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Letter To The Editor - Frank Eichler

We have just taken our first step in changing the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry with the establishment of the SHOW HIO and the dissolution of the National Horse Show Commission. I want to thank everyone for their support in getting us to this point. I also want to thank everyone who opposed these decisions. With your questions, concerns and criticisms we were able to develop a better solution. I also have a request but before I get to that I’d like to describe for everyone the process that allowed us to get to this point.

After the 2008 Celebration there were numerous conversations that took place within the industry about what to do next, how can we move forward with the industry, what to do about all the problems we have and the other typical questions we have always raised. I think there was a genuine concern but, as in the past, no real sense of urgency or passion that something had to be done. And then the economy took its tumble. This impacted everyone from the Owners who decided to put horses on board or took them home rather than leave them in training, to the Trainers who saw their income stream drop dramatically, to the business that relied on the TWH industry and to those businesses that benefited from the Industry who all saw their revenue and lives affected by the decline in the economy and the TWH industry. I don’t think there was any one clear item that caused the greatest concern; but then the governments scar rule clinic happened. And it was now crystal clear the TWH performance industry had to change.

As some of you may have read or heard a meeting was ultimately requested of the "decision makers" from each organization. There was no intent to exclude any organization or individuals but only a practical request to try and keep a manageable group to help facilitate discussions. Ironically most if not everyone agreed to come, and even with the snow we received in Shelbyville that Sunday we still had the majority of the group present – all total over 20+ individuals from the Trainers, Owners, Celebration and several others. It was a very interesting day. We talked about various alternatives, the pros and cons of each, we debated, agreed, disagreed and ultimately came to the conclusion of the first day with 2 proposals; Ask Donna Benefield to be the CEO of the NHSC reporting to an Independent Board or disband the NHSC and ask the SHOW HIO to take over reporting to an Independent board and ultimately being spun off from The Celebration. It was agreed that everyone would think about the 2 suggestions and meet again the next morning. Given all the recent speculation I want to also make it clear that there was no discussion about disbanding any Organization. In fact there is a need for each Organization’s support in either structure and this is not an attempt to eliminate the WHTA, WHOA or Breeder’s. Some of the responsibilities of various organizations that have historically been so vital to our industry (WHOA, WHTA, etc) will change, however, their importance will increase. During this time of change, the organizations have a unique opportunity to re-define themselves and assume new roles that will help as we all invest in moving the industry forward

It sounds simple but it was anything but. There was great passion for all the alternatives. There was great concern for each alternative. There was ultimately complete agreement that the Industry had to do something and it couldn’t be a band-aid – we needed a long term solution. It was also agreed that there was no perfect solution. Nor were there any guarantees.

We met the next morning and the group started where we left off. We discussed the pros and cons of both alternatives. We discussed slight changes to each alternative. And then we voted – unanimously to disband the NHSC and ask The Celebration to implement its SHOW HIO and the new structure. To be very clear The Celebration did not ask for this nor do they ultimately want this. David Howard offered to resign from The Celebration Board if that was an issue. The Trainers, although very professional and respectful gave up a lot in disbanding the NHSC after over 30+ years – I‘m not so sure I could have been as gracious. And the Owners and others present also struggled with the decision.

So what’s in it for everyone? A chance to correct the misperceptions and problems that are endemic in the current structure. What promises or commitments were made? None. Why am I doing this? I love watching my wife show her horses. Whether she wins, gets a ribbon or the gate she loves it and I want to help her continue to enjoy showing. And I believe as did our group that we are at a crossroads where something drastic has to change. To be very clear it was a very difficult decision and it gives the Industry a chance to survive, prosper and grow. However there is no guarantee. Please understand that this is not the final solution, but only a beginning. First, we must show the USDA and the world that we can show sound horses. This will require total cooperation with and from the USDA to improve our DQP inspections. Then, as SHOW achieves independence, bring together all the industry HIO's. It should not matter whether one shows under the banner of the National or WHOA or TWHBEA or WHTA. I am sure that we all will welcome that day.

Now my request. Whether you supported the decisions or were against them. Whether you like the people involved or not. Please be part of the solution. There will be many bumps ahead and there are no sure things. SHOW and its management need our support, input and confidence. A house divided against itself can not stand, but together we can succeed. So please let’s come together for this great horse and industry and fight the common enemy – the sore horse. The next time you see someone leading a sore horse say something. The next time you hear an owner or spectator saying they want or like a really deep sore horse say something. Instead of saying negative things about each and every decision please give it a chance and provide constructive suggestions. The road we were on was, in the opinion of most everyone in the process, a dead end. This at least gives a fighting chance for a positive outcome. We can succeed and prosper if we all come together. And the group that met for 2 days and struggled with these decisions did just that. They have led by example and put aside their differences, disagreements and personalities and unanimously agreed on a way forward. Please support this great horse.


Frank Eichler

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