Copyright 2006

By Christy Howard Parsons

Members of the Facilitation Group held the first of two planned open forums Tuesday, November 14, at the Riverbend Country Club. Linda Garrard, Don Beatty, Gordon Timmons and Larry Studdard hosted the forum which attracted approximately 50 industry owners.

The Facilitation Group has previously met with the Advisory Group of the Walking Horse Trainers Association, Tommy Hall and David Pruett with the Walking Horse Owners Association, and briefly with Jerrold Pedigo of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association. They are scheduled to meet with the Celebration, Inc., later this week.

Larry Studdard opened the meeting by describing the process of facilitation as a process akin to mediation, a voluntary dispute resolution process. He said that the industry organizations thus far had been cooperative and committed to negotiating a compromise in current industry disputes.

The Facilitation Group decided to have the open owners' forums because they felt that many owners were not active in WHOA and that they needed input directly from owners.

“Owner apathy will either make or break this industry,” said Studdard. “We have put a huge burden, an unfair burden, on the trainers to run this entire industry themselves.”

“You need to get involved in WHOA. It is your organization. You don't need a new organization, another splinter group. WHOA ought to be your voice,” said Studdard. “FOSH has been successful because they built up their lobby effort and got involved. Performance people have been arrogant, complacent. They have this they can't touch me attitude. Well, they can touch you.”

“I think the average owner is very confused,” said Gordon Timmons. “The influential owner is confused. And the people doing the fighting don't want you to know. This industry needs a strong owners' organization.” The call for owner involvement was met with many comments from owners who were passionate about their horses. Many people expressed extreme concern about the dire state of the industry.

“I don't know whether to put a colt in training or not,” said Valton Rummage. “If things don't change, we're all going to be out of business.”

Various solutions were proposed all with the common theme of a unified organization and some owners were encouraged that the Facilitation Group might accomplish this lofty goal.

“This is the first time any organization has spoken to me, and to my pocketbook,” said Mary Mack Hall. “Right now we have anarchy, I don't know what else to call it.”

Questions were posed about the status of the Operating Plan and whether an Operating Plan was needed at all. The Facilitation Group educated the audience that the owner liability provisions are an important part of the Operating Plan.

“And you may not know that the penalties will never reset without an Operating Plan,” explained Timmons. Questions were posed about the relationship with the USDA.

“The USDA is just sitting back right now. They are tickled with our infighting. We have to work together. Our committee is committed. We will have meetings this week and the next and the next, until we resolve something. However, at the same time, two of the organizations we are talking to are poised to have a changing of the guard in the next few weeks. We want to make sure any solutions we propose are palatable to the new leadership, not just the current leadership,” said Timmons.

Virginia Stewart proposed that an umbrella organization be run by a commissioner. “It will never work if the trainers are monitoring themselves. We need a commissioner who can rule with an iron fist,” she explained. Discussions about TWHBEA's Sanctioning Plan began with a show of hands as to how many in the room had read the plan. Less than half those in the room raised their hands.

Bill Harlin was reluctant to speak, but he added. “TWHBEA's plan is one of the greatest steps forward we have made in years. Everybody has to give up something to put something together that is cohesive. We need a director of judges, we've needed it since 1935. Now we have USDA problems too. Any hopes we had of working something out with them went away with the election last week. We have to face reality and find a way to make something work. We have to reach out and get the pleasure horse involved if we truly want to be a national breed. We are as low right now as I've seen since 1970 when the Horse Protection Act was passed.”

“A successful permanent resolution can only be achieved in facilitation when all parties are equally unhappy,” said Larry Studdard. “We all have to compromise.”

Virginia Stewart asked for clarification of the results of the Facilitation Group's meeting with industry organizations so far.

“We've only made our first pass at talking to the organizations. We are not for or against TWHBEA, but we did look at the issues of the Sanctioning Plan to find out the objections to the issues. What we found is universally every organization liked many of the ideas. But we have to resolve the issues of who authored the plan. They don't want it to be called TWHBEA's plan or the Commission's plan. Once you get past that, the objections on the issues are very small,” said Timmons.

“We are very encouraged upon our first pass. We have lots of good ideas. Ideas like limiting who can vote to control the rule book and that someone would have to have shown performance horses in the last 12 months to serve on that committee. We think we have to hire an expensive CEO type from outside the horse industry to run it,” explained Timmons.

“We haven't addressed all the significant issues yet,” said Studdard. “But we have received a commitment to continue the process from all the organizations.”

“Last year I had 6 horses in training and 11 mares,” said Studdard. “Now I have 1 horse in training and 5 mares. If we don't fix the industry soon, we'll all find something else to do with our time. Something we can be proud of. As a parent and a grandparent, I'm facing some tough questions.”

Diana Shuster spoke of her personal experiences with regulations from the USDA in cattle and other fields. “They are the most powerful arm of the government besides the military,” she said. “The climate has changed. Boo boos on horses are looked at the same as boo boos on children. We can't go forward with this stinking soring issue around our horses' feet and our own necks.”

“It doesn't matter what you call it,” said Studdard. “Fixing them, touching them, whatever you call it, it's against the law.”

Denise Rowland proposed industry studies to validate the Tennessee Walking Horse gait and its lateral movement. “Our breed is different than other breeds. We need a study to show our shoes and chains do not hurt our horses.”

Larry Studdard elaborated, “TWHBEA has committed to fund these type studies. It's a conditional offer. It's part of the Sanctioning Plan.”

Studdard summarized the issues brought up by the discussion on the board. By the end of the meeting the issues read: 1. Motion Study, 2. USDA Relations, 3. One Industry Voice, 4. Public Relations, 5. Horse Show Promotion, 6. Improve Inspections, and 7. Better Communications with WHOA.

Tommy Hall spoke to the issue of communications with WHOA. “We need more people to get involved,” said Hall. “We have trouble getting people to run for our board. All our meetings are open. You are welcome to come to them and we send out a postcard every year with all the dates for the meetings.”

Hall also spoke about owners' involvement in the current operating plan. “We traveled to meetings across the country to develop the Operating Plan with the USDA. The owners had a lot of input into the plan. It's how we developed the Owners Liability Form whereby you can protect yourself from being liable for a Horse Protection Act violation. We send out the information every year, but you have to be responsible for educating yourselves,” said Hall.

Studdard also handed out an industry survey and asked participants to rank each issue with 1(low) to 5 (high) to value the different issues. The issues on the survey included improving our public image, higher market value for colts, improving USDA relations, a new motion/action study, elimination of the sore horse, restructuring the judging system, stronger industry leadership, empowered small owners, empowered small trainers, unification of the industry, an independent DQP inspection process, TWHBEA's HIO program, Youth/Versatility programs, a legal challenge of the scar rule, and increasing small shows outside of middle Tennessee.

The three hour meeting concluded with a promise of additional open sessions to promote communication of the status of the Facilitation Group's progress.