We are pleased to offer our “Year In Review” issue that recaps much of the year’s news that happened outside of the show ring. This year has been a very good year for the Tennessee Walking Horse. Just one year ago, the industry was in fear of regulations that would have eliminated the performance horse and placed the industry in peril. What a relief this year brought, through the efforts and money of many of you, that this regulation was put on hold by President Trump and is now no longer a threat to the industry.

The challenge still hasn’t gone away as Congressman Ted Yoho, a veterinarian and republican from Florida has reintroduced the PAST Act. The PAST Act and the USDA’s proposed regulation are very similar and would have similar effects on the industry. The PAST Act is highly motivated by the liberal Humane Society of the United States’ agenda and the HSUS has attempted to convince republicans that this is a bipartisan issue, which it clearly is not.

The industry’s lobbyist, who remains to be paid by the $15 charge on top of the inspection fee at SHOW affiliated shows, also recently sent communication that a potential worry is Congressman Yoho’s and the HSUS’ intent to use the Farm Bill as a way to move the PAST Act in 2018. The industry has had no greater champion on this issue that Congressman Scott DesJarlais from Tennessee. DesJarlais also reintroduced his alternative bill to the PAST Act which has the full support of all organizations in the industry who participate in all disciplines.

The Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse (FAST) continues to fund efforts to advance the Tennessee Walking Horse. FAST has been a major supporter and fundraiser for the efforts to defeat the USDA’s proposed rule, litigation that protects the rights of horse owners and efforts to insure a more fair system of inspection and enforcement. The efforts of FAST have been widely supported by all facets of the industry and has been an area where conflicts have been laid to the side and cooperation has prevailed. Without these efforts, which so many have supported in many different ways, the industry would not be in the position it finds itself today.

This year brought about a change in the relationship between the USDA and industry HIOs, specifically the SHOW HIO. The cooperative efforts have been championed by leadership at the USDA, specifically Deputy Administrator Bernadette Juarez and they have resulted in many of the objectives being achieved that Ms. Juarez set out. The year began with joint training of USDA VMOs and industry HIOs which set the stage for the year to play out in a much different way than previous years.

Yes, the USDA brought a record amount of complaints from the 2016 show season, however many of these have been settled with consent decisions that by April will have been cleared up allowing those individuals to be back in the ring. This is an area of great disagreement between the industry and USDA, but it has not affected the relationship in inspection or the collective efforts of USDA and industry leadership to work together to improve the accuracy and consistency of inspections.  

In addition the Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue of the legality of the appointments of Administrative Law Judges and Judicial Officers, which could have a large effect on the enforcement scheme of the USDA and how complaints are handled moving forward. This issue is one to watch closely in 2018.

In this issue you will see the USDA enforcement summary report for FY 2017. This chart will point out many of the areas of improvement but be careful in comparing the numbers of violations. In many cases in previous years, the USDA looked at far more horses and would turn down horses that the HIO DQPs had already turned down. This year the USDA did not take information on horses that industry DQPs had turned down and spent more time working with the DQPs and observing than in previous years. In addition the USDA adopted an inspection focus for applying the scar rule which resulted in a 90% decline in the number of horses USDA identified as non-compliant with the scar rule.

Overall the working relationship with the USDA and industry is resulting in better inspections and greater consistency. More work remains to be done but the USDA has been extremely transparent in how they plan to continue these efforts in 2018.

Another positive sign for the industry is participation at the Celebration.  This year marked the third consecutive year that entries increased, a very positive trend. Also, given the fewer horses that were disqualified, entries in the ring also increased even though there were 16 fewer classes. Look for the Celebration to continue to look at ways to shorten the length of the sessions and get fans home at a reasonable hour. Those changes will include class modifications, schedule modifications, shorter presentations and improvements in technology.

An important topic for much of the industry is judging. Many of you listen to the complaints however I believe a focus should remain on recruitment of judges, improved training of judges and the accountability and rating systems that can be incorporated. The judging is important and can be improved and I think it will improve.  

The next 12-24 months are critical for the industry. Although 2017 saw many positive trends, the overall picture of our breed still needs to be improved. The industry needs to remain committed to objective, scientific inspection methods as a way to promote welfare and to be held accountable when welfare standards are not met. We need to continue to promote all disciplines of the Tennessee Walking Horse and band together on those areas we agree and minimize those areas where we do not agree.

The future can be very bright.  We complain about decreasing crowds at our shows but we remain one of, it not the most, well attended shows of any breed.  More horses are being bred and the colt market is the strongest in recent years.

Most importantly, thank you. I would like to thank all of you for your support of our family during a tough year as well as supporting our publication and this breed. I hope each and every one of you had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. We look forward to a prosperous 2018 and some exciting changes for Walking Horse Report.

Jeffrey Howard