"The Horse Protection Act has been as lame as the horses it meant to protect"--Roy Exum
At Saturday night's Genesis Awards in glitzy Hollywood, American horse reform politics walked out a winner--not just once, but twice.
But you might not have noticed the hard-working, horse-caring journalists among the Hollywood stars.
Begun in 1986, and backed by the Humane Society of the United States, the Genesis Awards are a chance for Hollywood celebrities who have a penchant for animal-related causes to dress up and saunter down a red carpet as they recognize each other and the media for increasing public awareness about animal treatment issues.
The event was hosted by Carrie Ann Inaba, judge of ABC's Dancing with the Stars, and the names on the A list ?for this event are impressive: Stephen Colbert? Check. Ke$ha? Check. Gray's Anatomy? Discovery Channel? They all won for doing their part in publicizing animal treatment.
And so did several dedicated journalists and news producers dedicated to ending the soring of Tennessee walking horses.
Yes, among all the dogs and kitties and whales and near-extinct species was the wonderful Tennessee Walking horse. Sadly, the Walking horse was in the spotlight because laws designed to protect the horses from abuse still haven't done their job.
It was an unlikely jump from the cute Modern Family sit-com dog Beatrice to the ugliness of pad stacks, chains and mutilated pasterns on Walking horses but the Genesis Awards made the leap.
First on the list was an award to ABC-TV's Nightline program for airing the now-infamous undercover expose of Walking horse trainer Jackie McConnell beating and shocking horses in his training barn. "The Ugly Truth Behind High-Stepping Horses" aired a year ago.
But it was later in the night, and much further down the list that an award caught my eye.
Roy Exum is a columnist for the Chattanoogan, the daily newspaper in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was the award winner in Hollywood--and he managed to beat ?New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who came in second.
Roy Exum has now penned roughly 24 columns advocating an end to horse soring in the Walking horse industry and exposing the political and social systems that cheating trainers depend on for the abuse to continue. You can read most of the columns, as they are archived on the Chattanoogan.com web site.
Surely many of the people who read the Chattanoogan are Walking horse owners. Surely many of the advertisers in the paper are involved in some way in the Walking horse show world. But Roy Exum's columns continue to pull no punches, and they continue to roll out.
In fact, in perfect timing with this article, Roy Exum published his latest call to action today. Trainer Jackie McConnell, the abusive "star" of the ABC undercover video was convicted of violating the federal Horse Protection Act last year, but did not receive a jail sentence.
In the meantime, Tennessee's new animal abuse felony classification means that he is to be prosecuted again, on the state level. And this time there is a chance he will go to jail.
Roy Exum wants the public to demand it.
Also on Exum's hit list is proposed legislation in Tennessee that will basically remove undercover videos as evidence in farm-related abuse cases. There are several similar legislative pushes like this in state legislatures across the country.
Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS, is also a Roy Exum fan. "His newspaper columns played a key role in exposing and publicizing of the mistreatment of these beautiful creatures and greatly helped The HSUS in its mission to put an end to the cruelty," Dane said.
I hope the day is coming when Roy Exum writes his last column calling for Walking horse reform. Not because he runs out of steam,but because the problem will be solved. And this could be the year.
The trick is to clean up the showing system without destroying the livelihood of trainers and owners or the breed. As with so many challenges in the horse world, the problem is not in passing another new law, new rule, or new penalty but in designing and making real a new way to show these horses that is just as exciting and crowd-pleasing, but that doesn't abuse the horses.
That's a tall order, but if horse trainers have spent so much time and effort to figure out how to get around the rules and not get caught, those same minds can invent a new show style for the Walking horse.
Roy Exum might have some ideas, too.