Editor's Note:  The following is an excerpt from John Teague, Bedford County Extension Director with The University Of Tennessee as part of his Ag Notes that will appear in the Shelbyville Times-Gazette.


I’ll be in the stands at the Celebration.  I’ve missed very few nights since 1970.  I’ve written here before that the first time I came to this town was in a horse van and how I spent ten nights at old Barn 19.  Never did I dream that I would get to live here.  It was and is a wonderful time.
Here’s what I think.  There have been legitimate concerns about these magnificent animals and their treatment.  No one that I’ve talked to, and I mean no one, condones abuse and the people who have done it.  The situation has been a long time coming, and it’s going to take a long time to correct it, maybe even a new generation of horsemen. 

It’s being addressed.  Regardless of the group or groups who have been claiming to correct the problem and that their methods and measures of success is the one true answer, the problem is being addressed.  It’s sort of like religion.  Everybody thinks they have the one true religion, but in the end most of them will be surprised to find that there are others with the right answer, too.     

To be sure, there have been tremendous strides in this effort to correct the problem of abuse and performance enhancement.  The numbers speak for themselves.  Compliance numbers are huge compared to non-compliance.  Since all of the final judgments are subjective opinions in nature, most folks wonder if there will ever be an absolute zero of non-compliance.

If you look at the data, the walking horse inspections show a variety of findings, but the point is that these inspections are working.  There are many, many horses that are in compliance with the inspections by licensed and certified veterinarians charged with enforcement of the Horse Protection Act and by lay persons who have been trained by these government officials to help in the inspection process and certified to perform as an extension of the veterinarians.  

These compliance ratios verify that the inspection process is working.  The bigger issues are the subjectivity of the inspections, what is acceptable compliance and the personalities involved, and these are overshadowing the horse. 

How do these compliance figures compare to other fields?  It is common knowledge that over time athletes of several different sports have been accused of illegal activities.  Even the 2012 Olympics that just finished had some issues of non-compliance, and there has in the past even been gender-testing of athletes to determine the fairness of competition.  High school and college sports are not immune to controversy in some of these areas.  The compliance rates of these activities are comparable to the HPA numbers in that non-compliance is the exception rather than the rule. 

But the point here is that people still support these activities in spite of even a small non-compliance rate.  We don’t shut down high schools or colleges or professional teams who have had a bad apple that contaminated part of the barrel.  We watch them and support them anyway, leaving the compliance enforcement up to the experts. 

The good far outweighs the bad.  The community benefit funds, the scholarships to higher education, the pride of the community and country are all by-products of these activities.  In this case, the livelihood of so many good decent people and their neighbors who care about the animals is at stake.  It’s not just the good of the horse, which is primary, but also the good of the people associated with the animal in any way.  

That is why I plan to be there.  I love the animal. 

I appreciate its humble beginnings on middle Tennessee farms a century ago more than most.  I recognize the effort of early breeders to blend the genetics to create this animal more than most.  I appreciate the good trainers who work these animals honestly without shortcuts and gimmicks and who give them good care. 

I’m going to be there in my seat.  I’m going to eat and drink with the various groups that need
my support.  I’m going to support the industry that helps support my community.  And if I see
something that needs to be corrected, I’ll do my best to get it done. 

But I won’t insist on shutting down the show because of one bad apple.  The rest of the barrel is
worth saving!