Veteran ad man Phil Slott gets the credit for the “Never let them see you sweat” campaign begun on June 7, 1984, for Dry Idea antiperspirants. The phrase is now part of America’s lexicon and has been applied to countless situations where both dubious practices and difficult times have been met by the cool exteriors of people who can best be described as smooth operators and cool as cucumbers. Mr. Keith McSwain appears to be a person who knows the importance of keeping his cool.
To recap, after years of disappointment from the inspection zone, the owner of the 2016 Celebration World Grand Champion, Honors, got what amounted to a get- out -of –jail- free injunction good for nine named horse shows after prevailing in a suit he filed in April 2016 in federal court in Georgia. He must have felt that, at long last, Beulah land was in sight. Honors, and by extension his honorable owners and trainers, were finally going to get what they had been denied and, in real time, no inspector was going to be able to stop them from entering the show ring under the terms of the injunction.
Those in the “know” winked at the presence of the other horses in contention for the WGC title this year because unless the black stallion fell over in the arena and refused to get up, he was going to make the spotlight victory pass. The other six entries in the class were there as window dressing. The judging at this year’s event, which was described by industry supporters as ‘all over the map’ , showed unanimous consent in crowning Honors king of this year’s heap.
Honors 2016 was as sure a thing as there can be in the horse business. His victory was made even more secure after an existing HPA case being heard by Administrative Law Judge Jill Clifton brought by the USDA against the stallion’s trainers, Gary and Larry Edwards of Georgia, was continued in May 2016. Conveniently, Larry Edwards was going to be free to make that spotlight ride thanks to the lack of a finding in this still ongoing case.
What the rest of the folks following the Celebration from the cheap seats would never know, because the local newspaper has not seen fit to report it after the fact (even as Honors was becoming a Wikipedia entry describing how he was neither sored nor scarred according to references from the Shelbyville Times Gazette’s stories) , was that a federal complaint for violation of the Horse Protection Act had been served on owner Mr. Keith McSwain before stake night and the subject of the complaint was this year’s World Grand Champion, Honors.
HPA Docket 15-0139, USDA v Robert Keith McSwain, an individual, was filed on July 25th, 2016, alleging that there was “reason to believe that the respondent named herein has violated the Horse Protection Act” and that on five separate occasions, McSwain allowed the horse he owned, Honors, a stallion foaled on October 2, 2007 and registered with the TWHBEA, while sore to be entered in or shown in horse shows. That’s definitely not cool.
Turning up the heat, Honors, according to the complaint, was inspected on five occasions by USDA VMOS and found to be sore. In addition, on one of those occasions, reads the complaint, he was bearing a prohibited substance on both pasterns. The complaint alleges that these violations took place between August 24, 2013 and July 1, 2016.
The federal complaint is not the first time that Honors' suitability to be in the show ring has been called into question. He received an HIO ticket in his two- year- old year for a scar rule violation, had a ticket in 2010 for scurffing, and USDA evidence photos show a horse identified as Honors with what appears to be weeping lesions that had been covered over with some sort of foreign substance according to an affidavit from the USDA VMO who took information on the stallion.
One of the generally overlooked or not understood facts surrounding Honors' appearances in the show ring is that he is trained by Larry and Gary Edwards, of Georgia’s Carl Edwards and Sons Stables. These are the same trainers whose 1996 case, In re Gary R. Edwards, et al 55 Agric. Dec. 892, has become a standard in HPA legal proceedings footnotes. The Edwards are famous for more than training horses down in Georgia.
It’s commonly understood, that the local Shelbyville newspaper, The Times Gazette, prefers not to take or make note of the many violators of the federal law that routinely win ribbons at the local horse show, The Celebration. By intentionally ignoring the rest of the story, they fail in their responsibility as a newspaper to fully inform their readers of the backgrounds of the individuals featured so prominently in photographs of the event, in feature stories, and in their dutifully printed quotes regarding the unfairness of enforcement by the USDA.
In the post show hoopla surrounding Honors, this remains the case. No mention has been made in the home of The Celebration of the federal complaint that has been filed by the USDA against the latest Celebration celebrity’s owner. That’s not cool either.
Purposeful overlooking by the paper’s editor and management is the whitewash that is helpfully extended to the industry while keeping the general public in the dark about the seedier side of the business which never seems to make the news. But without the paper reporting it, participants in the industry somehow manage to know by name the trainers with both histories and active federal HPA findings of fault and consent decrees. They keep their horses in training with people who have a track record of soring horses and they know, when their trainers of choice are sidelined by suspensions, who will be showing their strings, as the 'wink-wink' trainer of record, in competition.
The case of smooth operator, former Hall of Fame member, and HPA federal violator Jackie McConnell comes to mind. It was proven in federal court that McConnell used the names of others as trainers to continue showing his string when he was on federal suspension for a violation of the Horse Protection Act. His long time and loyal customers knew that he was on suspension for soring horses but continued to leave their horses in his care and custody for both showing and training, claiming that they had told him that he was never to sore their horses. ( That’s a very chill excuse hiding under a very small fig leaf. )
Only an undercover report airing on ABC’s Nightline brought McConnell’s dirty little secrets out into the public air for a look- see, while a real federal conviction finally guaranteed that no more horses would be subjected to McConnell’s version of care and training for the show ring. At long last, Mr. McConnell was revealed as both dishonored and dishonorable.
So, how does the McConnell and customers situation relate to Mr. McSwain? Honors, too, is trained by individuals with a history of federal HPA violations, a fact that should be very much in the news and the point is made in the complaint, which reads, “ Respondent McSwain chose Gary and Larry Edwards, notwithstanding their history of violating the HPA, to be Honors trainers and custodians, and to enter and show Honors in horse shows.”
Perhaps, like those McConnell customers would have you believe , Mr. McSwain had no reason to believe there might be a problem with the Edwards and their training practices? But, Mr. McSwain, according to this complaint, had received letters of warning on more than one occasion regarding Honors and the belief that his condition violated the HPA. Those letters should have been a clue.
It is also noteworthy that the previously mentioned federal HPA case being heard in May, which has been continued , involved two horses, one of which is a horse named A Victoria’s Secret belonging to recorded owners Maisie and Mandie McSwain. The mare was alleged to be in violation of the HPA in a USDA VMO post- show inspection from the 2010 Celebration and the trainers, to review , were Gary and Larry Edwards. A reasonable person could say that with one HPA case underway for one horse, and in receipt of a series of letters of warning for another, that Mr. McSwain could hardly have been unaware that there might be a a question about his trainers of choice.
“Never let them see you sweat” was a good slogan in 1984 and it’s a good slogan now. It fits a determined owner who didn’t let the facts of a history of HPA violations by Honors’ trainers, hopefully forgotten, get in the way of the fairy tale surrounding his stallion. The story was under construction for years, although delayed by pesky inspection results. Wearing a coolly crisp white shirt, Mr. McSwain, finally, got his happy ending at Celebration 2016, on a sultry , late summer night in front of a half empty stadium.
This all happened with more than a little help from a good attorney and U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Story of the Northern District of Georgia. In granting the requested injunction, he must have found compelling the argument made by McSwain’s lawyer that: “ The USDA knowingly engaged in a scheme to destroy the Tennessee Walking Horse culture and industry by violating the 5th Amendment due process rights of horse owners, including the McSwains, and those owners, persons, entities and corporations that make the industry possible. ” (The judge must be a fan of hyperbole. )
There was also an assertion that a USDA “once scarred always scarred rule” upheld by the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals in USDA v Rowland, a case decided years ago, was somehow intended for use specifically against Honors. The law and its pliable interpretation when it comes to the HPA remains fascinating to observers.
How the facts play out, though, in the next installment of the Honors saga should prove to be worth watching as the federal government again suits up to enforce the law intended to protect show horses from abusive training and treatment.
To paraphrase another of adman Phil Slot’s famous tag lines, one that was created for the military but seems made for the USDA lawyers tasked with litigating HPA cases, “ It’s not just a job; it’s an adventure!”