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50 Years of Service: The Walking Horse Report



By Christy Howard Womack

In 1991, as the Walking Horse Report celebrated its 20th anniversary, publisher David L. Howard said, “You must commit yourself to certain principles and stick by them in good times and bad. There is absolutely no substitute for hard work and honesty . . . Your efforts will eventually be rewarded.” It was that commitment to those principles that have allowed the Walking Horse Report to thrive for the past decades, yes in good times and in bad.

Fifty years ago, an aspiring young journalist left the University of Tennessee to embark on a career that would touch all corners of the Walking Horse industry. In the early 1960s times were hard for Howard. He bused tables at the University of Tennessee Knoxville to earn his meals. He dreamed of a career in journalism. He wanted to be a sportswriter covering his beloved UT Volunteers.

To earn the money for tuition, Howard (my father) applied for a summer intern job in the sports department of the Chattanooga Times. That was the year of the lawsuit between rival Chattanooga publications, and all summer interns were suddenly cancelled at the last minute. Luckily the office of the Voice magazine was nearby and Bruce Spencer, it’s publisher, heard about the cancelled positions. Spencer offered Howard the chance to cover Tennessee Walking Horse shows and to sell advertising. Spencer also loaned Howard $500 each year towards his tuition, and Howard agreed to work full time once he graduated to repay the money.

For five years, Howard worked at the Voice. Spencer was a crusader against fixed horse shows, sore horses, false registrations and a myriad of problems that were the hallmarks of the industry at that time.

Howard put his journalism skills to good use, covering tough issues and learning the Walking Horse industry. He also made the sports page by writing a column for the Chattanooga Times called “Hoofprints.” The Walking Horse Report was born in 1971 and Howard declared his intentions in the first issue. “It is our intention to provide this industry with a factual and accurate news medium as well as a publication that is willing to take a stand on the complex and demanding issues of our breed . . . The time for neutrality has passed and the breed is at the crossroads.

Those who truly love the breed must now decide what they are willing to do to change the existing situation before it drags the industry to its knees,” wrote Howard.

A small group of twelve investors from eight states, including his mentor Randall Rollins, helped Howard with the opportunity to follow those intentions. Howard and his young wife Mary, moved my sister and I to Shelbyville, Tennessee in early 1972 when we were two and four. Jeffrey would be born three years later. They initially had only one employee and mom and dad were totally hands on.

“We did everything,” Howard said in an article from 1991. “We covered the shows, sold the ads, wrote the stories, laid out the ads, marked the copy for the printer, did the paste up, proofed. Mary even bundled the papers for the post office.” Howard did not turn away from the hard issues of the time – fixed horse shows and sore horses. He even received threats against his life, some anonymously and some face to face.

The first year the Walking Horse Report made $98. The important thing was that it ran in the black while sticking to its principles. Howard and the Walking Horse Report were committed to the Walking Horse industry – working closely with the Walking Horse Trainers Association and the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration along with all of the various organizations serving the breed through the years. Walking Horse Report was one of the three original premier sponsors of the Celebration and Howard later served on its board of directors. Howard was one of the original members of the Tennessee Walking Horse Commission, Howard also served as treasurer of the TWHBEA B Pac and served on its board of directors. The Walking Horse Report has been a corporate sponsor of the Walking Horse Owners Association for decades, and both Howard and later his children have donated time, money and effort to the Walking Horse Trainers Association.

The managing editors of the Walking Horse Report have helped to shape its fifty-year history. Sarah Coffee (Burks) was a dynamo of energy, covering unbelievable numbers of horse shows back when stories were typed on Varitypers and saved on disks the size of dinner plates. Later Janie Hugh ran a tight ship as the size of the staff grew and she developed staff members like Tracy Boyd, Kay Byrom, Steve Murphree, Tanya Hopper, Mark Davis, and many more. Today Chrystal Abernathy is at the helm working with Linda Scrivner, who has been with the Walking Horse Report since its start as a correspondent in Missouri, along with Julie Graham, Kasie Caldwell, Renee Lainhart, Emily Cortner, Sara Watts and Sarah Smith,  Long term employees in the design department like Robert Carter, recently retired Elaine Stacy, and Steve Morrow have all helped to write the “Dabora lore,” as it is affectionately called. “Once a part of the Dabora family, always a part of the Dabora family,” has been one of the principles of my mother and father upon which the Walking Horse Report was built.

Run as a small family-owned business, mom and dad were delighted to have each of their three children return to work for the company. I returned in 1992 and spent two years working in each and every department before becoming Publisher of the Walking Horse Report. My sister Jennifer served the walking horse industry through her leadership at World Champion Horse Equipment, and later Howard Promotions, where Jeffrey first returned to work and he later went on to take over the role of Publisher of Walking Horse Report, where he continues to tirelessly represent the walking horse industry in many of the same challenges our father faced fifty years ago.

“Working under my father for so many years allowed me to gain an understanding and appreciation for the importance of the Walking Horse Report in keeping our readers and the industry informed of what is going on and the challenges we’ve faced over the years and continue to face today. Our family loves and respects this industry and the people involved which makes it all the more important that we continue to fight for the future of this horse and doing what we can to provide the best path forward for the horse to not only survive but rather thrive. The Walking Horse Report will continue in the coming years to keep with its original mission and we look forward to what the future holds.”

Over the years, Dabora, Inc., grew to include many other publications in the American Saddlebred and Morgan horse industries, as well as the VIP magazines in cities across Tennessee and Kentucky, and my father expanded his business interests into many different fields from banking to real estate development, but none of this would have been possible if it were not for the Walking Horse Report.

My first job was in the little red barn at the Celebration selling subscriptions to the Walking Horse Report and distributing the hats that always came free with purchase. I can remember each year getting flowers on my birthday from Vic Thompson (as we had the same birthday) and spending time learning how to whittle. I can remember opening back up after the show and sitting out front to watch the horses being shown and sold in the old warm up ring. I worked with Elaine Stacy when I was very young running miles of paper - one column width of copy - through a wax machine. I answered the phones. I grew up at the Walking Horse Report. And after college and a few years of working at Arthur Anderson, I returned to the Walking Horse Report.

Janie Hugh knew I needed to understand the horse business better, and she took me to Buddy and Bobby Hugh who taught me how to ride, and to truly love the industry from the inside. This business has given me my career, and later my husband, Rick Womack. His father was one of the original twelve shareholders of Dabora, and I worked on the second and third edition of his book, The Echo of Hoofbeats, along with Dr. Bob here at the Walking Horse Report. (Mom had worked with him on the first edition.)

I am so proud of the 50 year history of the Report, and on behalf of our family, I would like to thank each and every one of you who have been a part of the Walking Horse Report history. Our readers, our advertisers, our critics, our fans – you have all meant so much to us and we hope to continue to serve the Walking Horse industry to the best of our abilities.

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