by Jeffrey Howard

With the performance horse under siege from media outlets across the country, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) Executive Committee met in its July meeting to discuss the joint response issued by TWHBEA, the Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) and the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA).

“In last year’s annual meeting, Sid Baucom told us the performance horse was under attack and it still is,” said Bob Ramsbottom. “The US News and World Report article was a classic case of over the top and sensational reporting and I am proud we can say it is not true and point out the parts of the article that are false.”

“We were told at the semi-annual meeting during a break that we would be attacked during the timeframe of July 15 through August 15 and we now see it happening,” said Jamie Hankins. Chris Bobo expressed his frustrations. “We have ethics committees within most major industry groups and these people choose not to report anything to these committees but would rather go to the media. I don’t understand this.” Ramsbottom reminded everyone, “Very few people keep fueling this fire and aren’t doing this association any favors.”

To this point, Debra Jack questioned the association members quoted in negative industry articles. “Do these comments go against their oath as a National Board Member?” Joyce Moyer recommended that a letter be sent to these board members reminding them of their oath. At this point the discussion was tabled to be discussed in an afternoon executive session.
(Editor’s note: No action was made available from this executive session, nor the earlier executive session called by the Executive Committee to discuss a legal matter.)

President David Pruett, a signatory to the industry response, thanked everyone involved in the media response and made it known that it was a joint effort of an industry “media group” and would be continued in the future as more attacks are launched.

Pruett also welcomed the new staff members, including new Director of Marketing and Programs Chris Coffey. Monday (July 21) was Coffey’s first day. “We need you badly,” said Pruett, referring to the new staff. “We have a very busy month and a half ahead of us that we have been planning for. I urge each of you [executive committee members] to help each other out and chip in and do whatever you can to help in other areas. Please do your best to attend as many of our events as you can and be available to answer questions our members may have.”

In Stan Butt’s report, he alerted the executive committee members that TWHBEA was now a member of American Horse Publications and any releases will go out through their network of horse publications, a good way to spread positive industry news. Butt also alluded to the pending American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) alliance partner agreement and has asked industry veterinarians Mike Harry, John Bennett and Jim Baum for any help they can provide with AAEP Board Members they may know.

Speaking of positive press releases and any national coverage the Tennessee Walking Horse may receive, Ramsbottom pointed out the question on a recent episode of Jeopardy. “What is the only equine breed capable of an overstride?” Ramsbottom pointed out not only the question but that he was astounded that the contestant correctly answered the question: the Tennessee Walking Horse.

Several items were also reviewed in old business. TWHBEA is trying to move forward with the Tennessee Walking Horse Book project with Robin Hood and will seek 12 sponsorships. They need four corporate sponsors at $25,500 and eight sponsors at $17,500. Nicole Carswell briefed the committee on the upcoming European Championships and European Futurity. She pointed out the major difference between the United States Futurity and European Futurity is that in Europe they don’t ride two-year-old horses. Also, TWHBEA will look into an exchange program with international youth.

The Betty Freeman Show on Aug. 15, 2008, will have all proceeds go to the youth scholarship fund. The Executive Committee passed unanimously a motion to continue to award the eight $2,500 scholarships, even though funds at the present time don’t cover this commitment. The Walking Horse Report has agreed to donate one-half of one of its youth scholarships to the TWHBEA Youth Scholarship program and award it jointly to an industry youth.

Other programs being considered are the commemorative garden pavers, membership discount programs and a horse rescue program in Kentucky. The level of sponsorship and participation at the 2010 Equestrian Games has not yet been decided but will be in the near future.

The annual membership meeting has been set for Lewisburg with the National Board Meeting to be held at the headquarters as well. The banquet will move back to the Cool Springs Marriott after a brief one-year stint at the adjacent Embassy Suites. Several Executive Committee members asked for the annual meetings to be in Franklin so as to avoid the drive from Franklin to Lewisburg but no meeting rooms are available at the present time at the Cool Springs Marriott.

The following committee reports were given.

IPEDS has dominated the committee’s attention and continues to be a major focus with the update and ease of use for members a major goal. About 20 percent of the 2008 show results are in iPEDS at the current time and they are continuing to update show results. Past years’ show results are a priority as well and TWHBEA will negotiate with Walking Horse Report to update the program with the missing years of 2006 and 2007 and the incomplete results from 2002 to present. Sale also notified the group of the willingness of the Silver Springs Foundation to help with the sponsorship of the 2010 Games.

Also, Sharon Brandon reported that the registry is getting caught up and better organized. “We aren’t totally caught up but we are in good shape,” said Brandon.

Horse Shows
The Futurity is right around the corner and is the focus of the horse show division. Bill Stricklend announced the 18-class program and pointed out the addition of the extended gait class at this year’s show. The Silver Springs Foundation donated $25,000 to the Futurity, $10,000 toward the premiums in the extended gait class and $15,000 for a sponsorship of the show. This year’s extended gait class will be the first one judged by a Celebration judging panel. “It will be interesting to see our judges evaluate this class,” said Stricklend. “Can we speed up the show?” asked Inman. “Not all of the stallion exhibitions will be live this year, some will be on video, which should help,” answered Butt. “It is going to be hot and long,” said Stricklend.

An issue put before the committee was the funding of the show. The cost of putting on the show is approximately $25,000 and at the current time sponsorships are around $22,500 which allowed the committee to vote unanimously not to restore the funds from the show liability account that were moved last year into the general fund. Should the funding fall short for the show, the nomination account will not be touched, but rather the general fund will make up the difference.

Joyce Moyer successfully asked the committee to allot funds to allow for a horse to be at both the Ohio and California Equine Affairs. Moyer also commented on the wonderful help of Linda Starnes at the National Trails Day.
On a negative note, Moyer brought to light another negative article about the Tennessee Walking Horse in the current edition of American Farrier Journal titled “Soring Issue Still Festers.” The article pointed out from so-called industry “experts” that the statistics being issued from the industry are wrong and reported percentages are using all horses instead of just padded horses. Moyer asked for a response to be generated by the industry and to ask for equal time in these publications.

Moyer also presented a member insurance program which would allow all TWHBEA members to buy discounted health insurance. This could be a potential clinic topic at this year’s Celebration.

Performance Horse
Connie Hess found her division to be the topic of the meeting. Hess attended the Owingsville show and Asheville show which gave her an opportunity to make observations from both. “The fear in Owingsville was not the USDA, but who was there from the USDA and the attitude with which they came,” said Hess. “In Asheville, the attitude was better. However, there is no consistent inspection from week to week.”
Hess was appreciative of the response generated by the industry and was hopeful that both sides of the story would be told in the future. She asked for the shoeing video to be placed on the TWHBEA web site as a reference tool and educational piece for those doing research. “I would like your ideas on how to promote the performance horse with the limited funding we have,” pleaded Hess. Moyer immediately recommended bringing the performance horse to the public at events other than shows.

Pleasure Horse
The World Versatility Show is coming up Aug. 1 and 2 and will be held in conjunction with the Pleasure Horse International. Diana McMurtrey reported that with the volunteer work of members the show should break even in 2008. Multiple sponsorship levels are being looked at to continue to bring in funds for the show.

Hankins reported that he and Pruett had taken to the National Horse Show Commission the specialized judging designation for those judges signed up through the TWHBEA judging program. Pruett was successful in getting the fee reduced from $200 to $50 for reinstatement under the program.

Overall, this division is rather quiet; however, the sub-committee formed to look at the suspension issue as it relates to eligibility of National Board Members and Executive Committee members is meeting July 22 to address the missing components in the bylaws of TWHBEA. The sub-committee is a diverse one and promises to be one that has a lot of different ideas on how to solve this problem.

Also, passed during the meeting was anything less than a full adult membership does not qualify an individual for membership of the National Board. Membership on the board requires five consecutive due-paying years from that member.

The month of June continued the trend of beating budgeted figures. A budgeted loss of $11,152 was bettered by $32,532 posting a positive net gain in the month of $21,380. For the year, the association has a net gain of $137,208 which according to Inman “can be attributed to the generosity of our membership through donations of money and time.”

What is very interesting is comparative figures to 2007 which to this point had revenues of $2.6 million as compared to this year’s revenue of $1.8 million. But stressing Inman’s point of “continuing to run our business with the cash we bring in,” the association has spent $1.2 million less this year than last year.