Why It’s Important to Get Involved in Government

What do you mean I can’t keep my horse in a barn next to my house?
Why can’t we get the medicine for my horse that we used last year?
Nobody is going to tell me how to

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What do you mean I can’t keep my horse in a barn next to my house?
Why can’t we get the medicine for my horse that we used last year?
Nobody is going to tell me how to transport my horse.
What do you mean my horse can’t drink out of the stream/brook/river that goes through my pasture?

What do all of the above statements have in common? They are all reactions of horse owners/trainers/eventers, etc. to legislation or regulations that might be passed by non-equine people. These laws could adversely affect the equine-owning public and those who appreciate horses.

I think arguments about equine legislation are running on a wheel. The equine industry has been all too willing in the past to let somebody else govern its existence. We hear about legislation we dislike, and then make phone calls and write letters to our representatives at the local, state or national level to register how we would like them to vote or chastise them if they voted against our wishes. But, this is reactive behavior. We all should be proactive by helping to write the proper legislation and preventing unsound bills from even reaching the local government or the Congress of the United States.

How do we do this? At dinner the other night, my 33-year-old daughter, my son-in-law (slightly older) and I were discussing the frustration of the high percentage of income taken as taxes and, to our eyes, over-regulation that is many times noxious. My daughter commented that “you can only make a difference in your area.” My daughter was right.

There are many ways we, in the equine community, can get involved in legislation. You can get involved by being on your local planning/zoning boards or at least attending meetings when regulations on the area plan are being developed or modified. Knowing and supporting your local representatives to your region, state and even national governments also help. My best advice, however, is to find out who the real policy-makers are. As far as the Washington scene goes, the aides are the ones to contact or get to know.

The way you present your case or concerns to the policy-makers also makes a big difference. Put yourself in the position of the person you are contacting. He or she may have never even seen a horse or a horse farm before. He or she may also hear about hundreds of different issues on a daily basis. Barging into meetings, yelling complaints, using industry jargon and reasoning, and writing rude letters demanding changes would turn anyone off.

The way people react to you, and moreover the success of your intended goals, falls into the “communication” department. I believe that there are three main components of dealing with people: communication, education and caring. All three are needed and must work in concert or none works. The caretakers and caregivers of the horse should play an integral role in legislative development. These people need to be considered the experts, whenever and wherever regulation or legislation is being written. We have the knowledge to educate those responsible; we have the ability to get them the information they need; and we have the priority of ensuring the care and welfare of the horse.

Take the initiative; take the time to involve yourself at any level you can. Somebody said of the weather once, “Everybody talks about it but no one does anything about it.” Don’t let that happen to legislation and regulations that affect you and the horse industry

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Written by:

J. Clyde Johnson, VMD, is a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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