Award-winning country music star Tanya Tucker’s relationship with horses got off to a rocky start. When she was 5, her dad gave her a Shetland pony—a very spirited Shetland pony—named Pretty Boy. “He bucked me off so many times and tried to kill me so many times,” Tucker remembers with a laugh. But then came Honeybun, a gentle Palomino who was easier to ride—bareback because her family couldn’t afford a saddle. Both horses, however different, taught her to appreciate equine strength and intelligence.
A lot has changed for Tucker, now 59, since then. She exploded onto the music scene with the smash “Delta Dawn” at age 13 and went on to chart 56 country top 40 singles. Along the way, she provided some of the biggest country music hits of each decade, including “Soon,” “Two Sparrows in a Hurricane” and “It’s a Little Too Late.”
Through all her success, her love of horses has stayed the same (and her stables are fully stocked with saddles). She’s joining with the Humane Society of the United States to urge Congress to pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which would ban the cruel practice of using harsh chemicals and equipment to force horses—mostly Tennessee walking horses—to walk with a high-stepping pain-based gait in competitions.
“There’s got to be somebody to step up and say, no, this can’t happen no more,” she says. “I think people in the arena, they’re watching these shows, they need to know what that horse has been going through and I don’t think they’d buy a ticket to see that anymore.”
In this edited interview with All Animals, Tucker talks about why she’s fighting for horses (and other animals) and how she hopes to use her star power to recruit others to join the cause.
Let’s start on the light side. With your busy schedule, do you have a favorite place to unwind?
I like to take my horses up to Steamboat Springs. I have a little bunk house that I stay in out on my friend’s property, and I wake up in the morning and hummingbirds are on the porch, kind of like B-52s coming in and you kinda gotta dodge them, you know. And then I look out, and there are the horses and the beautiful mountains. I have a lot of history there because I’ve been going there since I was 18.
Your children used to show Tennessee walking horses. Did you ever encounter abuse?
My kids won many blue ribbons, but the guy who was helping us with the horses told my son that they use a lot of mustard and chains and all kinds of chemicals, and that you can’t get caught doing it, but everybody does it. And I said, “Well, you ain’t doing it to my horses.” I can’t believe people actually do that to an animal just for a blue ribbon. Horses have been the reason we’ve been able to survive and I just can’t stand the thought of anybody abusing them, you know, because they’ve really worked hard for us. They’ve fought in wars and pulled plows for our farmers, like my grandfather and his grandfather. I really have a hard time putting my head around why you’d want to hurt them.
Do you feel that people tend to have empathy for their pets but not necessarily for all animals?
You know, I do. Folks love on their dog but they’re eating bacon that morning from a hog who stood in a crate for his whole life at a factory farm. I don’t want no bacon like that. I couldn’t eat it, knowing that animal suffered. You know, the suffering is the same. And what they’re doing to chickens is ridiculous. I mean, all of these hormones and they never even get out of their little crate. Some of them can’t even stand. Their legs don’t work because they’ve been in a little, bitty box. I don’t want an egg from that kind of a chicken. Maybe it’s not important to a lot of people, but the suffering and pain is the same.
You’re also speaking out against puppy mills. Can you tell us a little about that?
These puppy mills are just horrible. People don’t want to spend any money feeding the dogs and they certainly don’t care for them. They’re raised in their own poop, you know, and these little puppies are sold at pet stores to people who have no idea what their mamas and daddies have been through. I’ve even bought several puppies in the past, and I don’t do that anymore. I stopped doing that because of how they are brought into this world. It’s just awful that something so cute can come out of something so horrible. If people knew where they came from, they wouldn’t buy puppies from pet stores either. And that’s where I’m at. I’m trying to be one more person who brings awareness to someone who might not know like I didn’t know.
How do you hope your fans help?
The lawmakers are the ones who have to make these changes, but it’s up to us citizens to make sure they do and to keep badgering them and badgering them until they do. People can change a lot of things when there’s a bunch of them speaking their minds. Look at all the things we’ve changed in the past, changes we’ve made because there was an outcry from the regular, normal, everyday citizens of America. And that is our duty, I think, to press these lawmakers and make them to do it.
How do you think it would feel to help make these changes happen for animals?
There can never be a better feeling. You know, like having a good ol’ home-cooked meal when you’re really hungry, when you’re really hungry, or when you’re really thirsty, you want a Dr Pepper so bad and you finally get it? I mean, that’s a great feeling. It feels like that.