"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

HOW YOU CAN HELP - Writing Letters, Part 1: Language Use

It seems that horse abuse cases abound, and that even though we're making progress and helping animals, there always seems to be someone out there who is going to continue to abuse them in another horrific way.

However, because of the World Wide Web, we can now learn more about what's going on much quicker than we ever could with magazines, books and newspapers. We are also given more resources so we are able to express our opinion to those who have the power to stop such criminals, or at least keep them from having venues where they can continue to commit such horrible acts.

A few days ago, a friend sent me a letter she wrote to the judge presiding over the
Cleve Wells case that I commented on a few posts ago. She asked for our opinion on what it said. So, being the English major that I am, I kicked into technical editing gear and edited her letter. She suggested I help explain to people how to write effective letters to get the message across as a guest blogger on some other horse blogs I read. But I thought heck, I've got my own blog--I'll post it here!

So, I'm writing this three-part series to help everyone out there write a proper letter and/or email to authorities about abuse cases and other important ethics of society that anyone may feel compelled to write about. While there is no guarantee that your letter will be followed or even read, there are certain steps you can take in your letter to make it more likely that the authority you send your letter to will listen and even be prompted to act.

Writing Letters, Part 1: Language Use

As an English major and a technical editor, I have learned that words are powerful. They can help, hurt, educate, and decimate just about anything. I'm not just talking about the occassional potatoe misspelling, either. Think about amazing speeches that people have made, how contracts and documents can change the shape of the world, or even how your parents talked with you when you did something wrong. All of these can create a lasting impression, whether positive, negative, funny, or sad. It's up to us and how we use those words as to how our point will be viewed.

So, it's important to remember that words do have power, so how you use them is extremely important. In my experience in dealing with soring, I have learned that screaming at people that they are wrong and they don't know what they're talking about gets me nowhere. That person is either going to fight back or they are just going to walk away, thinking you don't know what you're talking about. Instead, I found that being calm and rational helps others to feel the same, and suddenly their ears are open. I have gotten to talk with people high up in horse organizations and they have listened, and I have even had a famous trainer call me personally to ask me for advice--ME! I was shocked! But this communicated to me that the way I was expressing my feelings and attacking the problem was the right way to go.

The following tips relate to how best to use words when you are writing your letter.

Tip #1: Avoid malicious language. Accusing people directly, calling them names, or using language that can make them angry or upset ("Are you blind?" "What are you, an idiot?") is not productive. In fact, it can quickly turn someone off to your cause. I have physically deleted emails that were written that way toward me. It didn't matter what the point was--I wasn't going to take that written verbal abuse. The same can happen to you.

Tip #2: Avoid dramatic language. We are all passionate about horses, of course. However, our passion needs to be kept in check. Avoid language like "this absolutely must stop right now" or "think about how the horses feel." Capital letters, should be avoided, as THEY GIVE THE IMPRESSION THAT YOU'RE SHOUTING. Remember that you are writing to an audience that may not even know much about horses or care about animals one way or another. If we start begging for the horse, then we can suddenly be seen as a wacko tree-hugger who has nothing better to do than send crazy letters.

Tip #3: Use language that is direct and to the point. Do your best to stick to the point. Remember, whomever you are writing to probably gets thousands of emails and letters a day. That person probably has to weed through a lot of it to get to what's important to their job. So be sure your letter is short and direct. This will make for easy reading for the receiver.

Tip #4: Back up your claims with facts. Facts will always stand over hearsay and rumors. Don't say "I heard" or "A friend told me"--be able to say "I read in such-and-such article that...." Include links to websites, or, if the information can all be fit on one page, include pictures or quotes from where you got your information from.

Tip #5: Don't tell people stuff they already know. Remember that if you are writing to someone who is working on the case, such as a judge or DA, they will already know the main facts. You don't have to retell them. Reference the case once at the beginning of the letter, and then get straight to the point of what you want to say. The same goes for the head of a horse organization. If you are alerting someone to the problem that may not already know about it, you can give a little more than just a quick statement that you are referring to the case.

Tip #6: Don't reference anyone except yourself unless you have a real quote to back it up. For example, don't say things like, "Both me and my friend next door think...." Unless you have their permission to say it, or you have a petition to go along with your letter, then don't talk about others. Make the words your own--they will stand strong just fine. Direct quotes can be used, such as quotes from articles or videos about the case.

Tip #7: Don't make assumptions. Don't assume that your friends will back you on this, that the general public thinks this is wrong, or that you think such-and-such horse organization agrees with you. Once again, make the words your own. You are here to express how you feel about a situation and why you feel it, not to express how you think others feel.

Tip #8: Be sympathetic yet firm about the situation. For example, you can say "I understand that you are busy, so I won't take up much of your time." Then keep your letter short and to the point. Or you can say "I understand that you might not be aware of the implications of horse abuse." You can follow those kinds of statements with very firm ones. "Statistics show us that animal abuse leads to people abuse--many convicted serial killers were known to 'practice' on animals before they started on humans." Or be firm about their position in society. To a judge up for re-election: "The newspaper and online articles indicate that the community where this happened is outraged at the lack of progress in resolving this matter, which could jeopardize those in positions of importance that are dealing with the case."

Tip #9: Don't be afraid to ask for help when writing your letter. Have someone else read your letter for you and give suggestions, or go to a friend who's already written a letter and ask for ideas on what to talk about. Don't copy someone else's letter word for word, however. You don't want the recipient to receive the exact same letter only from different senders. Make your letter your own, just as you make your words your own. This has far more impact than a generic, sign-your-name-here formatted letter.

Tip #10: When you finish your letter, set it aside before mailing it and reread it later. It is important to step back and then reread the letter later. Give yourself at least an hour if not about half a day to let the letter sit and stew. All of your feelings are now on paper, so you can afford to stop and reassess. Not only will you be better apt to catch spelling and grammar mistakes, but you'll also be able to focus on how you used your words and whether or not they are effective or need to change. There's nothing worse than firing off an email without having reread it first and realizing you've misquoted someone or you have even emailed the wrong person.

The following is my letter that I wrote to the World Equestrian Games regarding whether or not they will be allowing the exhibition of TWHs at their venue. To give you some background, the 2010 WEG is being held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Due to the proximity to Tennessee and that other American breeds will be showcased, TWHBEA approached WEG about showcasing TWHs during the breed demonstrations at the games. Originally, because of the continued debacle that is the sore horse, WEG said no. But TWHBEA kept pushing. Here is the letter I wrote to ask them to keep Big Lick and all padded horses out of the WEG.

Silver Phoenix Ranch, LLC

October 23, 2008

Ms. Holley Groshek
Director of Administration
2010 World Equestrian Games Way
Lexington, KY 40511-2010

Re: Equine Demonstrations of the Tennessee Walking Horse

Dear Ms. Groshek:

My name is Andrea Ohnstad, and I am extremely excited about the World Equestrian Games (WEG) of 2010 being held in the United States at the Kentucky Horse Park. This is an amazing opportunity for the horse industry in general and for breeds to be showcased so attendees can learn more about the riding and ownership opportunities available for all breeds.

As an owner and advocate of Tennessee Walking Horses (TWH), I would like to express a serious concern that is prevalent in our breed. I imagine that you are aware of the serious issue of soring, the practice of using chemical or mechanical means to cause a TWH pain in his front limbs in order to lift his legs higher for more animation of the gait in the show ring. This practice is currently found to exist in the show ring, particularly with the Performance or “Big Lick” horse. These horses are forced to carry stacks of pads on their front feet in order to exaggerate the natural, smooth gait for which the breed was originally bred. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) passed the Horse Protection Act (HPA) in 1970 to address this very issue, but soring is still prevalent. USDA statistics and recent evidence available on various websites show us that it is still the main form of training TWHs for the show ring. There is also evidence that Plantation and Heavy-Shod TWHs suffer from further forms of soring such as pressure shoeing or road foundering, where pain in the foot is achieved through mechanical means so the horse will lift his legs higher.

I would like to request that the committee tasked with selecting horses for breed demonstrations consider not allowing Performance or Plantation TWHs to perform at the 2010 WEG. I believe that the chances of a sored horse being showcased are too great for the WEG to take a chance on. In addition, the Performance and Plantation horses are a very poor representation of the breed. The exaggerated gait is considered unattractive by the general public when they see it, whether or not they know about soring. It would behoove all representatives of the WEG if the public were exposed to the natural, sound gait and versatility for which the breed was originally developed rather than an outdated, inaccurate and awkward representation of a very majestic and noble American breed.

If you need help with finding quality horses to showcase at the 2010 WEG, I suggest contacting the National Walking Horse Association, Inc. (NWHA), whose home office is located directly on the Kentucky Horse Park grounds. I also recommend Friends of Sound Horses, Inc. (FOSH) as another resource for sound, naturally gaited TWHs. I am a member and volunteer on committees for both organizations, and I find that their ethics, show venues and efforts to educate the public are exemplary and worthy of worldwide public exposure.

If you need additional information or have any questions, feel free to contact me directly at the below contact information. I am more than happy to provide any help I can. Thank you very much for your consideration of this request.


Andrea Ohnstad
Silver Phoenix Ranch, LLC

cc: Maggie Daniels, WEG Equine Relations and Special Projects Coordinator
David O’Connor, USEF President
Carrie Mortensen, Director Breeds and Western
Jack Kelly, WEG 2010 Foundation CEO

I don't know what kind of impact my letter had, but I did get a personal email response from one of the people involved with the WEG saying they would make sure my letter got to the right person. That meant a lot in that I know someone seriously considered what I had to say. That is the goal all of our letters should have: to make an impact on someone so that action is taken.


Colste Stables said...

I have enjoyed reading your blog lately. Your "Writing Letters" post is a wonderful idea. We have a TWH mare that is 8 years old. She was on pads and showing until she was 7 and they were not removed until a few months before we bought her. She has scars, lumps, and bumps from soring on her lower legs. Her hoofs were built up so much that her heels were several INCHES above normal! You can read her full story at my blog. I am interested in helping out for this cause in whatever ways I can. I am located in Knoxville, TN. Thanks!

Colste Stables said...

Thank you for your comment. We have looked at Champagne Watchout as a possible choice but haven't made our minds up. We have the opportunity to breed her to The Pushover as well. I am pushing for more of a versatility type baby while trying to pull my boyfriend away from the stackers. What are your suggestions?

mytwh said...

Hi! I came on here after FHOTD. Great site and good tips on writing. Thnaks!!!

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