Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Tale of Corruption and High Stakes....

One of the first pieces of news out of the National Reining Horse Assoc. in the new year was a press release regarding an anonymous complaint of corruption and possible judge tampering at the 2011 NRHA Futurity.  I read about it through Pat Feuerstein's blog at the Quarter Horse News; the segment has a complete repost of the anonymous letter and the NRHA's response to the allegations, and you can read it here.  

First of all, bravo to those who came together to make this complaint.  It is an uncomfortable place to be in, to be the one to address the nastier side of horse competitions.  It has been shown to me over and over again that the person who stands up often has to do so alone.  It is unfortunate that those who put forth the complaint felt that it was necessary to remain anonymous; on one hand, it takes away from the whole 'standing up' thing when you don't add your name and face to the cause. Being willing to put yourself on the line for the right thing lends legitimacy to it's importance.  But on the other hand, it is certainly a commentary on how scary and dangerous it is to be perceived as someone who rocks the boat in the reining industry.  

In a time when the national and global economies have been on the ropes, and spending on luxury goods, such as expensive show horses, is down overall, the reining industry has prospered, especially for those at the top levels.  And it all has happened very recently. The past ten years have seen huge growth for the NRHA, with more prize money, higher sales prices, and a firm emphasis on earnings - how often do the catch words "million dollar status" cross our radar these days?  Those of us who have been around for a while have a saying..."That horse made $150,000 back when it was hard to make $150,000!" We have grown and changed tremendously.  The amount of money at stake these days at any NRHA promoted/owned event is cause for great excitement - but also indicative of the great responsibility that NRHA officials, judges, and elected board members carry to uphold the highest standards of fairness and integrity.

Which brings me to my next point....I am skeptical that even an independent investigation is going to be able to turn up much 'evidence' of the corruption, nepotism and judge tampering that allegedly occured.  Why?  Because those who would be witness to it are most likely complicit in enabling it.  In an atmosphere in which it is already known that you may be blacklisted if you speak up, why would you incriminate yourself by saying that, "Yes, Mr. Mitchells was present in the judges room, and yes, I feel that he influenced me to score his horse higher than deserved?"  Because while it truly is each individual's responsibility to uphold the rules, if there is no direct proof, such as a secretly recorded audio/video tape, or evidence of bribe money changing hands, it is a lot easier to just hold your chin high, and say, "No, he had no influence over me."  The other allegations, that Mr. Mitchells and Mr. Lopp were allowed to take pay for work done at NRHA owned events, are more concrete, and certainly support the hypothesis that the NRHA elected officials in power take care of their own.

What is the cost for turning a blind eye to those doing wrong and lining their pockets inappropriately?  Trust.  The members of the NRHA already know that politics in the show ring affect scores.  They have seen it over and over again in every level and category.  But they want to trust that their association is against those practices and working to create a level playing field.  The truth WILL come out, and then it may be time to clean house at the NRHA offices.  Until that time, I hope that more people are willing to stand up, tell the truth and do the right thing, and maybe, if those of us interested in creating a better NRHA lend a supportive gesture, they will be willing to give their names.