It’s Going to be a Mad Hatter Sort of Event

PAST Act Update: Senators Schumer and Nelson have Just signed on to co-sponsor S.1121. Senator Nelson is the ranking member of the influential Commerce Committee. 46 senators are now supporting PAST in a bi-partisan effort.

If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper you are misinformed.
— Attributed to Mark Twain

What is the purpose of a newspaper? Is it to provide factual information on all aspects of an issue so that readers can make informed judgments, while   reserving for its publisher and editor the editorial column clearly marked as opinion?  Or, is it, to do the opposite,  if real reporting might make important citizens and businessmen  in a town uncomfortable?


That question could  be posed to the  current editor of the Shelbyville Times-Gazette, a former employee of the Walking Horse Report, who may be too close to the walking horse world to take a truly impartial view of what is and isn't news and in so doing does a disservice to the total  readership. 


In    a glowing forward to a  personality feature  story she  wrote about  David L. Howard, printed in the Bedford County  Chamber of Commerce’s Salute magazine, she observed, “ Another people profile-one that’s near and dear to my heart-is the story on seasoned businessman David Howard. I had the fortune to work for Howard when I moved into the area from up north a dozen  years ago. For me , it was a full circle moment to interview him about the horse industry as well as the legacy he’s built up over the last 45 years.”  

She describes Howard as the "patriarch   of one of the  pillar families of the community" in the story entitled An Honest Day’s Life.  



Although personally  enthusiastic about the people she calls friends involved in the  walking horse world, as an  editor she  should  remember that in a non-scientific opinion poll taken last year by the Times- Gazette, asking community residents how many of them planned to attend The Celebration, the answer was  over 60% of the respondents did not plan to attend a single evening of the show. 


Aside from isolated oases of businesses that profit from the industry, enthusiasm to celebrate by the larger community seems to be  well under control.  Thus, it’s interesting with all the other things that are going on in the state and county,  that on Wednesday, August 5, ninety-five percent  of the front page of the Times-Gazette was dedicated to two stories:  the Celebration’s Veterinary Advisory Committees question and answer session for industry stakeholders held at the Blue Ribbon Circle on Monday, August 3rd, and an article entitled “Hats off to the Celebration” about a new plan to bring excitement  to the    grounds where there has been more fizzle than sizzle in recent years.


Let there be column inches for some stories, even as   news about the animal cruelty and the people involved in it  goes  unprinted. Even  paid advertising from any source that is not seen as supportive of the big lick industry is not accepted by the paper  but stories with a decided tilt and  industry talking points are routinely published.


Here are some examples:



§  a grand jury indictment for aggravated assault by big lick trainer Jamie Lawrence of Alabama for allegedly attempting to hit a protestor against the big lick during a recent Columbia, Tennessee, horse show, went unreported

§   The same grand jury hearing evidence against a second individual accused of assault, a long time supporter of the big lick, who lives in Bell Buckle, Tennessee, a town served by the paper has not been reported

§   the specifics regarding a Tennessee man and Celebration exhibitor who had 55 registered  walking horses seized as a result of cruelty and starvation was not addressed, although the efforts of the Trainers Association to send a small amount of food to the rescues who collected the horses got a story and a picture. Donations from other organizations to the rescues were never mentioned.

§   the continued quotation of trainers and exhibitors in the paper regarding walking horse issues makes no mention of their personal Horse Protection Act histories, necessary information for readers to be able to put their comments into the context of the history of their actions. Federal databases listing individuals who are placed on federal disqualifications for soring horses are never printed in the paper

§  no in-depth discussion about the two  bills recently introduced in both the House and the Senate,  with  broad bi-partisan support,  intended to amend the existing Horse Protection Act, to include  interviews from the bills sponsors, interviews  from opponents of the legislation as well as interviews with  its supporters has appeared

§  no mention of the report that last year’s World Grand Champion at the Celebration  failed testing done by the VAC and that prize money was withheld as a result, a story reported online by another Shelbyville community news source, ever made the Times-Gazette

§  the resignation this year  of Dr. Hunt from the VAC and his practice’s stated support of the PAST Act, gone with the wind


If the walking horse is considered to be sufficiently  important to the community that it merits hundreds of column inches each year, shouldn’t a few  of those inches be expected to be put in use to  tell more than one side of the story? Sadly, if inquiring minds want to see that sort of reporting on this issue, they will have to inquire somewhere else.


Instead, what the public gets is  a front page,  four column wide, color photo of some ladies holding hats and a sub head that reads” Stylish looks will add flash, glamour to this year’s show” .  The article supports the tag on the original Mad Hatter’s top hat that read ” In the style of 10/6” .


The story reports that Karen Inman, the wife of Celebration CEO Mike Inman (  you can check violation histories)  is “spearheading the drive to top off The Celebration—literally.” 


Ms. Inman enthuses that she   would like to see each man, woman, and child wear a festive hat on August 29th, the first Saturday night of The Celebration.  She described the event as “reminiscent of the Kentucky Derby and similar horse races” and noted that the “Derby doesn’t have anything on Shelbyville, Tennessee, and The Celebration”.


In light of the controversy surrounding the exhibition and training of the big lick horse, using a hat trick  to emphasize  style and glamor, (Shelbyville seems to prefer the British spelling for its headlines) might be seen as  zany, if not altogether mad.


Lewis Carroll immortalized the   Mad Hatter in his Alice books in 1865; he wasn’t the first, though, to talk about being mad as a hatter.  Thackeray did it 1849 and Haliburton in 1837 had the same idea in The Clockmaker.


“Mad”   hatters were the result of  the poisoning effects of working in the 18th century with mercury-saturated felts to make men’s hats.  The effect on the nervous systems of felt workers was an uncontrollable twitching and trembling that made them appear to be crazed, at least to an outside observer.  The exposure  of  toxic chemicals to  skin has never been a good thing for man or beast.


Mrs. Inman needed inspiration for her ‘make the  news with millinery plan’ and came up with the Kentucky Derby; Carroll, too, had an idea, but he didn’t consider poisoned hat makers. Instead he modeled his character on  a real person named Theophilus Carter. Carter was an eccentric who frequently wore a noticeable top hat and other forms of look- at- me headwear that, when combined with his odd behavior,   got his neighbors talking.


It's  likely that being called   as mad as a hatter    was a one-off from the original Anglo-Saxon that identified the word mad as meaning violent or venomous, as in mad as an adder, and then corrupted to atter, which turned into hatter.  But no matter how Carroll got there, the desire to make this sometimes violent but   always outlandish character appear to be bigger than life required that he wear an attention getting hat. 


With increasing public scrutiny about animal cruelty and some of the   characters involved in the big lick making television and newspapers in other areas of the country, back home in wonderland, supporters of The Celebration are deciding, apparently,  to build on the nonsensical to find the fun in what has become a fairly grim event. To bring you up to speed, in case you are planning to attend The Celebration with  a sign, but might need to add a hatbox, the following information is provided as a public service.


There will be a contest for “best hat”, as well as five hat divisions, oops under the new WHTA lingo, that would be five hat disciplines: biggest hat, prettiest hat, gentleman’s hat, amateur owned and designed hat, and crazy kids’ hat.  Photographs will be taken in front of a screen image and in the stands and pictures will be shown on the stadium’s large screen television.


Inman euphorically hopes “ to see a sea of hats in the boxes and stands”.


What she and her husband really hope to see, however, is simply some increase at all  in the number of  people in the boxes and stands.  If Mrs. Inman   believes that having a hat contest will do it, she should take heart from the advice given to Alice.

Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said. ”One can’t believe impossible things.”

“On the contrary you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “ When I was your age, I always did it for a half-an-hour per day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast…”

— Lewis Carroll

 Under the category of things that are hard to believe before a meal, there was a second four column wide black and white photo of the hat gala held for 55 Celebration enthusiasts printed on page 2. It came with the breaking news that Paris, Kentucky’s Kathie Whaley of Hats by Katie, designer and purveyor of fine hats, was on hand both  to give a presentation and to display her wares.  It all sounded terribly exciting and that’s what passed for news on August 5th.


Whatever  chemicals in middle Tennessee  aren’t going on the horses must be going into the water supply.


As the Hatter said, “ This is a place  like no place on earth, a  land full of wonder and mystery and danger. They say to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter, which luckily, I am .”  


Hat,  anyone?