by Stephanie Rose

Dr. Doyle Meadows, the new chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, was the guest speaker at the general membership meeting of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association on Wednesday, May 21.

Meadows started out by asking for a round of applause for Link Webb for the great job he’s been doing as president. Meadows explained to the membership, “I want to be with you and for you. I appreciate you guys and how the horses have looked so far this year.” He explained that everyone has to work together. Meadows then went on to say, “We want the Trainers’ Show here. I want to continue that relationship with you all.”

Dr. Meadows wanted the trainers to understand that he does not care who wins. “I’m for the best horse winning. Is that going to happen every time? No, but I want it to.” He has judged big shows and said it’s a lot different watching them come down the shoot at the Celebration than judging a one-night show.

President Link Webb then introduced David Finger, DQP coordinator of the National Horse Show Commission, to the membership. He commended all the trainers. “You all have done a great job and we are doing well. We want to prove how good we are doing to the USDA. When they are here, present them so that we can show that.”

Finger explained that they are going to have people at every show reporting what they see outside of the warm-up area and inspection. This will be an informed owner or trainer making sure that all the horses look good and are compliant.

He said that he had been to a lot of shows already this year and that when the USDA showed up, many people left. He said, “We want to have these shows. Don’t load up when the government comes.” Finger said that there are a lot fewer horses that have been sent out of the ring or excused which proves that the inspection process is continuing to improve. He said, “We will put you in the ring if you are compliant and will be behind you. If you aren’t, we can’t be behind you, whether the government is there or not.”

Webb asked Finger, “Is there any indication of what the government has said so far about how the horses look this year?” Finger answered by saying that there have not been many horses that have showed. Dr. Rick Kirsten was at a show as well as Susan Kingston and both were very complimentary of horses that were presented. Finger said again, “Show your horses. There might be issues down the road if we just load up every time they come.”

Bill Hawks of AgWorks Solutions was the next on the agenda to speak. He started out by saying, “Congratulations to you all! The first time we met I told you that you have to do your job before I can do mine and you are.” He was very happy about how the horses have been presented this year.  He went on to say that when the USDA is there you have to show your horses.

A paper was passed out during the meeting for the Protocol for Foreign Substance Penalties for the Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry Test, also known as the Sniffer. There was a lot of concern in the meeting about the test that will go into effect June 1, 2008. Hawks said that it is pretty self-explanatory. They will take swabs on a random basis and will go to a lab in Ames, Iowa and if it comes back positive, you will be sent a warning. (See full story with protocol details by clicking here).  The second offense is also a warning and cannot happen until after receipt of the letter of warning for the first offense.  The third offense is a monetary fine.  The fourth offense is a federal case.

Hawks said that the USDA would continue to work on the protocol. If the swab is positive, it will come back as positive and will tell you what foreign substance was found. Rollie Beard said that he would like to be told if it’s negative too. Winky Groover stated, “Is there anyway we can get something that can tell me which tube is accountable for my horse? Like a number or slip?” Hawks explained that they have a very sophisticated protocol. He said that they shouldn’t have an issue about letting trainers know. They fill out sheets and he thinks that it would be easy to get a copy. (See exact protocol for collecting samples by clicking here, as seen in the May 9, 2008 story.)

Finger wanted to know if there was an option of a challenge or a conflict. Hawks informed Finger that the penalties and process fell outside of the Operating Agreement but that legally there was any number of challenges one could make.

Grandy Tuck spoke up and said, “Only one warning?” Hawks said, “No, two warnings.” Carl Johnson didn’t think that the random swabbing was fair. He commented, “Why is it not done constantly? It’s not fair that I could be swabbed six times and someone else not swabbed at all.”

Chris Bobo wanted to know the scientific side of the test. Hawks said that right now they are using parts per million. “We need vets to justify why you need these things such as sulfur for the care and treatment of these animals.”

Leigh Bennett wanted to know what exactly the protocol is. Hawks said that it is very detailed. Bennett also asked about the gloves they use. “Are they going to use the same ones all night for all the different horses?” Bennett then questioned the third offense on the handout. Hawks explained that it was a monetary fine with the max being $3,000.

Grandy Tuck asked if they had talked to any scientists. Hawks said, “The science on the actual machine and running of this test is very solid. We have asked how the samples are handled. They are doing a better job sharing information.”

Tuck wanted to know what would happen if they all come back positive. Hawks said from previous samples, that has not been the case and that they have looked at the studies. He said, “The leadership here has been very much engaged in all the questions you have.”

Kim Bennett asked where these positive letters were going to go. Hawks answered by saying, “The letters will go to both owner and trainer.” Bennett said, “What if an owner had five different horses that get swabbed with five different trainers? We have to protect our owners as well.” Bennett mentioned that they should have an independent swab. He continued by saying most people would not do anything about the first warning but what if you get your third one 10 years down the road, assuming there is no probationary period. Bennett said that he has trust issues with the government because of the past. He wanted to know if the trainers had sent a letter back so that they can get these questions answered and get it worked out.

Hawks and Webb answered that they had already put it back once for them and would continue to work with them regarding the protocol and probationary period. Bennett explained, “You can’t change anything once it has been implemented.”

Howard Roberts asked if they had consulted an attorney. Roberts said, “When we signed the Operating Plan, does that mean we can’t confront our accuser?” Hawks said that they haven’t talked to a lawyer.

Carlyle Johnson spoke up and said that keeping the swabs and sending them off would be really expensive but he thought they should set up a swab vault. They could send it in if something was wrong. He said it’s like getting a receipt.

Kim Bennett said that he had done some research and that swabs are only $.50 if bought in bulk.

Bennett said, “Formally request to reconsider the June 1 deadline. Lets keep the paper trail going.”

Carl Johnson said, “That way we can take the questions and explain it to them.”

Grandy Tuck wanted to know how expensive it would be to do your own swabbing. Hawks did not know but said, “We support the use of any technology but it’s the way you implement it.”

Hawks then moved on to a different subject and asked if anyone had any other questions about this to see him afterwards. Hawks explained they have had a collaborative meeting on compliance that included owners, trainers, breeders, etc. “Working together works” is a statement that is on Hawks’s business card and he stands by it. “It’s amazing to see the unity and it’s important to see this industry around for future generations.” Hawks went on to speak about Dr. Meadows. “I personally want to thank Doyle Meadows.” Hawks said that when you go toward the USDA, you need unity and they aren’t going away.

Meadows spoke again, inviting everyone to come visit him. He said that this week they were putting up a willow tree in the old warm-up ring on the Celebration grounds and explained what that meant was they were listening to what people have suggested and trying to improve the show and the grounds.

Bill Hawks spoke about the meeting that they had recently with the AAEP, TWHBEA and the Trainers’. The representatives of the trainers were Joel Weaver, Chad Williams and Link Webb. Bill Hawks and his partner, Valerie Ragan, were the mediators. Bill Hawks explained that the trainers did an excellent job with communicating and that by lunch everyone was truly talking about the issues.

“When you work with these folks they have an understanding of what’s going on. They get to see our side more and understand what we are talking about.” Hawks asked Joel Weaver to comment about the meeting.

Weaver said, “It was one of the most positive things I have ever seen since working with the USDA”. He also bragged on Valerie Ragan and how good she is. Webb said, “Maybe if we can start this, we can get them to think differently about us.” Weaver explained, “It changed the attitude of the AAEP towards us. I was less worried about the Sniffer after that. The AAEP was really receptive. We didn’t fix anything, but we are definitely moving in the right direction.”

Hawks concluded his thoughts by saying, “We are attempting to build a foundation. Anytime you can communicate you can develop a level of trust. We opened lines of communication. It’s not saying that no one will get a ticket during the Fun Show but we can open those doors and get you audiences. I hope that the first Commission show [that the USDA shows up to] we don’t have a ticket and that we can prove to them that we are doing things right.”

David Landrum brought up the Sniffer test again and said that he really liked Carlyle Johnson’s comment. Landrum said, “We need the same swab they do. We don’t need an independent person because that won’t work but if they could use two swabs and we could keep one in case something happened, it would be a lot better.”

Link Webb asked for any new or old business. He thanked the Youth Council for the flowers they planted in front of the WHTA office and to Billie Nipper for the pictures that she donated to the office as well. Wayne Dean stood up and spoke on behalf of Benny Johnson and said that the Trainers’ Show profited $121,000.

Webb ended the meeting by thanking the trainers again. He said, “It’s unbelievable the way the horses look! You all need to be commended!” He explained that he had been to many shows this year and was very impressed. The meeting adjourned.

The Walking Horse Report did a story on May 9, 2008, about the USDA Protocol for Collecting Horse Protection Samples that you can read  by clicking here.