See No Evil…

Recently, I was reading an online discussion about something that nobody likes to talk about – cheating and lying. In modern society, the two are so prevalent in all aspects of daily life that we become almost immune to the topic. From children cheating on school exams to executives lying about business matters, evidence of deceit is abundant in newspapers, on television news programs and online.

The equine industry is not exempt from unscrupulous people out to make a fast buck at someone else’s expense. If you’ve been around horses for any length of time, you probably have at least one story of someone who tried to, or did, take advantage of you, whether it’s a trainer, a veterinarian, an auctioneer, an agent or an owner. If you listened to and believed even half the stories circulating, you wouldn’t think there was an honest person to be found in the horse industry. Luckily, that isn’t the case and, for the most part, horse people are honest and prefer to do business with integrity.

In this particular case, the discussion revolved around proof that an individual had cheated a client. The rumors and hearsay that had been circulating for some time were verified. Some expressed shock that the rumors were true, others got their “told ya so” moments. But the reaction that surprised me the most was the person who said, “It’s none of my business.”

Now I agree that sticking your nose into someone else’s personal business is usually not a good thing. But when the dishonesty is a matter of public record, I believe it becomes our business, especially when it involves one of our own.

Anybody remember the Enron scandal? Last year, Forbes contributor Ken Silverstein wrote, “The company’s failure in 2001 represents the biggest business bankruptcy ever while also spotlighting corporate America’s moral failings. It’s a stark reminder of the implications of being seduced by charismatic leaders, or more specifically, those who sought excess at the expense of their communities and their employees. In the end, those misplaced morals killed the company while it injured all of those who had gone along for the ride.

“Surely, if there are profits to be made, some type of scheme that attempts to skirt the law or even cross boundaries will occur. It’s been that way throughout history. … And while Enron won’t be the last case of corporate malfeasance, its tumultuous tale did initiate a new age in business ethics.”

The moral failings of the individual Enron executives eventually affected the structure of corporate America. Ethics suddenly became a hot topic of conversation in conference rooms across the country. Nobody looked away and said, “It’s none of my business.”

The equine industry, as a whole, is our “corporate America.” It is up to us to make this industry into what we want it to be, and keep it that way. Do we want horse trainers to be known as shysters and crooks? No. Do we want veterinarians to be accused of keeping our horses going with too many drugs? No. Do we want owners accused of overlooking what is in the best interest of the horse in the pursuit of the next trophy? No.

We want transparency and honesty and integrity. We want a level playing field. We want to know that the “little guy’s” horse has as much of a shot at winning as the horse that comes from the big-name stable. We want those outside of the industry to look at us with respect, and to want to be a part of what we have.

To do that, we have to be willing to take the good with the bad. We have to be willing to promote the positive parts of our industry, but also acknowledge the negative aspects and be prepared to answer to them. We need to define our own code of ethics and apply it to our industry.

Silverstein continued, “Corporate codes are not charades. They are practical approaches to everyday situations. Meaningful cultures will implore workers to do the right thing. That means individuals are encouraged to come forward with their concerns and know they will be heard and acted upon. Such a system allows management to address and handle issues in a holistic way to ensure strong ethical health.”

The equine industry could use some ethical health as we deal with the controversial issues we face on a nearly daily basis – cloning, drug abuse, animal abuse, and yes, cheating and lying. Too many of us act like the three monkeys sitting in a row – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – and turn a blind eye to the improprieties of our industry, claiming it is “none of my business.”

I would argue that it is everybody’s business when an individual’s actions portray our industry in a bad light. We need to acknowledge it and act upon it, not only when it involves us individually, but because it affects the industry as a whole.