What A Horse Interviews David Howard

Editor’s Note: Jerry Harris of What a Horse, a popular cable television show promoting the Tennessee Walking Horse interviewed Walking Horse Report President David L. Howard several weeks ago. We have transcribed that interview for our readers.

Jerry Harris: Hi, ladies and gentlemen. I am here with David Howard at the Walking Horse Report. David, I appreciate you doing the interview with us. I have a few questions we want to go over. One of the main ones I want to ask is what is your role in the industry negotiations as they stand right now.

David Howard: At the present time, it’s consuming probably 75% of my time.  We’ve got a number of issues facing us. First of all, we’ve got the external issues of the USDA, the Operating Plan and the sniffer and the various technologies they’re trying. And just as importantly, we have, unfortunately, two or three organizations going off in different directions. I think they are all trying to do the same thing and the right thing, but they’re not working together like they need to. The Breeders Association withdrew from the Commission and is doing their own HIO, the Commission is moving forward with the trainers and the owners. You’ve got the new Society coming along.  And I think if they would concentrate on the things they agree about as opposed to the things they disagree about, we would be all back together. And I think we need to be together so we have one major HIO and we can talk with one voice to Washington, DC.

Harris: I noticed throughout the years, you are involved in a lot of fundraisers. Can you elaborate on that a little.

Howard: I assume that by fundraisers, you mean political fundraisers. I have for quite some time. What you have to realize is that we are in an environment where our industry is impacted a great deal by what takes place in Washington, D.C. We are a very small breed, a small group of people certainly versus the humane groups, so we have to be constantly on the alert to make sure that we have access to elected officials, that our voice is heard, and that we can effectively present our position in Washington as our critics present theirs.

Harris: You had said something to me about a VOLPAC.

Howard: Yes, Senator Bill Frist, Majority Leader of the United States Senate and a Senator from Tennessee, set up a PAC, which is a political action committee. Basically, certain people myself included, commit to a certain amount of money each year and he more or less directs where that money goes and we support those candidates. We have supported 33 of the 55 Republican U.S. Senators that are currently in office.

Harris: Just so we can shed a little light on one of the subjects what about the Horse Slaughter  Bill?

Howard: Actually there’s been some serious misinformation about the anti-horse slaughter bill. It’s a piece of legislation that has been brought up many, many times and it has not succeeded. It’s very difficult for a United States Senator anywhere in this country to oppose the slaughtering of horses for human consumption so there are a lot of sponsors and cosponsors. Obviously the alarm we had as an industry and the issue we addressed, and I would say successfully, was that there was a $5 million appropriation for the anti-horse slaughter legislation but it was being done through the Horse Protection Act. So people were fearful, as was I, that some of that $5 million might filter over into horse protection. But we certainly alerted the appropriate people, we are confident that that situation is well under control, if in fact the anti-horse slaughter legislation ever passes, it is held up right now in committee.

Harris: So you don’t think it will ever flow over into Horse Protection.

Howard: No. Interestingly, the Horse Protection Act was passed in 1971 and they were appropriated $500,000 and in 2006 they were also appropriated $500,000. I think the industry has been fairly effective in making sure that they didn’t do an overkill when it comes to spending money on the Horse Protection Act.

Harris: How are you involved with the Celebration?

Howard: I’ve had a lifelong involvement with the Celebration. They hired me to do a publication that used to be put out during the Fun Show called Showtime. That really gave me the impetus to leave and start my own publication. That was Bill Tune’s time there. That goes way back. Right now I’m on the Board of Directors. I am the Chairman Elect. I’ll be the Chairman next year. I’m also a corporate sponsor and obviously a member of the media. I serve with a seven man board.

Harris: I know that you and your family are not allowed to own, train, or show, any type of Walking Horse. I know Christy is not real happy with that.

Howard: I knew that when I accepted the appointment to the Board and I support that. My family doesn’t support that and I understand their frustration with it. I’ve owned horses. In fact, in 1987, (I can’t believe it’s that long ago) I bought Generator’s Uno for the then record price of $200,000 and he ended up winning the Two-Year-Old World Grand Championship. We campaigned him. We never won the big stake. We had a lot of fun and we were getting ready for Christy to show him when unfortunately he died. But one of the provisions when you go on there is that you cannot own a Tennessee Walking Horse, no member of your family can, and they certainly can’t show. And I have a daughter and several grandchildren that aren’t real happy about that. But that’s the regulation. That’s the stipulation. I understood it when I went on there. I agree with it and I accept it.

Harris: One question everyone asks is why is the Report the only paper that is distributed on the Celebration grounds?

Howard: Years ago and time flies, when Ron Thomas came to work at the Celebration, they decided to start a corporate sponsor program. At that time I was not on the Board. The idea was to get corporate sponsor dollars from non-horse people but as we have found out over the years, that is a difficult sale. Now we get some, but it is a difficult sale. Ron basically came to me at the Walking Horse Report, to what was then First National Bank in Shelbyville, which is now Regions, and to the Breeders Association and we all three signed on the first year as corporate sponsors. They gave certain perks for that and among those perks that they gave me was I could be the only publication on the grounds and no other tack stores on the grounds. At that time the Voice was already on the grounds as a publication and I believe Bobby Beech was on the grounds as a tack store and I waived that and let them stay on the grounds. Now any new publication that comes along cannot be distributed on the grounds. But they are allowed to sell advertising. Again it’s like Ron and I have talked, Coca Cola doesn’t allow them to sell Pepsi. Ford certainly isn’t allowing them to sell Chevrolet. And I guess I could make an issue about them even selling on the grounds, but we have just kind of ignored that in the past.

Harris: And you’re just going to stick with it.

Howard: The Celebration means a lot to me, it’s done a lot for me. They were trying to get that program started and it was a chance to help. After you get a few people on board, it’s a whole lot easier to sell that next one. The three of us did it. It was certainly significant that the Breeders did it. It was certainly good that the local bank did it because it brought in an outside group. Ron will tell you that that kind of kicked off the program.

Harris: The Walking Horse Report website. There’s a lot of information on there that a lot of people use. I guess my question is this. Because so many people use it, what are your terms on using the website?

Howard: Really anybody that registers in the site is a registered user, and certainly anybody that subscribes to our paper, we want them to have access to that information. Where we restrict it is when somebody tries to use it in a commercial way or a competitor tries to take our work product and call it their own. We’ve had some difficulty with that as you well know. We’ve just had to step up a couple times and draw the line in the sand on them. But for instance we work with most media very well. The Shelbyville Times Gazette called us yesterday about some information that they wanted to use in an article. We work with all the other media. But if somebody comes in and takes my staff’s work product and tries to use it as their own and gain from it financially, we’re not going to stand for that. That’s unfair competition. It’s unfair to my staff. We’ve got people who stay up after the horseshow until 2, 3 or 4 in the morning putting things online and for the competition to claim it as their own is wrong. If I don’t stand up for that, I don’t stand for much.

Harris: Well I don’t blame you for that. I know when Jimmy and I discussed what we were wanting to do and when I called you, you were very open with us. I even got a little better deal than I thought I would get.

Howard: Well, first of all, you did it the right way. You came in and said this is what our plan is. You said we would like to use this information and we will give you credit for it. And I said hey that works. Plus the thing I like about your program is it reaches people that I don’t reach on my website and in my publication. You reach also some people that are not directly involved day to day in the Walking Horse business, and in my opinion, do a good job promoting the Tennessee Walking Horse outside our existing base. So obviously we would want to work with you more closely. You did an interview with my daughter Christy, and I watched it and I learned some things about my website on there by the way. We saw a definite impact on the website after you showed people some of the different things they can do.  We’re trying to put in into a presentation where we can put it in print and do as good a job as you all did. It even helped me to see it.

Harris: How many people would you say you reach through your paper and your media internet site?

Howard: On a typical week, we print approximately 6500 to 7000 papers, we pass out some of those free. 5200 people pay to get it. On the website it’s a moving target. Today it’s probably right at 13,500. As we get closer to the Celebration, that will go up. As we get to the end of the year, we’ll go through that and knock off anybody who has not accessed it in like the last three months, because we don’t want any bogus numbers out there. So I’d say today, 13,500 and 6,500.

Harris: How many free papers would you say you distribute?

Howard: Too many. What we do is. The mail is always a problem. The paper comes out on Friday and there are always horse shows on Friday and Saturday. We don’t want people to wait. So we pass out anywhere from 1000 to 1300 a week on a normal week.

Harris: Do you think that affects your subscriptions?

Howard: Yes. If you’ll stand downstairs at World Champion from noon Friday on, they’ll run over you coming in the store to get a free paper. They drive over here in their car instead of paying $50 to get it in the mail. They drive over here in their car and pick it up. They probably spend more in gas than it costs for the other. But we appreciate that they care that much to come get the paper. We want them to have it. It’s good for our advertisers. It makes the staff feel good to see people that anxious to see the publication.

Harris: What are some of your plans for the future.

Howard: My plan is to continue to develop my real estate development company from the beaches in Florida, but right now, that’s not been possible. I have to tell you I’m very blessed. We have a great staff here in every department, from production to the front office to the sales to the writing. I’m blessed. And I’m blessed to have a daughter like Christy who’s been here 14 years and then Jeffrey’s here and Jennifer’s here. So I have all my family here. People think I do all these things at the Walking Horse Report and I’m responsible for all of it. And I am responsible for it, but my staff deserves the credit. Christy and the other kids deserve the credit. I frankly spend most of my time on my development company and on my investments. They’ve afforded me the opportunity to do that. But we have some pretty exciting plans for the website and we’re always on the lookout for other publications.

Harris: I know Jim, once he found your website, he stayed on it so long, the secretary had to go in and tell him he had to do some work. He really liked going through there and finding out what this horse did and that horse. I think that in the future as we do more and more live webcasts, that the information that we can get from there is valuable. You know, there is a lot of history in there on horses.

Howard: Where we kind of got the idea, is a friend would call up and say I’m going to buy XYZ horse and do you know how he’s done. And I’d say, well, I remember he won Summertown two years ago, and he was third at the Celebration I think. Well, they said he won the gelding class. Well, how do you do that? You have to go back through the papers and that takes forever. So we started keeping that information and now if I want to know how a horse did, I just type in his name. If I want to know how Jerry Harris has done, I just type in his name.

Harris: He didn’t win nothing.

Howard: Well, you won’t find much in there for me either. But it’s a tremendous asset to people and when we’re doing stories. For instance, we did a story after Lee Wall’s horse won at the Trainers Show and we could go back and get his record. When Private Charter won we did a story and got his record. And this past weekend, when NYPD won we could go back and recount his record. People like to know that. A win percentage. It ties right in to the highpoint program. You wouldn’t think it, but we’ll get calls saying you’ve got my horse 14th and he’s supposed to be 13th because he was 2nd at Belfast instead of 6th. It means a lot to people to get that kind of recognition. Our Highpoint program has done that. The Rider’s Cup program has been a tremendous success. But those are all assets that we’ve put into that. We’ve spent a lot of time and money, effort and energy getting it to that point and it’s doing extremely well.

Harris: You know, it does mean a lot. Russ Thompson once told me after he judged Wartrace, the person that finished eighth is just as important to them as the person that finished first. And that is a valid point.

Howard: One of the things I learned early on when I was doing it every day when I was really involved in the paper is whether you like it or not, you get really close to the people. While you’re certainly happy for the fellow that wins, your heart just breaks for the other guy. So I’ve tried to make it a policy to not always go see the winner, but to go see the guy who was second, third, or fourth, or who something unique happened to, because it’s important to them. Those are the people who keep this business growing. It’s easy to be happy and want to do more when you’re a winner. I contend that we put too much emphasis on the blue ribbon. I’ve always been a proponent that we should have a World Grand Champion, a reserve World Grand Champion and then top ten, because I think after you get past a certain point, you’re splitting hairs. If I get a ribbon at a horse show, you’ve never seen me complain. I haven’t gotten that many, but I enjoy it. I remember the night Uno won, it was like a dream come true, you can’t put it into words. And I remember the night we took him to show him at Bethesda. It was a rainy track and he slipped and fell in the corner and we got him beat. It’s the highs and lows. I miss it. But like I said, I can’t own them anymore.

Harris: You can’t own them, but you do a great job showing them off. Last but not least, I want to say something about your employees. I met Linda Scrivner and to me that lady is a piece of work.

Howard: She’s been here longer than me. I don’t remember when Linda didn’t work for me. She was a correspondent in Missouri for God knows how many years and when she decided to retire and move here, I was the happiest guy that could ever be. I just have to tell you this. You can’t do the job we expect these people to do if you don’t absolutely love this horse and love this business.  The things that drives me crazy, is they’ll go week after week after week, and you finally say we’ve got enough this weekend and you can take this weekend off. Then you go to the horse show and they’re sitting there. If you’re working for the Walking Horse Report and you’re at a horse show, people think you’re working, they’re going to try do ads, they’re going to talk about subscriptions, they’re going to do those kind of things. It takes a real dedicated person who’s really committed to the Tennessee Walking  Horse. I just have to tell you, Christy’s put together the best staff we’ve ever had.

Harris: I know I really respect Linda and Ashlea. You have some girls I haven’t met. They work kind of behind the scenes. I understand they’re in after shows. They may be here a couple of three hours after shows.

Howard: That’s the part that people don’t realize. It takes a lot of other people, particularly on the internet site with results, Jan and Sally stay up, I guess,  all night. I get up early. When I get up at 5:30, if those results aren’t up, I’m not a happy camper. Nine times out of ten, unless the horse show had a problem, they do that. Believe me, that’s an important thankless job and I don’t know what we would do without them.

Harris: I go in my office every morning somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00. I even get up on Sunday morning and go on and I get in there and click on to see how the shows went. I know who won them, but I want to know who else showed. I know there’s a lot of work that goes into that. There’s a lot of work that goes into Rider’s Cup.

Howard: Well, we’ve got them doing the judges cards now. That’s been very popular online. I can remember when you couldn’t get judges cards in the publications. When I got in the business, if you thought about printing the judges cards, they were going to whip you. So we started printing them, and now it’s just accepted. Of course, now we’re putting them on the web and it gives people easy access to them.

Harris: I think it’s good. David, I have thoroughly enjoyed this.

Howard: I appreciate you asking me to be on the program. I  want to say, wearing the many hats I wear, and with our commitment to the Walking Horse industry, I appreciate your efforts to broaden our base. I appreciate what you’re doing with your program. I know it’s demanding on you, but it does make a difference, and we do appreciate it.

Harris: Well, I thank you and have a good day.