Roy Exum: The Genesis Awards Really Matter

Sunday, March 17, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

There will be a huge Hollywood gala at the Beverly Hilton this Saturday night and I’m told that if I want to show up and mix with some of the most famous people in the country, there is a seat for me at the table. My complimentary tickets will be waiting at the door.

The Genesis Awards brings out the best of the film makers, TV personalities and other media types to mix with Hollywood stars, all who are intent to raise the public’s awareness of animal issues. It’s an A-list deal. One of the feature films that is a finalist is “Big Miracle,” a stunning story from Universal Pictures about whales, but a far bigger miracle is that I am included for a series of columns I have written on the ongoing plight of Tennessee Walking Horses the world over.

Normally I would not dare mention the fact I am a finalist, along with the great New York Times writer Nicholas D. Kristof, who this year wrote a lively piece entitled, “Is An Egg For Breakfast Worth This?” But today I do because if the Tennessee State Legislature has its way, there may not be any more Genesis winners from Tennessee and animals in our state will once again suffer.

Our state Legislature has on its calendar a bill that will prohibit undercover cameras or surveillance devices on farms across the state. Obviously an undercover tape like the one that showed Jackie McConnell on ABC’s Nightline would now be outlawed by our lawmakers and the vile men who torture and sadistically abuse animals would have a new and decided edge against getting caught.

State lawmakers in Indiana, Nebraska, California, Arkansas and Pennsylvania are also considering ”farm privacy acts” in a loathsome testimony against those who would abuse all animals. Unlike the Oscars, there are some award-winning films at the Genesis Awards that will make you sick and – what’s this? – in Tennessee there are some of our elected officials who want to blame the cameras instead of the criminals.

The “privacy bill” is being promoted by the very ones who have gotten caught and is backed by the “Shelbyville slime,” a pocket of sleazy operators who appear intent to continue soring horses and defying the federal Horse Protection Act as they have done for half a century. Shelbyville is home to the walking horse world’s annual Celebration and is now infamously recognized around the country for its role in horse abuse.

The Humane Society of the United States, the nation’s top veterinary groups and many other animal-watch organizations are convinced that horse abuse is still rampant in Tennessee – a fact best evidenced by an actual legislative bill to ban undercover cameras for farms. The bill’s sponsors say something like, “No …  it’s not like that. We just feel the public can’t understand why some animal husbandry might appear cruel when it really isn’t.”

Oh, please! For the first time in history, federal prosecutors brought criminals into the court in 2012 who quickly admitted guilt, got their wrists slapped and were set loose. There is now a state law that makes horse abuse a felony with sentencing between one and five years but, unbelievably, when violations of the law were found at the National Celebration in Shelbyville in August, not one arrest was made.

To date, there has not been one arrest under the new state law but, with the show season starting, the same scofflaws are back in place. Last year in Federal Court several who pleaded guilty explained how soring an animal works and one said that if a trainer doesn’t use sadistic methods, the gentle horses cannot be trained to do the desired “Big Lick,” a gait that is unnatural and nauseating.

Believe it or not, the tightly-knit Shelbyville group could easily win a Genesis Award and become a great advocate of the horse but, instead, the now-repugnant leadership had rather fight the Humane Society, the Department of Agriculture and anybody else who threatens to expose the tortured horses that – quite mysteriously – seem to die of “colic” at a young age.

While I am humbled and flattered to be among those invited to the Genesis Awards, I’ve already been awarded far too much in an endless stream of emails from all over the country. While my voice is a small one, the Internet search engines have caused a simple drop to become a great wave of good and decent horse people from across the country. That is all I could ever want.

But if I hadn’t seen the Jackie McConnell tape, and hadn’t read somewhere the same lout was coming to Chattanooga for sentencing, I would have never written the first article that asked all of my friends not to be nice to such a lout. McConnell, I quickly discovered, has a history of violations for over 30 years and the Trainer’s Hall of Fame is filled with those who have openly violated the Horse Protection Act.

And as I delved into the seedy side of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, it was unfathomable to me that people have turned a blind eye towards the cruelty and the scurrilous thugs for over half a century. This summer the onslaught will continue and today there are bills in Congress specifically targeted at the “Big Lickers” who have so sullied one of our nation’s greatest animals.

Again, I am flattered to be a finalist for a prestigious Genesis Award this Saturday night but what I really want is for the Tennessee State Legislature to throw out the “Farm Privacy Act,”  or whatever it is, and for Congress to back laws against animal abuse.

Who would have ever thought we would have to create a bill not to hurt a horse?

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