I don’t know about the rest of you but I am definitely ready for this year to end! What started as so normal couldn’t have ended any differently. I would venture to guess that for most of us this is the craziest time we have experienced in our lives. The Tennessee Walking Horse industry is resilient and this year proved nothing short of that as we still had 115 shows across 15 different states during the pandemic.

As for what was more normal than any of us could imagine would be the 2020 Celebration. Entries were up, horses through the gate were up, compliance with the HPA was up and the crowd on the last Saturday night was greater than I think anyone could have imagined. To have as successful a Celebration as was had exceeded most everyone’s wildest hopes. To see the World Grand Champion, Master’s Razzle And Jazz, ride under the spotlight on that final Saturday night brought about a relief and feeling of normal that I think everyone needed.
As for the abnormal, we made it through that as well. The pandemic caused basically a three-month shutdown but many of those shows we missed, the National Trainers’ Show and Fun Show to name a couple, were able to be made up later in the show season and were successful. Stops in Asheville and Tunica were canceled this year, which left the fall season missing two of its biggest stops outside of Middle Tennessee. We look forward to those coming back as well.

In what will be another change, most of the industry banquets, including the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association and Walking Horse Trainers’ Association Horse of the Year, have been canceled or postponed from the end of the year calendar. The Horse of the Year awards, one of the most prestigious in the industry, will still be announced and recognized through a release on the Walking Horse Report’s website, social media as well as through the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association. It will be odd not having our banquets but it takes nothing away from the horses who shined so brightly during 2020. 

I can promise you looking back I feel blessed that we were able to do what we did and thank everyone for their tireless efforts to make all of it happen and to happen safely. There were still some industry fan favorites that weren’t able to participate this year due to COVID and we missed them and look so forward to seeing them at shows in 2021. I know the 2021 season won’t start under totally normal conditions, but with vaccines on the way and improved treatments happening I am hopeful and optimistic for our 2021 season.

This fall has brought about a lot of talk regarding our horse and its future. The election was the obvious first domino to fall and the administration will most likely change. We haven’t gotten all of our answers to the political climate, which is so important to our horse, but we do know the runoff elections in Georgia will determine who leads the United States Senate for the next two years. No matter your overall political beliefs, on the issue of the PAST Act and the Tennessee Walking Horse’s future, a conservative majority is beneficial. The rulemaking has been, is and will remain a threat to the industry but it is not something that couldn’t be challenged in a court if it were to move forward. The data that was the basis for this rule is old and outdated and new data will paint a much different picture.

If you have attended one the industry meetings regarding the political outlook and legislative options you know that I believe strongly that our horse can change and will thrive if given fair treatment. I can promise you that everyone I know that is working on behalf of the horse believes strongly that we must keep our performance horse and our pleasure horse and that we must move to an objective, science-based inspection protocol. A bad deal is worse than no deal so industry participants shouldn’t worry about any variation from keeping the performance horse and an objective inspection protocol to enforce the HPA as guaranteed in any legislative move forward.

Another positive is that major equine groups and even adversaries of the Tennessee Walking Horse are starting to realize that not everything currently is what it seems. The ability to be engaged again with these groups and equine influencers is a major step forward and one that will bring about greater respect for our horse and its leadership. 

In the coming weeks, the National Academies of Science will release a peer-reviewed report on the inspection process for our industry. The industry, along with the USDA, asked for this report, helped fund the study and look forward to seeing recommendations for increased objectivity in the inspection area. This report has nothing to do with the equipment and everything to do with how horses are inspected per the HPA to determine compliance. 
So what does 2021 look like? In reality no matter the outcome of any election, the success or failure of any potential legislation or who becomes Secretary of Agriculture and thus the impetus for the rulemaking, our 2021 season will not be affected. I can’t wait for normalcy to return and to see many of you at the first show of the new season!

I can promise each of you that I remain committed to help in any way possible to ensure the future of our show horse. Change is inevitable in any industry and our industry is no different. I wrote about that very subject this time last year. I think the number one thing for all of us to remember is that we can trust our horse, it will adapt and it can be one of the largest and most popular breeds out there. We have too much to offer for it to be any other way but we must remove some of the burdens keeping us from reaching that goal.

Everyone in this industry deserves better. Our trainers deserve better, our owners and exhibitors deserve better and our horse deserves better. Stories of being shamed because of participation in this industry should be a thing of the past.

But most importantly, even in 2020, we all have a lot to be thankful for. I wish all of you a great upcoming holiday season and most importantly a Merry Christmas. Our extended walking horse family doesn’t always get along but it is one of the most tight-knit groups I know and I am so very thankful to be just a small part of it. I have made lifelong friends and learned lifelong lessons and for both I couldn’t be more grateful. 

Jeffrey Howard