By Pettus L. Read – Director of Communications for Tennessee Farm Bureau
A video shot last year by an undercover employee of the Humane Society of the United States, better known as HSUS, showing Walking Horse trainers at a Collierville farm mistreating and applying chemicals to the ankles of horses has caused a major uproar across the Volunteer State and in national media. Held in high esteem in this state for over 100 years, the Tennessee Walking Horse is the only horse breed that carries the name of its state and is the official horse of the state of Tennessee. While all agree that the mistreatment of the horses should not be tolerated, the discussion still continues on the many effects of future regulations and the recent damage inflicted by unknowing media on the breed and the Walking Horse industry.
Undercover and “James Bond” type tactics are nothing new for HSUS. In a release from the organization they state they filmed the video in a barn owned and operated by a nationally known trainer and gave the video to federal prosecutors last year. They go on to say that the trainer and three others were charged in a 52-count indictment unsealed in early March. It is also understood from HSUS that he intends to plead guilty to count one of the indictment, a conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act.
It seems this case is headed to the courts to take the needed actions as required by our laws. The abuse of any animal should not be condoned and when it does occur, notification to the proper authorities should be taken immediately. There are those who go beyond the laws and standards in any industry or sport and so often their actions give a black eye to all the others who are doing things right and following the rules. And just like in this case, there are also those who spend a lot of time and effort in trying to find those who do give the others those black eyes.
The video secretly shot by an HSUS employee was turned over to federal officials over a year ago and the group was charged in March. Now two months later, the organization not associated with local animal shelters, puts on a major media show about their efforts. My question is why? Did not the footage get the wrongdoers arrested and brought to court? Is not the important thing here to protect the animals that were abused – or is it?
HSUS is known for being pretty high profile when it comes to grabbing the media’s attention. They didn’t just call a press conference to say we have caught someone abusing animals; they went national to ABC’s Nightline for a major story. Those efforts have already caused the National Celebration to lose a major sponsor. It still makes me wonder what is HSUS’s real reason for going national other than attempting to completely shut down the Walking Horse industry.
Spring and summer is also the time of the year for community horse shows across this state. This recent effort by HSUS to “hold court in the media” is not going to help those community events at all. In fact, it could even cause some to be canceled due to horse owners having concerns about how this will all work out. Since the early 1930s, the community horse show has been a way for rural towns and clubs to raise funds to help provide Christmas for the needy, homes for the homeless, supplies for school children, college scholarships, baseball fields not provided by the county governments and other fund raising opportunities in our small towns. However, with news events staged like this most recent one, those opportunities will be reduced. In one way, those people are being mistreated and no one is holding court on Nightline for them.
I love horses as much as anyone, but I also believe in fairness and our law system. Get the bad actors out of the industry and follow the rules for good shows, which I think the organizations are attempting to do. I commend the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration’s board of directors for permanently banning the trainer and removing his name from the organization’s Hall of Fame inductee list. The board’s actions should be a signal to others that those types of actions will not be tolerated and it clearly disgusts those who do treasure our state horse.
– Pettus L. Read is editor of the Tennessee Farm Bureau News and Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org