When the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games come calling at your doorstep (7.5 miles from home at the Kentucky Horse Park, to be exact) it is almost obligatory to write about the event. The difficulty is that most of the legal issues associated with the Games are interesting only to attorneys: the legal wrangling involved in bringing the games to Kentucky in the first place, the vastly different reactions from riders and non-riders to the liability waivers required for all volunteers, the decision-making that allowed some exhibitors to have booths at the Kentucky Horse Park but relegated others to off-site locations.
Thank goodness for FEI president H.R.H. Princess Haya Bint al Hussein
The Games got off to a rousing start at the Horse Park on Saturday evening with a three-hour celebration of everything equine. The governor and the mayor welcomed everyone to Kentucky and Lexington, respectively, and Princess Haya officially opened the games. (To complain that the Games already had started with a session of reining earlier in the day would be undeserved nit-picking.)
Princess Haya spoke eloquently about a lifelong love for horses and horse sports that spanned continents and oceans and she recognized the pivotal role horses played in the development of commerce and culture in the United States. Over the years, she said, Americans have found many "reasons to give thanks for their horses." Among those horses, she added, are "the wild mustangs that still roam in parts of the American west."
It was the high point of the evening. Unfortunately, Princess Haya was preaching to the choir.
Not everyone shares her heartfelt sentiments about the mustangs. For some people, wild horses have become just another commodity to be "managed" rather than an important part of our cultural heritage to be cherished and protected. Even more troubling, it appears that at least some of the threats to America’s wild mustangs are coming from the very people charged with protecting them. And our lawmakers don’t seem to be doing much to help.
We all wear blinders from time to time and there is a strong tendency to see the world as we want it to be rather than as it actually is. When there is an obvious problem, like the plight of the wild horses, we optimistically expect an obvious solution. Legislation is proposed on an almost daily basis and every bill that seems to solve a problem that interests us is greeted with much fanfare. Then nothing happens.
When it comes to Congress, nothing happens a lot.
The general inaction of Congress when it comes to the welfare of horses and other animals is a constant source of frustration. Statistically, though, the success of any particular bill is a long shot. The Sunlight Foundation, a proponent of transparency and accountability in government, tracked every piece of legislation introduced during the 110th Session of Congress, from January 3, 2007 through January 3, 2009. The numbers are sobering:
A total of 11,059 bills were introduced (3,724 in the Senate, 7,335 in the House of Representatives);
Of those, only 442 bills actually became law (134 introduced in the Senate, 308 in the House);
Only four per cent of the bills introduced became law.
The Restore Our American Mustangs Act (ROAM) defied the odds in the House, passing last summer by a roll call vote of 239 Ayes, 185 Nays, 9 Present But Not Voting. The bill did not fare as well in the Senate, where it has languished in committee since August 2009. And committee, the Sunlight Foundation found, is the usual burial ground for legislation.
Princess Haya is on target and we should take her sentiments to heart. We should give thanks for all the horses, the ones competing at the Games and at A-level shows and at county fairs; the ones standing in the fields and roaming the range; the ones too old or infirm to work. That does not seem like too much to ask of our legislators, or of ourselves.