Watching the action: Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Mark Bellissimo, and Katherine Bellissimo watching the 2014 Trump Invitational Grand Prix at The Mar-a-Lago Club on January 5, 2014 in Palm Beach, Florida. Mark Bellissimo is CEO of Wellington Equestrian Partners (WEP) and founder of the Central Park Horse Show, held at Trump Rink in New York's Central Park; he and his wife Katherine are also founding shareholders in Tryon Equestrian Partners, developers of the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina, site of the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games. (File photo by Larry Marano/Getty Images for 2014 Trump Invitational Grand Prix)
President-elect Donald Trump may be perceived by many of his supporters as the champion of the working class, but he’s known in the horse world for hosting elite events like the Trump Invitational Grand Prix at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida and making possible the Central Park Horse Show at the Manhattan public concession he stewards, Trump Rink in Central Park. He can hand out trophies and sponsor watches with the best of them.
The horse world thrives thanks to a unique marriage between the real-world grassroots movers and shakers and a small group of “angel” benefactors. The grassroots is where the work gets done. The angels are the sponsors who fund charities, back events, buy the top horses our national teams require to be competitive, and open their showplace real estate to serve as horse show, polo match and fundraiser venues.
A trophy presentation by venue host Donald Trump for Grand Prix rider Jessica Springsteen (mounted) at the 2014 Central Park Horse Show presented by Rolex and produced by Chronicle of the Horse at Trump Rink in Manhattan; Land Rover was the official vehicle of the show and Jessica poses in front of two branding props promoting G. H. Mumm champagne. Two years later, Jessica’s father performed on Election Eve for Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Land Rover)
In England, the Duke of Beaufort loans his country estate, Badminton House, for the world’s premier horse trials each May. The Queen hosts the Royal Windsor Horse Show in her backyard. In America, we have benefited from the largesse of horse sport supporters like Jacqueline Mars in eventing, and even Ann Romney in dressage. Racing icon Marylou Whitney hosted the black-tie Whitney Gala fundraiser in Saratoga each August for years. In September, racehorse owner Barbara Banke gave her industry a night to remember when she opened her beautiful Stonestreet Farm outside Lexington, Kentucky as the site of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association awards ceremony.
Donald Trump is right up there on the angel list with these hosts and benefactors. Over the past few years, he has shown up at event press conferences to give his trademark thumbs-up signal. He has rubbed elbows and dropped soundbites with Jessica Springsteen, Kent Farrington and Georgina Bloomberg.
Winter Equestrian Festival CEO Mark Bellissimo is often photographed at Trump’s side. Bellissimo has been the lightning rod, the man with the Midas touch who has turned Wellington in January, Central Park in autumn and, most recently, Tryon International Equestrian Center all year round into end-of-the-rainbow travel and showing destinations for a new generation of equestrians. Show venues at Wellington and Tryon aside, Bellissimo has mastered the formula for promoting elite horse events and gaining the requisite publicity for success: hold an annual weekend event at a storybook destination where the public wants to go to have a look around--and be seen while they do it.
Most of the horses Donald Trump has seen lately have been police horses. During election protests, demonstrators attacked police horses. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Even with his willingness to allow horses to canter on his Mar-a-Lago sod or the logistics of covering a skating rink in artificial footing fit for Valegro, it's doubtful that Donald Trump’s horse shows were on anyone's minds when they voted for or against him last week.
In spite of hosting the elite events each winter and fall, the President-elect doesn't mention horses much in public conversation. The exceptions have been a few comments about the great Thoroughbred racehorse Secretariat. But would he know Cortes ‘C’ from Cedric, and can he pick McLain Ward out of a crowd? No one has those expectations of him; leave such real dedication to horse sports to the British monarchy.
A month after the election results woke us with a start, the world is chewing its nails over the staffing of the new administration that will soon set up in Washington. The horse world has every reason to nervous, as well. We don’t know how close horses themselves are to the heart of Donald Trump. We know that he has owned at least one racehorse in the past, but right now he doesn’t even seem to have a dog.
Getty Images photo: Ivanka Trump helped promote the Breeders Cup when it was held in New York.
As Donald Trump enters the White House, he will be faced with decisions about the welfare of thousands of horses in the United States. Much of his decision-making will no doubt be in the hands of policy drafted by his Cabinet appointees in charge of the departments of Agriculture and the Interior.
While President Obama had no overt horse-friendly agenda when he arrived in Washington, his administration managed to at least maintain the status quo on the primary issues. That didn’t mean that horse-related issues weren’t often in danger of taking a drastic turn against the mainstream sentiments of most horse owners.
There was a difference eight years ago. Obama had at least a short voting record on animal-related issues as a US Senator. But during his terms, key bipartisan legislation designed to benefit horses never made it to votes in Congress. Whether intentionally or not, key decisions of the executive branch under Obama kept horses alive, at least, by continuing to warehouse wild horses in the West and stymieing horse slaughter by denying funding for horse meat inspectors.
Regretfully, horses--especially wild ones--are still at risk in the United States and the return of horse slaughter is always just a court judgment or two away in several states. A cabinet-level mood shift after the transition could change the delicate threads that have maintained the status quo, equine style.
Let’s look at the key decisions on horses the Trump administration will face when it takes over in January:
When Trump was in St Louis for a debate with Hillary Clinton, his Secret Service agents investigated the Budweiser Clydesdales.
First of all, no one knows where Donald Trump stands on many horse-related issues because he has never held an office and never voted on anything. Without seeing his tax returns, we don’t know what animal-related charities, if any, he may support. After a lifetime of living in Manhattan and Palm Beach, who knows what misconceptions about horses and what they need for a quality life may be rooted in his mind?
One charity that took a stand against Trump during the election was the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), which endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
On the HSLF blog, Michael Markarian predicted that a disaster is awaiting animals in America under a Trump presidency: “Donald Trump...represents perhaps the greatest threat ever to animal protection policy making at the federal level. His campaign surrogates and the names being floated as possible Trump cabinet picks for the very agencies that oversee such policies include the most ardent anti-animal voices in the country. Advocates for puppy mills, factory farming, horse slaughter, and trophy hunting of rare species such as leopards and elephants would be at the steering wheel of a Trump administration.”
Issue 1. Horse Slaughter in the United States
Many people believe that horse slaughter is illegal in the United States. Think again. It is administratively suspended because of technicalities of the Department of Agriculture’s funding, but it has never been permanently outlawed. Simply put, there is no money appropriated for federal inspectors to oversee the slaughter of horses and the processing of horse meat in the current federal budget. That could change next year.
The role of a new Secretary of Agriculture is paramount in this area. Trump critics assure us that he owes a lot to factory-farm interests, and a new Secretary could very well sell Trump on the theory that opening slaughterhouses for horses would mean job creation. Adversely, the world market for horse meat, and stringent inspection requirements in Europe for meat additives and medication residues, could make horse slaughter a rather poor investment.
Would Donald Trump’s business acumen allow his administration to invest in the potentially poor payback of American horse slaughter?
The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 1214/H.R. 1942) has not come to a vote in Congress; in May of 2015 it was referred to committee, in this case the Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture. And there it has languished.
The SAFE Act does two things: 1) It amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to deem equine (horses and other members of the equidae family) parts to be an unsafe food additive or animal drug; and 2) It prohibits the knowing sale or transport of equines or equine parts in interstate or foreign commerce for purposes of human consumption.
Ideally, even if the SAFE Act never comes to a vote, reform will still be needed to determine policy for how bound-for-slaughter, and other "unwanted" horses are handled in transport and provided for, legally, when and if slaughter returns. An equine humane infrastructure would guarantee the safety and, if necessary, a humane end-of-life option for the nation’s unwanted and at-risk horses. Will the Trump administration dare to work toward an enlightened solution that values and respects all horses, including the discarded or disregarded ones?
Horse slaughter is a linchpin for other horse-related policies and reforms. Whether or not it returns to this country will determine the progress or decline of other areas where horse advocates have worked so hard during the Obama years simply to maintain the status quo and not lose ground.
Issue 2. Horseracing medication rule unification
Will Donald Trump consider racehorse medication to be one of the areas that should be left alone? He has pledged to decrease regulations across industries as an avenue to stimulation. What about the burning issue of a single national policy on medication rather than state-by-state laws?
One thing we can be reasonably sure of is that President-elect Trump must have someone on speed dial who will be well-versed in gambling legislation and its financial aspects, given his involvement in the casino industry. Perhaps there will be some new ideas in this area.
With an eye to reform, US Representatives Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced legislation known as H.R. 3084, or the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act, more than a year ago. It was referred to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing, and Trade. It has 75 bipartisan sponsors.
3. The Horse Protection Act
One of the highest-profile activities related to horses in the federal government actually affects a very small number of horses. For decades, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has struggled with the effective enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, which prohibits painful "soring" of Tennessee Walking horses in order to manipulate their gait and action for horse shows.
Efforts to pass laws through Congress to toughen the current Act were stymied by the political juggernaut of influential Congressional leaders from the states where Walking horses are popular and where reform efforts are unpopular. The well-intentioned Prevent All Soring Techniques (PAST) Act has hundreds of bipartisan sponsors, and nowhere to go.
In a dramatic end run around the opposition, the USDA announced plans this summer to implement some of the tenets of the PAST Act via amendment through Execution Action signed by President Obama, rather than going through Congress. Both the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) endorsed the move for executive action. Recently Congressman Ted Yoho, DVM, of Florida (R) also called for the revisionary amendment to be signed by the President before January’s transition of power to the Republicans.
Since President-elect Trump has vowed to reverse all of President Obama’s executive actions from the past eight years, there is a possibility that soring could be governed by much tougher laws, if only for a few weeks, and then be reversed.
The irony is palpable.
On the other hand, a new Secretary of Agriculture may be repulsed by the amount of money invested heretofore in unsuccessfully enforcing the Horse Protection Act, and simply impose the stricter regulations permanently. That could happen.
Or not, given that Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (R) will surely remain as Senate Majority Leader.
One poignant footnote to the PAST Act is that one of its chief sponsors, New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte (R) was not successful in her bid for re-election, and will not return to the Senate in 2017.
4. Wild horse protection (or eradication)
The final “big four” issue for horses in Washington is what the federal government is to do about the 40,000 or so feral horses and burros impounded by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). These horses are kept in temporary holding pens or permanent pastures that are either directly maintained by the BLM or managed by subcontractors whose land is used to house the horses.
Most attention is paid to the free-roaming horses and burros, many of whom are subject to periodic gathering by the BLM. That is where the public invests most of the emotional currency, both pro and con, but Washington is acutely aware of the deep financial and manpower obligations of both warehousing captives and managing the free-roamers.
In September, the Bureau of Land Management was faced with what many thought was the inevitable decision: to euthanize 45,000 wild horses. At $50 million per year, the equine warehouse system is simply unsustainable, the BLM’s National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board said.
However, it didn't happen and is not likely to happen, at least under the Obama administration; the BLM said it is committed to its program of rehoming the captive mustangs and burros. But part of the reason it was an unworkable solution to destroy the horses is because there is no horse slaughter system. In the early 20th century, millions of wild horses roamed the western states.
To take advantage of the surplus, large canned dog food and fertilizer processing plants flourished in the United States by slaughtering wild horses that were gathered off the range. There was no legislation and no one to stop them. By 1970, when grassroots horse advocates began campaigning to protect wild horses as legitimate wildlife with a place on the range, only 17,000 were estimated to remain in the wild.
Will it happen again? Could a new administration use the need to slaughter what it deems to be excess wild horses as a reason to build a new horse processing industry?
Unlike other issues, which fall under the USDA, the wild horse office of the BLM is part of the Department of the Interior. Names floated for Interior Secretary have included former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Donald Trump’s own son, Donald, Jr. Palin is an unapologetic advocate for energy exploitation and exploration--would she let the horses stop her? Donald Trump, Jr. made headlines for his endorsement of big game hunting.
Others under consideration for this very big job include Forrest Lucas, President of Lucas Oil Products.
If Lucas Oil sounds familiar, it should: it is title sponsor of the American Quarter Horse Association World Show, which is going on this week in Oklahoma. Company President Forrest Lucas also founded and now chairs the group Protect the Harvest.
According to the group’s website, “Protect the Harvest, under Forrest Lucas’ guidance, continues the fight against animal rights groups who want to end meat consumption, halt consumer access to affordable food, eliminate all hunting practices, and outlaw rodeos, circuses and pet ownership.”
One of Protect the Harvest’s action points related to horses is to limit the population of wild horses on public land.
Lucas has a lot of competition for the job. In addition to Palin, potential appointees include Jan Brewer, former governor of Arizona, and Wyoming Congresswoman (and ranch owner) Cynthia Loomis, who has spoken out against wild horses’ having a place on BLM land, in large part because of the damage a single-hooved animal does to the grass.
5. The “X” Factors
As stated previously, not much happened to change the horse world, federally speaking, during the eight years of President Obama. However, that can change at any time. The horse industry has made a tremendous comeback from the depths of despair where it foundered in 2008. That said, many federal policies not specific to horses could affect the way we ride. Gas prices are one of the most obvious, as are regulations between states for the transport of horses. Staffing of the USDA and Homeland Security offices affects how horses are handled in many situations, including natural disasters and disease outbreaks.
The Department of Interior decides whether or not horses are allowed on trails on federal land. Funding of land grant universities and equine research affects our extension programs, 4-H, and veterinary schools. There are dozens of environmental statutes that could be tightened or loosened to affect how horses are housed, pastured, transported and medicated.
Keep an eye on the picks for heads of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency, as well, since the dispensation of oil and mineral exploration/mining/drilling rights on public lands would no doubt also affect wild horses.
Who’s horse friendly on the list of Trump’s potential appointees? Who is not? So far, it is almost impossible to know, and it’s not likely that we will know until the new leaders start their work and show some of their cards. Let’s hope there are some horse lovers on the list, or that the real Donald Trump turns out to be one himself.