By Christy Howard Parsons

Tom Blankenship addressed the general membership of the Walking Horse Trainers Association at their May meeting held Wednesday, May 24, in the new WHTA building.

Blankenship thanked the WHTA for their support of the National Horse Protection Society and for the efforts their association is making to improve the image of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

“I am proud of the things you are doing and of the things your board is considering, things like a peer review process that they are discussing right now. You need to get out to the publications the things you have already done to improve your image,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship gave a brief overview of the National Horse Protection Society and its mission. “It irritates the hell out of me when this is called the Blankenship plan. I was asked to get a group of the best and brightest people across many different disciplines. I asked them what their advice was and how they made their programs work,” exclaimed Blankenship.

“The NHPS is an outgrowth of the old Show Horse Support Fund. There are eight people on the board, two of them are trainers, Jimmy McConnell and Bill Cantrell. We began back in October to develop information that would improve the regulatory process and improve the image of the Tennessee Walking Horse,” explained Blankenship.

“Since that time we have received endorsement from the Walking Horse Trainers Association, the Kentucky Walking Horse Association, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the National Horse Show Commission. We have the support of every performance regulatory equine discipline in the United States including the prominent veterinary schools and veterinarians,” said Blankenship.

“Our goal is to provide a medically correct definition of sore and to develop impartial, fair enforcement procedures that this industry is capable of handling,” explained Blankenship.

“The chief complaint we receive about the NHPS is that people want to know all the details about how we are going to do this. No one group has all the answers. That's why we are seeking representation from all the groups. We have notified all the organizations and we want to come up with the solutions,” Blankenship furthered.

“We have been focused on the compliance and enforcement issues so far. I am focused on making sure you know what the speed limit is and how to control your own destiny,” explained Blankenship.

“We are working to appoint four independent people to our enforcement board by June 12. We are asking for suggestions for four people, independent of any involvement in the Walking Horse industry, who are of the utmost integrity. Then we will get with the NHSC, Kentucky and the other groups that are supporting us and further refine the Operating Plan and what we plan to do.”

“There will also be a seven member Board of Governors who will meet quarterly. They will have involvement in the Walking Horse industry and they will have a Veterinary Advisory Committee to help answer questions and give input,” said Blankenship.

“Be advised. We have to be committed to eliminating the soring of horses. Dr. Gipson told us he would give us a chance to fix it, but that if we didn't, he would, and that we wouldn't like the way he was going to fix it. In the mission of the NHPS, eliminating the sore horse is not negotiable,” Blankenship said strongly.

WHTA President David Landrum thanked Blankenship for coming to explain and answer questions. He encouraged the trainers to consider the people who should be appointed to the Board of Governors and to the Enforcement Board.

Lonnie Messick also addressed the trainers saying that the NHSC is thriving having affiliated more than 200 shows so far this year. “Our number of shows will be even better than last year,” said Messick. “You are doing a great job presenting your horses,” said Messick to the trainers. “We have made a commitment to improve our image. Things are going good. We are not there yet. We won't get there overnight, but we are improving,” he explained.

Messick stressed that once again there would be a veterinarian and a steward monitoring the show grounds as well as the warm up ring. “We still have room to improve on policing ourselves.”

The trainers have recently sent out the renewal letters for trainers licenses which included an awareness letter regarding the image of the Tennessee Walking Horse, as well as a notice regarding license fees. Licenses purchased before June 1 cost $110. After June 1, a WHTA trainers license cost $250.

In the 2007 application to renew a trainer's license, trainers will have to sign a statement indicating that they have read and understood the Horse Protection Act and the Operating Plan. The WHTA is committed to providing these materials to every trainer.

Billy Thomas updated the trainers on the administrative items of the association. The annual mortgage payment on the building was made for May 2006 and the next payment won't be due until May 2007.

Thomas also explained that the Rider's Cup was thriving. All divisions are sponsored, and the program has picked up 10 new shows already. Currently the program has $34,000 through May. Entries have been down at many of the spring shows, which does impact monies, but with additional horse shows, the program is healthy.

There was some discussion at the meeting about the current negotiations with the USDA for the 2007 Operating Plan.

“We are encouraged about the progress of the Society, but we can't forget where we are right now,” said President David Landrum. “We have to present horses tomorrow night. We have to work within our current system to negotiate the new Operating Plan.”

The group of 25 trainers present at the meeting discussed with Messick, who is negotiating the Operating Plan for 2007 on behalf of the National Horse Show Commission, the various details of the Operating Plan.

Landrum said, “It is going to be a hard task to keep the Operating Plan that we have. We want to sign a new plan for five years. Any changes that need to be made need to come forward now. The next meeting of the HIOs is June 12-13. Niels Holch wants to meet with all the organizations he represents so that we can speak with one voice. One organization is not responding to his requests to meet, and this is becoming a problem. I encourage everyone who is a member of TWHBEA to be at Saturday's meeting and encourage them to work with us in negotiating the 2007 Operating Plan.

The next general membership meeting of the Walking Horse Trainers Association will be August 22 immediately before the 2006 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.