Thursday, October 24, 2013

Some Keep Promises, Some Keep Secrets

Some stories need to be told, no matter how painful the telling.  And some promises must be kept, no matter the obstacles in the path of the keeping.  The reason for both is usually love. 

I recently finished a moving and thought-provoking book called "Justice For Speedy," which is the true story of the author's journey from dreaming of breeding her mare, raising the resulting foal with care, the charismatic colt "Speedy" growing up to show enormous potential, watching Speedy perform at his first show and winning a Championship class, and then discovering the horse was being abused by the trusted trainer, unbeknownst to the owner.  Judy Berkley describes in detail how she found out, after much investigation, that her trainer had gone directly against her very explicit expectations that her horse not be over-fed, not be abused, and not be given any steroids.  Sadly, Speedy endured all three, which caused a cascade of health problems resulting in him foundering and later, colicking, and being put down.  On top of the tragedy of Speedy's death, Berkley had the added insult of an industry in which the drugging of show horses is common and almost systematic, and where many of those with pull and influence are happy to cover up the ugliness of it.  Berkley had promised her horse that she would tell his story, and that she wouldn't let him be forgotten, so despite many hardships, personal, financial and emotional, she continues to bring to light some of the abuses that are deemed 'common practice' within the show and performance horse industry.

The story is about a Half Arabian gelding that was shown in halter and western pleasure, but please believe me, this story could be set in the reining world, the Quarter Horse or Paint pleasure circuits, the hunter/jumper is about how some are willing to do just about anything to their horses to move up the ladder of earnings, points, buckles, trophies and garlands, and how higher-ups within the industry try to quash the controversies with lawyers and lawsuits, confidentiality contracts, and the Good Ol' Boy Club.  We have all seen it - the corruption often goes all the way to the top.  Equally appalling is how the general membership (of any association) participates in this dysfunctional and enabling 'trainer worship' that allows many to get away with callous acts in the name of winning and money.  You will certainly recognize the characters in the story because they are universal.

Berkley is angry about what happened to her horse, it shows in her writing.  And as well she should be - we all should be.  The horse industry has been plagued with similar incidents for a long time, and a change within our culture - for the better - is overdue.  Don't our horses deserve better than to be used and abused, and then discarded? 

I believe so - but it is going to take three levels of change:
1) Those who are actually using abusive methods need to see their actions for what they are, and resolve to change or get out.

2)  Those who don't abuse their horses or drug them, but turn a blind eye/justify it, need to be willing to speak out, publicly or privately, against practices that they know hurts horses and that they know is bad for our industry.  They need to find it within themselves to do the right thing, because ignoring the problems won't make them go away.

3)  Those who are in a position of influence need to take a proactive, public stance against those practices that damage the integrity of our breeds, our sport, and our competitions.

I am not of the belief that everyone who shows or competes on horses is abusive, or drugs them, or is to self-absorbed to care.  I know that there are many, many people who feel like I do - that it is an incredible gift to ride a great horse, and to work in partnership with that horse to achieve something, whatever that is.  That horses have the ability to teach us, empower us, lift us up, heal our souls and bring purpose to our lives.  Those of us (and there are thousands of you who will read this, according to my view counter) who love horses must work together to actively try and change the culture.  Not only will we be protecting the horses themselves, we will be protecting our lifestyle and viable future.

The first step - getting educated.....You can check out Judy Berkley's book and website here, at  I would also encourage you to take a look at her store, which has a collection of t-shirts, mugs, hats and bumper stickers that can help you declare your horse drug free.  I especially love the mug that says, "Bring back the 1979 Arabian horse" and the bumper sticker that says, "Unattractive, Unnatural, Just Plain Dumb - Peanut Rolling."  Also, if you read through the blog portion of her site, you will uncover the name of the trainer who abused her horse.

I would like to thank Judy for sharing Speedy's story, and commend her for having the guts to keep her promise to her horse.  I hope it inspires more people to speak up and name names.