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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Issues around 'horse show' draw scrutiny

Friday, September 1, 2006

The controversy surrounding the alleged condition of several horses at last Friday night's Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration has brought a long-festering issue to a head.

For a lot of Bedford countians, the "horse show," as most of us call it, is familiar yet somewhat mysterious.

We sit in the stands, treat it as the year's biggest social event, sell food, charge people to park in our yards, loan our houses and get out of town for the week or maneuver through traffic with gratefulness, grumbling or both.

And many of us personally know one or more horse trainers and/or owners. A few of us have even ridden a walking horse and discovered their many attributes.

But few of us know the horse industry from an insider's point of view. That's why it's hard for many to relate to, or fully understand, conflicting statements from different sides in the Department of Agriculture vs. walking horse industry standoff.

Many decent, honest people have said USDA inspectors were, as they have allegedly been all season, far too harsh in their judgments.

Be that as it may, the fact the USDA was failing horses the industry's "designated qualified persons" -- in-house inspectors -- were passing naturally raises questions. How far will the horse industry go to protect its own? Like it or not, that's a valid view from "outsiders."

Tempers understandably flared as trainers, whose livelihood and reputations depend on getting horses into the ring, and owners, many of whom treat their horses like family members, were being penalized.

And the Celebration was brought to a standstill.

Sadly, the first words out of the mouths of a few people -- many not connected directly with the horse industry -- after last Friday's controversy had to do with how much vendor proceeds were cut into.

The underlying issue isn't money -- at least, it shouldn't be for most of us. But some of Bedford County's people, unfortunately and unintentionally, apparently came across as greedy, at least to one Tennessean editorial writer.

The Celebration, unfortunately, got caught in the middle of a mess.

Ultimately, The Celebration itself as an organization is a promoter. "Non-profit" or not, they're in many ways similar to firms that put on such events as rock concerts or auto races.

"Management (of a horse show) may protect itself from legal liability by hiring a Designated Qualified Person (DQP)," states the Horse Protection Act. DQPs were on-scene, so the Celebration legally can't be blamed for promoting any alleged soring.

But there's a big difference between supporting the event -- something Bedford countians can claim as truly ours -- and unquestioningly supporting all alleged practices of the horse industry, as a few have unfortunately seemed to do.

Those within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry who are seriously committed to doing things honestly, openly and non-abusively deserve our full support and thanks. Those few who do abuse horses earn all the punishment that enforcement agencies can dish out.

But, ultimately, being "horse country" can only go so far economically.

Bedford County is becoming one of the nation's fastest-growing areas as Rutherford County's development bleeds over. That means more people and money -- and less need to lean on the Celebration for part of our financial infrastructure and extra amenities derived from fund-raising profits.

Hopefully, the Celebration will still be around 100 years from now, bigger and better than ever.

But the area should depend financially on something more permanent and stable than short-term crowds watching beautiful horses forced, gently or not, into exaggerated movements.

David Melson is a Times-Gazette copy editor/staff writer. Comments welcome: dmelson@t-g.com.

David Melson
On the Loose

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