The Amish community at Seymour, Iowa has gotten criticism for a large horse auction held on April 2nd. Close to 500 attendees from seven states came to a trotting horse sale. The event was legally permitted at the time, as reported April 2nd by KTVO:
According to the state’s current COVID-19 guidelines, Gingerich was well within his legal rights to host the sale. Livestock auctions are exempt from Iowa’s disaster emergency proclamation, which prohibits large gatherings.
“Because they are part of the food production supply chain,” Reynolds told reporters during a press conference Wednesday.
Event organizer Ura Gingerich also agreed to follow safety measures:
Gingerich agreed to follow various safety precautions during his auction on Thursday. Public health officials conducted screenings at each entrance, requiring every visitor to provide their name and contact information.
“So that if there should be an outbreak, we would be able to reach out to these other communities, these other states, and they could do the same with us,” Fetters said.
Gingerich was also asked to sanitize his facilities frequently, and to put out hand sanitizer for buyers to use.
However, the Amish have since gotten blowback for the event, which occurred at a time when church was no longer being held in the community.
Jen Reed, editor at the Corydon, Iowa Times-Republican met with an area bishop named Levi Yoder to get his explanation. The bishop described the course of events leading to the auction being held.
It looks like conflicting information from different government bodies was involved:
The original sale date for the trotting horse sale was slated for March 18, however following the guidance from the Governor of Iowa Kim Reynolds, all gatherings of 10 people or more were to be suspended at that time. Following the cancelation of the auction, new guidance was released from the Department of Agriculture in collaboration with Iowa Department of Public Health stating auctions could be held following protective measures.
With the new guidance, Ura Gingerich moved forward with the horse sale on the scheduled date of April 2. Even with the Wayne County Board of Health and Public Health strongly opposed to the sale moving forward, the laws set in place were not in their favor to have the sale canceled.
“We are not set over the law and the law was ok with this,” Yoder added. “We were not for the sale, but being a bishop doesn’t set us over the law to cancel it. I had no rights to go over the law. If it was our rules, we would have been able to do something about it.”
So the sale went on:
“If they wouldn’t have told [auction organizer] Ura it was possible to have the sale, he never would have had it,” Yoder also stated. “The equipment could have been stored and the horse sale didn’t have to be then.”
By Wednesday afternoon, with concerns growing and attempts still being made to get the sale postponed, several horses consigned for the sale as well as those traveling from other states had already arrived into the Seymour area.
In an earlier meeting with members from the Wayne County Board of Health and Shelley Bickel, Wayne County Public Health Administrator, it was stated the sale would have 65 horses and approximately 100 people as Gingerich was unsure how to estimate numbers based on not knowing how many telephone calls had been made to spread by word of mouth. The bishops were unaware of consigned horses being added to the auction making the numbers go well over 100 horses being sold.
The bishops were also unaware of 1,600 sale fliers being printed and distributed to states as far away as New York, Ohio, Colorado, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and more. While it was stated they knew fliers were printed having received one in the mail themselves, at the time they were unaware how many had been sent out.
The bishop offered a pretty clear apology for the sale being held:
“Ura is part of our brotherhood and we cannot condemn him, but as far as us thinking it was alright and we supported it, we all knew it never should have happened,” said Yoder. “Ura has stated he never dreamed this would reach the news like it did and if he would have known, he never would have held it. He just figured with the support of the governor and the county with the law, it would be ok to continue.”
“He figured out it was not cool,” he added. “He even told his wife the night before the sale if he had known before what he knew at that moment the sale would not take place. He regrets it. The part that was not in his control was who chose to come from the other states, but what he did have control of was sending the fliers out.”
At the end of the day, the trotting horse sale did take place and the numbers of attendance were much larger than anyone anticipated. The common goal at this point is to move forward in our lives.
“If we could do something to fix this we would,” stated Yoder. “We sincerely apologize.”
“It was so backwards for the auction to take place when we cannot even have church,” he added. “We respect our law, but we want to put an apology out there. We don’t want to blame, but we apologize for what happened. We are trying to respect the laws with our schools and our churches.”
On the one hand, state bodies permitted this type of sale to take place, and they agreed to take recommended safety precautions, so they were within their rights to hold the sale.
At the same time, Amish involved here now wish this horse auction hadn’t happened.
It sounds like it got to the point where they felt it would be better to not have the sale…but it had gathered so much momentum that canceling it would have been very difficult.
They could have probably still done so, but there would have been a heavy cost to pay in terms of people’s time, resources, and their own credibility.
Also not mentioned in the above explanation (but stated in the KTVO video): Gingerich appeared to be under pressure to have the sale due to an impending move to Ohio.
This was revealed when health and legal authorities visited Gingerich prior to the sale to assess the situation.
We also can’t ignore that this public regret on the part of the Amish might at least be in part driven by the bad publicity this has gotten.
That said, the bishop sounds genuinely remorseful for the sale taking place.