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2010...A Challenging Year!



An editorial by David L. Howard

“True change never occurs
Until the pain of change is less than
The pain of staying the same”

There is a lot of conversation about SHOW’s $100 horse card and justifiably so.  They have done a poor job of explaining what the money is being used for…but more about that at a later time.

More importantly, we need to take stock of where this industry stands at the start of a new year and where it is going.  Like it or not, the Walking Horse industry, by almost any objective measure, is in a free fall.  The numbers from our national organizations are in a steady decline and its time to face some unpleasant facts if the industry is going to turn around.

The TWHBEA is a strong measure of the industry’s health and they report unprecedented declines.  Membership reached a high of 18,508 in 2005 and at the end of 2009 it was 10,942, a decline of over 40% or 7,566 members. 

Breeding is the lifeblood of any breed and the stallion breeding report numbers are even more discouraging.  In the yearly reporting period ending September 30, 2003, (12 months) the TWHBEA recorded 27,943 stallion breeding reports.  In the time period ending October 1, 2009 (13 months) they recorded 9,231 reports…a drop of 18,262 or over 65%. 

TWHBEA records show that first time foal registrations have fallen from over 12,000 annually to 6,055, virtually half.  If you look at the number of foals registered by calendar year of birth you have to go back to 1965 to find a worse year than 2008 when 6,625 were registered. In 1965, the number was 6,156 and grew to a high of 15,431 in 2002.  From that high point till now represents a decline of 8,806 registrations or 60%.

The TWHBEA annual financial report is not yet available but these declines are going to continue to manifest themselves on the bottom line.  Frankly, the Board and staff deserve a great deal of credit for making the truly difficult decisions to control expenses and keep the doors open.  It has not been easy.

And the TWHBEA is not alone.  By way of example, The Celebration has lost over $650,000 in the last three years despite reducing expenses by a million dollars.  WHOA has not yet released their numbers for 2009 but they have always faced financials challenges and 2009 will in all likelihood reflect that.  Trainers report that they are having difficulty raising sponsorship money for their March show and that money is critical to their yearly operating budget.

What’s the point of the numbers? 

You have to be aware of the situation before you can make positive changes and nothing can be changed until you face the facts. The facts are not good and its time to do something about it.

The industry needs to start by pulling together and offering support instead of criticism; assist those in leadership positions instead of questioning their wisdom or motives and begin a comprehensive plan to get the Tennessee Walking Horse back to a position of dignity and respect in the horse world at large.

It is enough of a challenge to have to deal with the ignorance and bias of the national media; the unscrupulous efforts of the Humane Society of the United States to destroy the padded show horse and the ongoing struggle with the United States Department of Agriculture to work together enforcing the law.  The industry, small as it is and getting smaller, cannot meet these challenges and continue to pull apart with each group doing their own thing.

What kind of future is there for this horse? 

The good news is that the future begins tomorrow and what that future holds depends on each and every person involved and their willingness to change the failed ways of the past.  It’s no secret the two critical challenges are showing compliant horses and improving the quality and integrity of the judging.

If these two areas of concern are not addressed properly and in a unified fashion, the numbers recounted above will continue to worsen and this breed will continue to shrink.  It is time for everyone to step up and do their part.  Remember, the greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing because you can only do a little.  Do what you can. If that happens, the best is yet to come.

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