By Jeffrey Howard

Show season is in full swing and show rings have been host to some of the best competition in years and the attitude of people is as positive as they’ve been in some time.

The 4th of July horse shows were a success and the weekend overall was highlighted by extremely good competition paving the way to the Celebration.  However, one concern was discussed in the barns, restaurants and outside the show ring, as well as on the internet, about the time the shows ended.  The shows all ended after midnight with the finish times closer to 2AM making it extremely tough on the trainers, exhibitors and spectators.

Now to be clear, I don’t want this to be a criticism of the show managers over the 4th and I personally don’t think this is a show management problem.  Show managers respond to their customers, owners and trainers, and try to provide as many possible options for horses to be shown and maximize the monies they raise for their charities.

It is time the industry, not show management, institute a midnight curfew for shows.  The precedent is already there with any show affiliated with the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) required not to start a class after midnight or face monetary penalties.

The benefits of this curfew are many and include first and foremost the safety of those leaving the shows at such late times after so many hours of work.  Trainers routinely were going to bed close to 3AM during the 4th and then back at the barns around 7AM.  The customers that showed during the last 5-10 classes did not get home before 2AM and spent the following mornings in the bed recovering from the previous night.

The Tennessee Walking Horse and the one-night horse show have a unique quality in building camaraderie among industry participants.  I am frequently told how much fun the mornings are in the barn and during weekends such as this year’s 4th of July weekend, anyone in search of a new horse, finds time to frequent the many trainers that are riding their horses each morning.

Also, some of the best competition, including our stake classes which are the preliminaries to the crowning of our World Grand Champion are happening at such hours that most fans have already left.  This year’s field is one of the best in recent years but those horses are struggling to build fan support because when they enter the ring very few people will get to see them show.

Another key area of concern is growth of our fan base and recruitment of new owners.  Every major professional sport is searching for ways to speed up their game and reduce the time it takes to complete a game.  They are listening to their fans and stakeholders, something that we need to do and it is hard to market events that last until the early morning hours.  We do have a very versatile horse and many divisions to complete so it may be that we need to go to day and night sessions just as many of the other breeds do at their shows.

I know our industry doesn’t need more rules or guidelines and I struggle to even write about such a topic but I do try to listen.  I listen to you, I listen to trainers and I listen to owners and you are all in agreement that something needs to be done to end the shows at a reasonable hour.
I don’t think this should be left up to show management.  It isn’t fair to expect volunteers who benefit the breed by having horse shows to raise money and in many cases are not intimately involved in our breed to be responsible for such a rule.  

That begs the question, who is responsible for initiating the rule?  Just as in other breeds, it should probably be the regulatory body, however as we all know the Tennessee Walking Horse doesn’t have a single regulatory body.  What I also know is if one HIO were to initiate the rule, more than likely not all of the others would follow and initiate the rule.  But for just a minute, think about the Designated Qualified Persons, who inspect every single horse prior to competition and each winner after competition and are being asked in some cases to inspect horses from 5:00PM until possibly 2:00AM.  It would make sense for HIOs, who employ the DQPs, to initiate the rule.

In my personal opinion, the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association should begin the process and request the regulatory bodies institute the rule. They may not all oblige immediately but history has shown that if the WHTA feels strongly enough about something they usually are successful in achieving their desired result.

We are in the midst of an exciting time and I look forward to the next several weeks leading up to our World Championship.  Activity is picking up and horses are selling at much greater frequency and at higher prices, both good signs for the industry.  As we are all aware challenges still exist, but nothing along those lines will change in the next 8 weeks so let’s enjoy our horse and our friendships.  I look forward to seeing you all at a horse show soon.