day all over the 13 or 14 acres, and people would stop their cars 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 the bracelets. If we did, we never would have been behind this horrendous torture.”
Inman said he had not received any other requests to take back trophies, and he actually had to turn away trophies for this year’s Celebration in some classes because there were getting to be too many.
The printed program shows a total of 10 trophies, ribbons, awards and floral arrangements in the class where the Graceland Challenge Trophy is given.