Only the Ignorant Can be Forgiven

I would rather have my ignorance than another man’s knowledge because I have so much more of it.
— Mark Twain in a letter to W.D. Howells, a minister, in 1875

In late July, Walt Taylor, a master farrier who has plied his craft since 1948, wrote a letter to Congressmen Yoho and Schrader to thank them for their sponsorship of the PAST Act in the current session of Congress.  Mr. Taylor has “street cred” on the subject of horses. He was instrumental in the founding of the American Farrier’s Association in 1971 and served as its president until 1986.  He and the AFA collaborated with associations in Britain and Japan to organize the World Farrier’s Association, and he still serves as its president. 


When Mr. Taylor wrote that, “ I have worked around the world as a working farrier and trainer of farriers in scores of countries. I have seen abuse caused by greed, fashion, and ignorance. Only the ignorant can be forgiven. That is certainly not the case with the soring of these particular show horses.”


Taylor went on to tell the congressmen that he had once  done a limited amount of work, many years ago, with gaited horses whose hooves were trimmed or were shod to exaggerate their natural gaits.  He wrote, “ My reasoning was that if I don’t do it, somebody else will, and I won’t earn the money that goes with it.”


Looking back on that time in his life, Taylor says he now recognizes it as a “sad commentary on moral values” and while he “will not stand in judgment of farriers and others who do this kind of thing”, he finds it “unconscionable to abuse horses for monetary gain, fame, or fashion.”


Only the ignorant can be forgiven. But what happens when the ignorant make a choice to remain unaware, or as Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Hero fame said while rolling his eyes, “ I see nothing!” as the antics of the POWs he was assigned to guard  took place in front of his face?


Another Schulz, this one named Charles, the creator of the beloved Peanuts cartoon strip, once said, “ There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people- Religion, Politics, and the Great Pumpkin.” 


It might be wise to heed Mr. Schulz’s advice, but,  as show ads running in industry publications frequently include biblical references in touting the success of riders and horses at horse shows, as local churches put up tricolor ribbons in support of the walking horse industry, and as a recent editorial in the Shelbyville-Times Gazette, written by City Editor John Carney, appeared on August 16th in the Sunday edition, the idea of the sin of omission, regarding the big lick and aspects of the flat shod show world combined with   the “I see nothing” mentality came to mind and continued to sit there, waiting to be explored. 


According to some religious groups there are two kinds of sin, commission and omission. Sins of commission are easy to identify. They are the ones that we chose to do, knowing that what we are doing is wrong and we aren’t supposed to do it.  However, like the situational ethics that permeate conduct in the big lick world, sinning by omission can be harder to pin down. 


Interestingly, the sin of omission has not only a religious basis but a legal one.  To sin by omission is to fail to do something one can do and ought to do, or legally, to fail to perform an act where there is a duty to an individual or the public to act. Religious scholars say that if such behavior happens,  advertently and freely, it is considered to be a sin.  A sin is an offense against a standard or a transgression. Lawyers stay away from the concept of sin, but even they agree acts of omission may be the cause for legal action. 


When Editor Carney said in print he would not like “ to think of myself as endorsing or supporting cruelty to animals, I don’t think any of us would. I think everyone, on all sides of the issue, admits that there are bad horse trainers, trainers who use cruelty as a shortcut, “ he came close to beginning to have an honest discussion in the paper about whether or not the facts indicate that what is going on in the show ring is performance based in cruelty and that the cruelty is not an exception but more widespread.  


Instead, Mr. Carney returned to the safe talking points about some trainers being bad , and things being in place to punish them, and how “healthy it was to talk about how to go about finding the bad trainers and what to do about them when they are found. “ This is motherhood but it isn't journalism.


Mr. Carney may choose not to know that his newspaper routinely prints positive stories about the walking horse industry, featuring both trainers and participants with years of history of violations of the Horse Protection Act.  Both private inspection groups and USDA inspectors document these facts. The paper never addresses those histories. The paper presents these people to its readers under the “ I see nothing” theory.    The public is left with incomplete information to form an opinion about a larger story that requires full and impartial reporting.   


Most recently, a front page story in the Times-Gazette appeared featuring a trainer demonstrating a big lick horse for a group of County Trustees that were in Shelbyville for a meeting.  Neither the Trustees nor the reading public was informed that this particular trainer has had, as recorded in easily accessible public data bases, 18 violations of the Horse Protection Act since 2001. 


Perhaps this information was not included because 2001 was so many years ago but the   latest violations took place in 2013 and 2014 where his horses were found at inspection to be unilaterally sore. He should have been asked about these violations and he should have been given the opportunity to confirm or deny the existence of them;   they should not have gone unreported.  The horse that he was riding was the recipient of a USDA 7060, a letter of warning indicating that the horse had been found in violation of the foreign substance provision after testing positive for illegal substances. It is unlikely that the horse applied these substances to its own pasterns.


Such information should certainly have been part of the story.  The Trustees might have factored that into whether or not they enjoyed the entertainment prepared for them or whether they, too,  should be asking more questions.  

How does this fit into the omission/commission equation? If this background information was not included in the paper’s story by choice that could be considered to be a sin of commission; if the information went   unknown because a reporter chose not to look or failed to do research, the sin of omission comes into play.  One thing, however, is certain: because this type of information is not included, industry leaders can safely, and,  do continue, to cynically put before the public, people who are violators of a federal law as examples to be applauded. (The paper has yet to address the violation backgrounds of this year's panel of judges for The Celebration or ask why individuals who have been proven to have shown sore horses are being used to judge at a major event.  )



Mr. Carney and the rest of the Times-Gazette staff and management, seem to be unwilling to “go there”, if going there means that they might have to let the local population know that many of the Celebration heroes have feet of clay. 


If, for example, you were a casual horse show fan, you might   wonder why two very popular trainers, one of whom was well-known for his flamboyant rides into the line-up, have been missing from the show circuit this year and won’t be riding at the Celebration, although their barn still seems to be in business.  The casual horse show fan wouldn’t know where to look to discover on a federal website the published cases against the two made by the government for violations of the Horse Protection Act. These trainers are repeat violators at the federal level.


 Do not, however, expect to find that information in the local newspaper, where it should be, just as any other proceeding where a business is involved in illegal activity would be expected to be featured so that the public might be informed and steer clear, if that was its choice.  That doesn’t happen.


 It doesn’t happen when winners of the Riders Cup, with violation histories that strain credulity, have their pictures printed with   no amplification about what else they might have been up to.   


It doesn’t happen when owners are quoted as being outraged by the over- reach of the USDA VMOs when they attend local horse shows and talk about the “subjective nature of the inspections” , when their trainers are caught with sore horses often by an industry HIO and not by a government inspector.


It doesn’t happen when the Celebration’s Veterinary Advisory Committee isn’t asked directly by the paper’s reporters if the blood tests that will be pulled at this year’s show can detect the presence of soring agents like oil of cinnamon, oil of wintergreen, GOJO, kerosene, diesel fuel, and a variety of other combinations but theydo show up on the random swabs pulled by the USDA each year on horses at the Celebration that make it through inspection and into the show ring.

It might be of interest tothe public to know that one of the veterinarians associated with this year's VAC is a partner in a veterinary clinic, which according to a source familiar with the practice, has provided care for the disgraced but never tried in court,  Larry Wheelon.  Mr. Wheelon continues to train horses over in east Tennessee.  The serious charges against him were dismissed as the result of a faulty search warrant. 

Perhaps that's why the petition that was successful in encouraging a Kentucky practice to disassociate itself from the VAC has not had any success with this particular practice. At least some questions should be asked about the impartiality of the veterinarians who are involved with the VAC and how much involvement they have had with the industry directly and for how long a period of time.


Mr. Carney (and by extension others on the staff who cover this issue) slides around subjects   like these by saying that “ I’m an outsider, with no direct knowledge of this issue”.  This might be acceptable if he were a member of the general public writing a letter to the editor and offering an opinion, using, as Mr. Carney did, a personal story, to justify his contention that the show horse baby should not be thrown out with the dirty bathwater.


No matter how much Mr. Carney personally loves the Celebration and the history of local horse shows, no matter how many friends he has who are in the business, Mr. Carney, is, first, a member of a news staff and his   obligation to the public is of a much higher standard than the “I know nothing, I see nothing” sort.  


The people of Bedford County have a right to expect that Mr. Carney will attempt to find out what he doesn’t know. He should be expected to print what he finds. His newspaper should be expected to cover all sides of what is a major story and let the fall-out come to rest, where ever it comes to rest.


The result could be positive for the industry; it could turn out that those who criticize the industry have valid points and positions.   But, until that happens,  “ the “wanting to believe there’s good in the industry” while failing to do the research to discover what else is out there to find, while easier, is both pernicious and destructive.  In  the end a failure to investigate and to print all the facts  hurts the community as a whole because it leaves them uninformed.


Mr. Carney says he’s never been a horse owner, but that does not excuse him  from his obligation to cover the news that has been a consistent   story of allegations, often proven,  of abuse ongoing since the 1960s and appearing in publications  like Sports Illustrated  and  a Pulitzer prize winning series by The (Nashville) Tennessean years ago.


Mr. Carney must know that this story line does not change; that neither the   allegations nor the excuses and rationalizations change; that only the cast of characters changes, year after year.  Shouldn’t Mr. Carney be asking hard questions about why this public outcry continues and, shouldn’t he be asking those questions from sources other than the usual respondents?


Only the ignorant can remain forgiven, but choosing to remain ignorant shouldn’t get anyone, especially a city editor, a free pass. When you run an editorial in the Sunday issue of the paper using ignorance as an excuse, the words of James 4:17 should be remembered: “ Therefore to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” 


Perhaps that biblical reference could also go  up   on the church bulletin boards, where “we support the industry”  tricolors are flying, in order to encourage those who pass by,  as they head to the horse show grounds,  to think about what they are supporting and why. 


Mr. Carney describes in the closing paragraph of his editorial  the "industry"  as “vital to the community”. He might wish to go back and look at last year’s poll, run in his newspaper, that showed that the majority of local residents who responded   did not plan to attend a single night of The Celebration.  Then he might ask himself the question that newspapers are put in place to ask about all news stories: WHY?