Editor’s Note: The following statement was sent to The Report by Bill Hawks, CEO of AgWorks Solutions.


Should the National Horse Show Commission Sign the Operating Plan?


The controversy continues to swirl as to whether or not the National Horse Show Commission (NHSC) should sign the Operating Plan.  There is no easy answer, as there are definite pros and cons to each decision.  At this time however, now that the probation period will be put back in, I think it is time to sign the OP and move on to the bigger issues that the industry must deal with so as to remain viable into the future.


It would be appropriate for this discussion to recap how we arrived at the point we are now. All of the Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) worked collectively for almost all of 2006 to develop an Operating Plan for the 2007 to 2009 show seasons that they all felt they could sign.  USDA officials were present early in the negotiations, and then elected not to attend for some unknown reason, even though they were welcome to be there.   The NHSC made concessions that were difficult for them, in exchange for retaining the probation period, which was very important to them and had been in previous Operating Plans.  The NHSC also agreed to amend the probation period to make it more restrictive in response to public comments that a one year probation period was too short for some violations. Then, when all the negotiations were complete, and the HIOs had a plan they all felt they could sign, USDA made a decision to remove the probation period. The NHSC was told of this shortly before the show season started, and had very little time to decide whether or not to sign the Operating Plan before the first shows. NHSC decided not to sign because they felt like they had given up much in the negotiations in order to keep a modified probation period, and the Department unilaterally removed that without giving them any of their concessions back.  They felt a bit cheated.  The Department has since taken a heavy hand in dealing with those HIOs that have not signed the Operating Plan. A representative of the Department has recently said “Sign the Operating Plan or pay the price”.


This now brings us to where we are today. After much continued discussion, USDA has now said they would put the probation period for scar rule violations back in the Operating Plan provided the NHSC would sign the plan. The interpretation and application of the scar rule is the issue that has concerned trainers and owners the most, and the removal of the probation period was a key reason for several HIOs to agree to not sign the Operating Plan.  While we know there are things in this new OP that still cause concern, it is important to look at the bigger picture and to move forward. Now that there is agreement to put the probation period back in for scar rule violations; in order to allow us to be able to focus on working on the bigger picture issues facing the industry, we have suggested the NHSC sign the operating plan. Issues such as USDA’s interpretation of what currently constitutes a scar and what will in the future, and the need to pull the industry together for the survival of the industry itself are still looming and need to be addressed as soon as possible. By signing the plan, the threat of federal cases will be diminished as the plan allows the Commission to process violations and apply the penalties as prescribed in the plan.  Equally important, having the probation period back in the Operating Plan will remove the serious concern raised by some that violations determined by federal cases are on record forever, even if that violation is questionable.  In these times of questionable interpretation of the scar rule, and since the new scar rule guidelines are not finalized, this potential long term impact is a serious concern.  We are all aware that horses are coming to shows in better condition than previously, and there is clear evidence that there is a great effort to present horses in good condition. There has been good progress made this year. The recently adopted WHTA Code of Ethics focused on protection of the horse reinforces this direction. However, even though senior officials at USDA have made comments lately saying how good things were going this year, their actions say loud and clear that they want the Operating Plan signed. Although there is no easy or perfect resolution to this issue and there are definite pros and cons to each decision, signing the Operating Plan with the probation period back in it would address some of the primary concerns, and would allow us to turn our attentions to working on a long range comprehensive plan to move the Walking horse industry forward.