Requests by officials of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration to Shelbyville's city council and the Bedford County Commission for a total of $11,500 in support of two horse shows bring on a perfect occasion for local officials to take a stand.
Some feel that it's imperative for local governing bodies to support Bedford County's equine industry. The daily business of training and stabling horses, combined with yearly horse shows held at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration grounds, Calsonic Arena and Wartrace, among other locations, inarguably have a major effect on the area's economy.
Others, for reasons ranging from dislike of temporary heavy visitor traffic to concern over alleged abuse of horses, are strongly against such expenditure of taxpayers' dollars.
Overriding all other concerns should be protecting the area's reputation.
The federal government is cracking down on alleged abuses within the Tennessee walking horse community. Allegations of "soring" the feet of horses to enhance their high-stepping gaits have increased in recent years. Organizations representing trainers and exhibitors respond with complaints of unfair treatment.
I suspect the Celebration and some local leaders want governing bodies' donations to appear as signs of official support of the walking horse business. Further actions by some, such as near-demands to hang banners throughout Shelbyville each August and occasional harsh criticism of those who don't support the "industry," appear to be attempts to portray the entire city and county as a community entirely and unquestioningly enthralled by horses.
To the vast majority who don't closely follow horse shows, abusive actions of a small number of renegade trainers carry a danger of tainting an entire industry -- and community.
The donations should be awarded to the two shows this year as a sign of support. But those gifts should come with a caveat -- that if blatant abuses are discovered at either of the shows, then the money stops -- and a clear statement will be issued by the city and county on why the money stops.
Here's a chance to see if the horse industry will play fair -- and, in return, show its support for a community whose unbridled support it so often demands.
T-G copy editor David Melson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.