When I first see a cover image for this newspaper I like to write an instant headline in my mind. Usually it’s too long, inaccurate, or otherwise just doesn’t work. I took one look at this week’s image of six-month-old Olivia Born and I said to myself: “All I Want for Christmas is an iPod Nano.” Too long.

Back when we put together the November 23 cover story on the Camelot Stables horse auctions, I took one look at the cover photographs and saw the headline “They Sell Horses, Don’t They.” Again, too long. And what the hell does a reference to the 1969 Sydney Pollack movie about the financially desperate marathon dancers have to do with a country and western event on the edge of the New Jersey Turnpike?

I got to ponder the question in recent days, as we received various communications concerning that cover story. The Depression novel by Horace McCoy portrays the desperate straits of the marathon dancers from the point of view of the man who killed the Jane Fonda character and is awaiting execution. Asked why he did it, he compares it to the oddly humanitarian act of putting down an injured animal: “They shoot horses, don’t they?”

If some sensitive director were making that movie today, he might at that point choose to forget about the dancers, and turn his camera to the horses and their ultimate destiny. The letter from Ardeth Black, printed on page 2 of this issue, tells the story from the bright side. Thanks to auctions like the one in Cranbury, lots of horses find a home that otherwise wouldn’t. But an unsigned letter we received by E-mail tells of a darker side. Here it is:

“Dear Editor:

“As a true lover of horses, I am aghast at the sunny portrait you painted of Camelot Stables. As a reader of U.S. 1, I am appalled by the shoddy journalism which failed to uncover and reveal the true nature of the events and people described in the article. Let me just sum it up in one word: SLAUGHTER.

“There’s a difference between horse dealers and horse meat dealers. U.S. 1 ought to know the difference and its readers deserve to know the difference.

“A simple Google search will bring up the infamous ‘Horse Popsicle Case.’ Here’s how the story goes: David Carper was driving [his father] Frank Carper’s cattle truck to the slaughterhouse on a cold winter’s night and encountered engine trouble. Except when you’re talking about the Carpers [owners of Camelot Stables], you’re talking about horses, not cattle. A cop discovered 40 horses illegally crammed in the cattle truck, covered in frost. Carper was charged and fined $11,000 for his crimes.”

Quite a letter. My colleague, Barbara Fox, forwarded this E-mail to the owners of Camelot Stables and elicited a response from Monica Carper, Frank Carper’s wife. Herewith are excerpts:

“It is a shame that one of your readers has decided to badmouth the writer and the people described in the article without trying to uncover the true nature of the events and the people he wrote about.

“The real story goes like this: David Carper was driving Frank Carper’s custom-made for horses trailer to sell the horses that people no longer want or have use for because they are lame or unridable. He had engine trouble and pulled off to check the problem. A cop ‘discovered’ 36 horses in the trailer in good condition, properly loaded as to size and disposition. A local ‘vet’ (who could no longer practice) is called to ‘expose’ the ‘conditions’ on the truck. Except there are no ‘conditions.’ The horses are all fine, and are released to continue on and arrive safely at their destination.

“A fine was issued for three things, none of which had to do with the condition of the horses [one violation was for gates that were 12 feet apart rather than 10 feet].

“Horse dealers sell horses of all sizes, shapes, and descriptions, They care for and about the animals that they sell and are discouraged when they fall into the hands of people who don’t care for them. It is a shame that horses, or any animals, are injured through neglect or ignorance.

“Horse slaughter is a contentious issue and it will not be solved here today. However there are some questions that people should mull over. Why is it that the Humane Society collects tens of millions of dollars in donations for the advertising campaign to end horse slaughter and yet offers no solution to the problem of unwanted horses? Why are the people who starve and abuse horses seldom prosecuted? Why do people seem to automatically think that if a dealer buys a starving horse that he is sending it for slaughter? Why don’t they see all the ones that dealers saved with feed and care and sold again to someone who can take better care of them? Why aren’t all the race horse trainers who push their horses too far, too fast, and lame them prosecuted?

“No miracle will happen here just by saying stop horse slaughter. They still won’t have a place to go or someone to care for them. There is no easy answer to a lot of these questions. But maybe you have a solution. If so would you let everyone know?

“Also since the person who wrote the letter is a ‘true lover of horses’ they should give their name and address so someone can deliver all of the horses to their farm for them to care for, instead of sending them to slaughter.”

Quite a letter, quite a rebuttal. I guess the answer is yes, they do indeed sell horses. And I’m going to stay out of the way.

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