Priscilla Presley is on a mission. Cruelty to animals is never acceptable. Never! Presley made an important stop in Washington, D.C. recently to lobby Congress to pass the "Prevent All Soring Tactics" (PAST Act) that will strengthen enforcement of the 1970 Horse Protection Act.
"Congress enacted the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to make illegal the abusive practice of 'soring,' in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on Tennessee Walking Horses' hooves and legs to exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows to create a pain-based exaggerated gait known as the "big lick." Soring methods include applying caustic chemicals, using plastic wrap and tight bandages to 'cook' those chemicals deep into the horse's flesh for days, attaching heaving chains to strike against the sore legs, inserting bolts, screws or other hard objects into sensitive areas of the hooves, cutting the hooves down to expose the live tissue, and using salicylic acid or other painful substances to slough off scarred tissue in an attempt to disguise the sored areas. Sored horses often live in constant and extreme pain throughout their entire show ring careers."
The "Dallas" actress says the PAST Act amendment is simple and does not cost the federal government any additional money. It is designed to save the Tennessee Walking Horses from cruel and inhumane abuse. She spoke with The Huffington Post about why she became involved in this cause, and also shared some personal information about her life with Elvis -- and their Tennessee Walking Horses.
First of all, Priscilla, I don't think the public at large even knows this cruel and inhumane practice of abusing these Tennessee Walking Horses even goes on. It broke my heart to read the literature, and I could barely watch the video that exposes the cruel soring of show horses. (Please beware that this video may not be suitable for young children as it deals with the torture of horses.)
It is heartbreaking. When it aired on ABC's Nightline in 2012, it shocked the nation. Opponents of the bill insist that cruelty in this faction of the industry is perpetrated by only a "few bad apples" but the more "I talked with people that were in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, they spoke out on how tortuous and abusive it is and that soring still goes on. I felt the need to inform the public." That video resulted in the recent successful felony prosecution of well known Hall of Fame and Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration world grand champion rider and trainer Jackie McConnell for conspiracy to violate the HPA (Horse Protection Act) and the state of Tennessee's prosecution of him for cruelty to horses in his care. That undercover investigation revealed what was going on in his Tennessee training facility. He was caught but it IS going on in many, many other facilities as well. There have been more than 9000 documented violations of the HPA since 1986, and more than half are repeat violations.
You came to Washington to help pass legislation to protect the Tennessee Walking Horse from abuse, correct?
"Yes. I came to Washington to lobby Senators and Congressmen to co-sponsor in support of the PAST Act and I'm hoping by making this public people will join me to help me get this bill passed." Links are available for them to contact their Congressman saying they support the PAST Act. That's all they have to do. You would think this is a no-brainer, that this would pass but there IS opposition. The law was passed in 1970 to stop soring but Horse Industry (HIOs) found loopholes and continued soring. USDA is charged with enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, but as the result of a 1976 amendment to the act, the USDA has for decades certified the horse industry organization to conduct the majority of inspections at horse shows. This self regulation scheme has failed miserably and has to be abolished. USDA inspectors are threatened by exhibitors at horse shows and must be frequently accompanied by security. If they had nothing to hide (like covering the scarred legs with paint or taking off other paraphernalia when USDA inspectors are around) why aren't they welcomed? That's why being their own inspectors is not working."
Which is a conflict of interest, isn't it?
"Yes, It's a conflict of interest. I'll be honest, it's a boys club. Mostly all are either horse owners, trainers or exhibitors. They're not going to expose each other. They protect each other." There was a very telling article in "The Tennessean" in January about Bill Harlin who was a former President of The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' & Exhibitors' Association and is the owner of Harlinsdale Farm. He has been in the Tennessee Walking business for eight decades and admits this is still going on. He says soring is an inhumane practice. It must end. The Tennessee Walking Horse Industry involves high-dollar activity at the expense and welfare of their horses -- who, by the way, they profess their love for. It comes down to profit.
Have you always loved horses?
"Yes I have. I have an affinity for animals. I'm not for anything alive being tortured, abused or violated upon. Especially, those who have no voice and are defenseless."
Did you and Elvis ride horses?
"Yes. It started with Elvis surprising me with a three year old black quarter horse named Domino for my Christmas present. I would ride every day and he would watch me from the upstairs window. He saw how much I enjoyed riding and decided he would start riding too. He purchased for himself a golden palomino, Rising Sun. It wasn't long after that we visited a beautiful farm in Collierville, Tenn. The owner was Geoge L Lenox and he showed Elvis his pride and joy -- Grand Champion Carbon Copy. Elvis thought it was the most beautiful horse he'd ever seen. Then George asked if he'd like to see how he rode. Well that was it... Elvis wanted a Tennessee Walking horse. So he purchased Bear. That was the beginning of the beautiful Tennessee Walking Horse history at Graceland."
I've been following your tweets lately. You've been tweeting about your book, "Shades of Elvis." Tell me about that.
""Shades of Elvis" is a table book photographed by Christopher Ameruoso. We had become friends after he photographed me for a popular magazine. One day he approached me about an idea he had for a long time, a table book of photos of people of fame wearing Elvis' original sunglasses photographed in black and white on a two page spread and a quote on Elvis. I didn't even have to think about it. It was different, edgy, very unique. We had so much support from everyone in the book. It's a wonderful tribute to Elvis by those who admired and appreciated what he did for music in not only our culture but many cultures. I know Elvis would be extremely touched by looking through the pages of those acknowledging him. I'm very proud of it."
You wrote a book years ago called "Elvis and Me." Was that an emotional book for you to write?
"Absolutely. It was an emotional experience. We've always been very private and I felt, in a way, that I was betraying him by revealing our life. It took me a year and a half to come to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do. The reason why I decided to write that book? Albert Goldman, an accredited writer, wrote biographies on comedian Lenny Bruce, John Lennon and then he wrote a book on Elvis. I read some excerpts and was infuriated with what he had written about him. I did not want that book to be the definitive book on Elvis Presley. Now remember, this was around 1981, there weren't any books that were written about him then. I think there are over seven hundred or more books that are written. And most not creditable."
When was the first time Elvis took your breath away?
"The first he took my breath away? That's a great question because there's a couple of times he took my breath away. I think seeing him on the screen in "Love Me Tender." I was so young; 11 years old. I was living in Austin, Texas at the time, my father was stationed at Bergstom AFB. It was a Saturday, that was movie day. My girlfriend, who loved Elvis was so excited to go and see his first movie. I did see him when he was on the "The Ed Sullivan Show," of which my parents, like other parents, didn't want their children to watch Elvis. When he was on that big screen, I thought 'Oh my God!' He's so handsome! He just took over the screen. The impact of him in that film; I've had never experienced that before watching a movie."
Then you met him a couple years later?
"Yes, I did. I met him in '59, three years later."
When you saw him in person and your eyes met, he must have taken your breath away again.
"I just thought, wow, he's just as good looking as he is on the movie screen. It was obviously no disappointment whatsoever. I just remember thinking he's so handsome."
How did you get to meet him?
"I was in Wiesbaden, Germany. My father was in the Air Force. We had pretty much just arrived there. We were introduced to a place called the Eagles Club where military families would go to eat, hang out and on the weekends go for entertainment. It was very close to where we lived and I would go often to listen to the jukebox and write sad letters to my friends telling them how much I missed them already. One day I was approached by this young man who said he saw me there a few times and asked if I liked Elvis. I answered, yes, who doesn't? He then asked if I'd like to meet him. I asked, "What do you mean?" It turned out he was a friend of one of the guys that hung out with Elvis. He said he and sometimes his wife would go there on weekends, that Elvis had little parties or gatherings there. I told him that I didn't know, that I had to ask my parents. My parents met the couple and it was suppose to be a one night meeting with Elvis. The rest is history. That's the simple version."
When you walked in and saw him, did you think you'd see him again?
"Not at all. Never in my wildest dreams. I was just a 14-year-old girl who had the opportunity to meet Elvis Presley."
I had the great pleasure of interviewing your daughter, Lisa, last year. She was so sweet and adorable. I was just so impressed with how kind and gracious she is. You obviously did a great job raising her.
"Oh, thank you. I appreciate that."
You and Lisa have always been close, I'm guessing.
"Not always. We've definitely had our ups and downs. (Laughs) It was not easy. I'm sure like any family, or mother/daughter relationship. I was pretty strict with her and that was probably one of our biggest battles when she was growing up. My biggest fear was her getting mixed up with the wrong crowd and with the drug scene. Plus dating with both of us."
Now that Lisa's grown, are you close?
"Very much so. She's my best friend. We talk about everything."
Do you love being a grandmother?
"I do so much. Those little babies are just absolutely a joy. I would rather be with them than go to any movie or on any outing whatsoever. They are the most entertaining little beings. Never a dull moment."
They're so adorable! I saw them in a People Magazine Photo video.
"And they're so polite and so smart. I had a big Thanksgiving dinner at my home with about 27 family members. After dinner I started taking photos of the twins, Harper and Finley, who had turned five that October. A couple of my pictures were blurry and I said, "Hmm, I don't know what's wrong with my camera some of these photos are blurry"and Finley raises her hand and says, "Nona, (they call me Nona) Nona, Nona, I think, excuse me, excuse me, Nona. I think you have your finger over the camera." She put me to shame. (Laughs)"
I got to meet with Lisa at Wolf Trap in Virginia. I saw her perform. She was so, so, so good. Were you nervous when she first got involved with her music?
"Absolutely. I know the industry pretty well and it's a tough industry. And I feel I know the public pretty well. I just didn't want her to get hurt or not be taken seriously. Music is certainly her calling just as it was her father's. You know, for the longest time I didn't even know she could sing! When she was still a teenager she would close her bedroom door put the music on loud and sing to whoever was singing. She just kept it from me. I was just awed when I first heard her voice when she recorded her first album. I was so proud of her and I am still proud of her now. She works hard and is so deserving of any accolades she receives."
You tweeted happy birthday to your son Navarone on March 1st. How old was he?
"My son was 27. He has his own band called Them Guns. Remember the movie, "The Guns of Navarone?""
Oh, yes! Is that where he got his name?
"Yes, that was one of my favorite movies. Navarone. It's a strong name and he's very strong but yet very sensitive."
I loved watching you on "Dancing with the Stars" Were you nervous about doing that show and did you feel like you were out of your comfort zone?
"Yes I was out of my comfort zone. To this day I wonder, what was I thinking. (Laughs) I was on the sixth season and no one really spoke out on how difficult it was in many ways. Now the contestants are much more verbal. Just conquering the fear factor alone was terrifying. At the time I think it was around 25 million people watching -- live. Talk about pressure! When you're nervously standing back stage waiting your turn and the announcer introduces you and your dance partner, the green light goes on and you walk out on stage hopefully ready to perform. I still get chills thinking about that moment."
To understand more about soring practices, check out this video.
Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act of 2013 - H.R. 1518/S. 1406: To co-sponsor H.R. 1518, contact Representative Ed Whitfield's office: 202-225-3115
To co-sponsor S. 1406, contact Senator Kelly Ayotte's office: 202-224-3324
Follow Priscilla Presley on Twitter: @Cilla_Presley