Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pride Before the Fall

The word "pride' can take on a couple of different meanings depending on it's context.  We can have pride in our city, state, and country, we can have school pride, and we can be proud of our children's accomplishments.  But pride is also one of the seven deadly sins. Proverbs 16:18 tells us "Pride comes before the fall." Being prideful is considered a flaw of temperament; associated with someone who stubbornly believes themselves to be above others, above scrutiny, above fault. And certainly, if you set yourself up to be above fault, you are setting yourself up for a major fall.

And so now we are told by the NRHA that deposed president Allen Mitchels is filing suit against the association following the judge tampering scandal that began in January.  We discussed the situation in "A Tale of  Corruption and High Stakes..." and then again in "The First Female President."   In a statement on the NRHA website: "On February 2, 2012, Allen Mitchels filed suit against the National Reining Horse Association due to actions taken by its Board of Directors on January 21, 2012. By advice of legal counsel, NRHA will not comment on the specifics of the lawsuit as long as the matter is in litigation."  Because no details of the investigation have been made public, there is no way of knowing what evidence the Board of Directors used to make its decision, but it would seem a foregone conclusion that the NRHA made that decision based on legal counsel, lengthy discussion of the rules and bylaws, as well as the good common sense that got them appointed to the BOD in the first place.

They must have found some pretty damning evidence, because they didn't just remove him from office; they removed him from the Teaching Panel and the Judges Committee, took away his judge's card, and gave him a lifetime ban from holding a position of authority in the NRHA.  In handing out this harsh sentence, they are making a statement that the NRHA is committed to fair dealings at its competitions, and that the rules will be followed, regardless of position or influence. In administering this decisive removal of Mitchels, and removing him from any involvement in the association, they are also making an attempt to move forward without the hindrances involved in having someone on board who might taint the image of NRHA.  Wouldn't it be great if that really was the end of it?

Mr. Mitchels surely thinks he has a case, and probably has a lawyer telling him that he does.  But perhaps his pride is motivating him to go after an association that he previously claimed allegiance to.  No doubt he is embarrassed, angry, and feels a sense of entitlement to the position that he previously held.  But his pride serves no one.  If he goes after the association and he loses, he will have incurred a huge legal bill, wasted everyone's time, and he will still be that guy who got thrown out of office.  If he manages to win, he will be the guy that wasted association funds on a legal battle, he will potentially decimate an association that doesn't need to lose members and money, and he will STILL have a tarnished reputation.  Whatever they found that he did was enough to make them throw the book at him - what can he say that will make his reputation shiny and clean again?  Many people that I have talked to have said that Mr. Mitchels was known for this type of behavior, so I have to say, the cat's out of the bag now.  Suing the NRHA isn't going to get him judging jobs, it isn't going to put him back in good standing with the membership, and it isn't going to get him his old job back. 

Being prideful can drive a person to seek revenge, because they would rather exact vengeance on others than face the fact that they are, in fact, flawed or have made a mistake.  It takes courage in accepting your own faults, along with humility and service to others, to overcome pride-fullness.  If Mr. Mitchels really wants to clean up his reputation, he should consider taking a humbler course, withdrawing his suit, and accepting responsibility for his actions.  That would be the course that would best serve the membership, rather than one that is rooted in proud denial, and threatens the association that just 45 days ago he pledged loyalty to.  No one wins when the attitude is, "I'm not going down without a fight...."

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Cyber-Bullying in the Horse Industry

Something sad happened recently on Facebook.  A very nice woman that I know closed her FB page, saying that she was just sick and tired of all the rumors and mean-spirited comments that get passed around on the social media network.  It made me feel bad, as she is a very sweet and kind person, and I enjoyed seeing her updates.  I can't be certain, but it could be related to a falling out she recently had over the genetic testing debate.  While she would never stoop to point fingers or retaliate with insults, it is clear that she was made to feel bad because of someone's unkind words.  There seems to be a lot of that on FB lately.  While I personally get a lot out of FB - it is a great way to keep up with my widely scattered friends and family - I have seen that many use it as a way to push an agenda or spread rumors, half-truths and outright lies.  There is a certain amount of anonymity to social sites too.  People say things on FB that they would never, ever have the guts to say to someone's face, and the fact that they are separated from their audience emboldens many to be truly horrible to their fellow human beings.  Even if a person isn't commenting anonymously, the fact that they are typing their comment, rather than speaking it face to face, makes it easier for some to unleash insults, disparage someone, or embarrass them.

According to Wikipedia, cyber-bullying is the use of the internet and related technologies to harm other people, in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner.  I have seen this in action many times in discussion forums or posted directly to someone's page, whether the subject was abusive training techniques, how well the NRHA is handling the judge tampering scandal, or what should be done about genetic disease.  In fact, I began this blog as a response to being bullied.  That experience made me realize that there are people out there who don't understand that their words have an affect on others, that they have to power to hurt, to smear, and to vilify.  To be sure, some even relish in doing that to others, as if they are lacking any kind of power in their 'real' lives, so they behave like some kind of tyrant on social media sites, just prowling to look for someone to fight with.  Many of them would hide when confronted in person; the person who bullied me has never owned up to it, even though I have seen her face to face several times since then.

The more contentious the issue, the more prevalent the bullying.  The latest hot topic, genetic testing, is no exception.  I have observed cliques of people dog piling someone who asked an innocent or rhetorical question.  I have experienced my own words being misconstrued, and have seen others get the same.  I have heard the complaints of many people wondering why a certain forum was so hostile.  And I have read people's posts that were full of speculation over an 'irresponsible breeder' or a horse that supposedly passed on a deadly gene, even though there was no actual evidence of that.  Hearsay hurts more people than just the subject of the hostility; it creates an atmosphere that doesn't allow dissension or discussion.  It divides rather than unites.  And it can truly hurt people in the horse industry, an industry where a nasty rumor can decimate a stallion's breeding career, cause a trainer to lose customers, instigate lawsuits, keep exhibitors away from competitions and cause hysteria over topics that may not have real bearing in the life of the reader.  Cyber-bullying can create real financial loss for the person targeted, as well as the loss of business relationships, friendships or even intimate relationships.  It is not to be taken lightly.

How does one deal with cyber-bullies?*  First, realize that sometimes there is no point to arguing with someone.  If a person puts their CAPS LOCK ON, and begins to use multiple exclamation points to scream their point at you, they probably aren't in their right mind.  There is no use screaming back at a crazy person.  Second, use only facts to support your argument, rather than throwing back put-downs.  While you may be completely correct in your assessment that you are communicating with a narrow-minded, pontificating jerk, in pointing it out to them, you are just fueling their mean-spirited-ness.  Don't worry, everyone can see them for what they are by their own words.  Let them look that way, and don't stoop to their level.  Say less versus more, and if all else fails, just leave the conversation.  No one will think you are 'chicken,' they will think you are smart for maintaining control.  And if you find that a group you are in is constantly embroiled in arguments, leave the group and seek out a group that fits you better (or start your own).  There are page admins out there who don't bother regulating group member's comments, or actually encourage fighting, because they like the notoriety of being 'controversial.'  If someone continues to harass you on FB, you can block them, so they no longer have access to you, your page, or your comments. And with a click of the mouse, they can be gone from your cyber life - or at least, you won't be able to see each other anymore.

It may be that someone has harassed you to the point of causing a real loss in your life.  You may need to hire an attorney, and document the instances of bullying.  Learn how to do a "screen shot" with which you can take a picture of what is on your computer screen, containing comments within a thread that are directed at you. On my computer, the screen shot button is on the top right of the keyboard.  Having evidence of bullying incidents is crucial for any prosecution to occur.

Moreover, remember that you have a right to your opinion and a right to ask questions.  While some people seem to have a know-it-all air about them, remember that no one is omnipotent, no one is always right, and no one can foretell the future.  Part of a bully's strategy is to get you to believe that you are less than them, and that they are some type of authority, when reality is that everyone has something to contribute to the conversation, no matter what the subject. 

*If you are a minor, and are being bullied online for any reason, tell an adult, and keep telling adults, until someone listens and helps you deal with it.  Please don't despair, and don't take it personally.  As you grow into an adult, you will see that some people just like to dump on others because it takes the focus off themselves.  It has nothing to do with who you are, or your value as a person, and everything to do with what kind of person they are.  I wish you well! :)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Shopping For Nice Genes

Equine genetic disorders. Nothing gets horse people fired up quicker than a debate on genetic testing, and in recent public social media forums, the topic has been a hot one lately. We have been there before; we've seen HERDA in the Poco Bueno's, SCID in Arabians, HYPP in the Impressive's, JEB in draft horses, and others, so we shouldn't be surprised that this topic has come up yet again, with the call going out demanding mandatory testing of all breeding stock. The nasty culprit this time is GBED, as well OLWS, both of which have become more prevalent in recent years.

Genetic mutations that cause disease and/or birth defects have always been around; DNA is no more a perfect system than any other within a living being. What has changed in modern times is the speed at which these flawed mutations can spread. Prior to the development of artificial insemination and embryo transfer, stallions could only breed so many mares, and mares could only produce so many babies. The odds were much lower that a stallion who was a carrier of a disease gene would meet a mare who happened to be a carrier of the same recessive disease gene and produce an affected foal. Of course, veterinary medicine evolved along with these diseases, so that many years ago, vets might not be able to connect all the dots in tracing a genetic defect, but now they have the capability to know without a doubt what is wrong with an affected foal, and trace the origin of the gene. Another factor that has increased our exposure to genetic diseases is that many modern breeders follow trends in which stallions they choose for their mares. If Stallion X has made a ton of money in the show pen, or has sired horses that have, everyone has to breed their mares to him. This dramatically reduces the number of animals in the gene pool, and accelerates the distribution of diseased genes.

These disorders are pretty horrible. If you have ever seen a horse suffering an HYPP seizure, you know what I mean. When a horse has HERDA, their skin and underlying tissues fall off and cause terrible scars. PSSM sentences the horse to a life of chronic pain and the owner to providing the horse with a special diet to control symptoms. Foals with OLWS, GBED and SCID are doomed from birth, and they have no hope for survival or any quality of life. It would seem a foregone conclusion that we want to avoid these scenarios at all costs. Yet they persist. Why?

To find the answer, you have to look at the problem from both the mare owner's side, and the stallion owner's side.

Stallions can produce many more babies than an individual mare can, so a genetic disease is often statistically found faster in a stallion's breeding career than through a mare's, since mares only average a few foals in a lifetime. I think this gives some mare owners a false sense of security. They (wrongly) assume that a stallion owner would know if their stud is a carrier, and they (wrongly) expect that this information would be made public.

I have also heard mare owners state that since she has not produced an affected foal yet, that chances are she won't produce an affected foal next time. This is a fallacy based in ignorance. If you put any two sets of recessive genes into a Punnett square, you will come out with the same odds for every breeding; 25% of the foals will be unaffected, 50% will be carriers, and 25% will be affected foals. Each breeding is statistically independent – each roll of the dice carries the same odds. You could breed two carrier horses to each other twelve times, and you might see 12 unaffected foals, 12 affected foals, or distributions from all three possibilities. If you firmly believe that you will get lucky every time because you got lucky before, I bet the dealers at the craps tables in Vegas love you!

I think many people don't know what resources are available to them for genetic testing, or understand how easy it is to have done. This is fairly new, and since registries and horse associations haven't pushed it – after all, who wants bad publicity – many don't test because it is just too much of a bother to figure out this new-fangled technology and seek out help. However, both the American Quarter Horse Assn.* and the American Paint Horse Assn. have begun to provide kits for people to use, and there are also several private labs that can do the tests quickly. The tests aren't exactly cheap, but certainly compared to the cost of having a dead foal, testing looks pretty inexpensive.

Now, the tricky part....getting stallion owners on the genetic testing bandwagon. I have heard many times that this is a taboo subject, that demanding industry-wide testing will never go over with the heavyweights in the business, and that bringing it up will get you blacklisted from the industry. The source of this resistance is fear. People are naturally afraid of change. Individuals who have reason to believe their stallion is at risk of being a carrier resist that knowledge, fearing the stigma that will be placed on their horse, the loss of income and the smearing of their horses', and their own, reputation. When this fear is put under the hot lights of debate, the result is often a vicious lashing out against the knowledge, and the people responsible to bringing the knowledge to light. Some stallion owners have more to lose than others, and as they say, the bigger they come, the harder they fall.

My response is that the truth always comes out. Stallion owners – wouldn't you rather disclose something like that yourself, where you have control of it and can even spin it in a positive way, since you will look more responsible to the public? Or would it be better to wait, constantly worrying about it, risking the loss, whether it is your foal that dies or a valued customer's, and having the truth get out? What if it is found out that you knew your horse had a problem but you chose not to disclose it, and then are hit with a lawsuit? Won't that have a worse effect on your reputation and your horse's legacy? Willful ignorance makes not only the individual stallion owner look bad, it damages the entire industry. People don't want to be associated with a group that clings so tightly to the all-mighty dollar that they are unable to be ethical.

I do have a couple of caveats to my arguments for genetic testing. I have heard people say “There oughta be a law...” I do not think this is something that should be legislated by the government. The government has no business in horse genetics, and even a registry doesn't have much legal authority over how people breed their horses. Can they strongly encourage it, and make it easier for people to do? Sure, but I doubt they could require it. Since there are only a small percentage of horses out there that are carriers, and only a percentage of them will mate, and then there is only a 25% chance that the pairing will result in an affected foal, it doesn't make financial sense to require it of everyone. And if registries require one disease to be tested for, shouldn't they require all those diseases that can be tested for to also be included? Where would that end? I have to wonder if required testing by a registry would open them up to some type of lawsuit; after all, simply putting a sticker on a horse's papers does not imply that the registry is then responsible for people's breeding decisions. I am sure that there are people out there who will breed to Stallion X anyway because they believe it won't happen to them. It might better serve the public if more effort was put in to education versus legislation and more rules.

I also do not feel comfortable 'outing' any horses out there. It is completely up to the owner to seek out that information and disclose it. Unless I personally pull hairs out of a horse's tail, send it in and see the results, I do not really know what that horse's genetic make-up is and if I make a supposition without knowing for sure, I am committing slander against that horse and owner. We have to understand that in this business, it pays to spread rumors about your competition, and people who point fingers at others often have their own agenda. I don't want to be part of a witch hunt, I am just advocating for better business ethics that lift up our industry, rather than diminish it. If we have widespread, mandatory testing, it may then become a possibility that there would be pressure to ban those animals that test positive as carriers, and I am not sure that is right. First, it would further shrink the size of the gene pool, perhaps making other disorders more prevalent, and second, it would remove some very successful and popular bloodlines from public use, which does not necessarily push our efforts forward. The object is to control the spread and try to prevent affected foals from being born.

The only way things will change with the current attitude toward genetic testing is if it makes more financial sense to test than to not test. If mare owners feel strongly about this subject, then they should test their mares, and they should breed to stallions that test and disclose. And many will do this! If there is an added benefit to all the fighting going on over this subject, it is that more people will find out the facts about genetic disease. It is my hope that mare owners will educate themselves and that stallion owners will see the changes on the horizon, and become more proactive in their planning. Perhaps if we all did this, we could avoid yet another scandal.....

*I have been told that AQHA has started making genetic tests for all possible diseases available, but I could not find anything on their website referring to an expanded test.  Currently, all Quarter Horses seeking registration must be parentage verified through a DNA test, and if the horse is a descendant of the stallion Impressive, the horse must also be tested to establish its HYPP status.