by Jeffrey Howard

The Walking Horse Owners’ Association Board (WHOA) and Walking Horse Trainers’ Association’s (WHTA) Board of Directors met today to hear the findings of the National Horse Show Commission (NHSC) task force on the restructuring of the NHSC.  Dr. John Bennett made the presentation of those findings and had his plan unanimously approved by the NHSC Board of Directors.
Bennett started his presentation by stating the mission of the task force.  “We were asked to find a replacement for Lonnie Messick and give recommendations on the restructuring of the HIO to bring integrity and stability,” said Bennett.

The new structure will have a policy board at the top of the HIO, comprised of three American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) veterinarians, one humane representative and one attorney.  This group will be tasked with setting the policy of the HIO.

Tasked with carrying out this policy will be a chief executive officer (CEO) who will work between the policy board and the executive board.  The executive board will be made up of a collection of owners and trainers and work just as the NHSC board does today.  Dr. Mike Harry will serve as a part-time consultant to the NHSC for two months until a permanent CEO is named.  Harry served on both the AAEP task force that released the White Paper and the NHSC task force that made the recommendations for restructuring.

Bennett’s proposal followed a theme of building a house where there are rules and those that choose to live there will have to abide by those rules.  “To build anything you have to have a strong foundation and we believe the foundation of this new structure is the White Paper released by the AAEP,” said Bennett.

Bennett then presented the “boards” that will make up the inside of the house and function within the structure of the HIO.  He started with technology and the importance it has with the inspection process.  He mentioned digital radiology, thermography and micro-chipping as all important pieces of technology that need to be researched and implemented over time.

Second on the list was a hearing committee.  “If you are going to have penalties, there needs to be a method for those accused to have a fair hearing,” Bennett stated.  “I believe everyone has the right to a fair and impartial hearing,” he concluded.

Third he mentioned the importance of the regional breed associations and them having one representative in the HIO.  This would be inclusive of regional and national associations.

A fourth element would be industry veterinarians who work in the industry on a daily basis and can function like a medical board.  They can help with the drugs that are being used and what levels are acceptable and why they are being used as well as provide insight for which foreign substances can be used without harm to the horse.  Bennett pointed out that certain groups will never be satisfied with what goes on in the show industry, but respected industry groups will be on board with this plan.

The fifth element was a trainers licensing and continuing education program.  Continuing education could be anything from business management to scar rule interpretation.  With a licensing program trainers that were repeat offenders would see their licenses revoked or some training offered to get those trainers in compliance.

Show development was the sixth area.  This group would be tasked with developing new ideas to get new shows formed, additional prize monies, additional people in the business, etc.  Bennett said he felt the Walking Horse Foundation and Mark Taylor were a perfect fit for this role.

The seventh element was the United States Equestrian Federation drug testing program.  This program would be funded by a $1addition on each entry fee and would be done through random blood testing to start.  “In my opinion, our industry does not have a drug problem currently,” said Bennett.

Research was another element to the plan.  Bennett couldn’t stress enough the importance of research and how it can help with public perception and with allowing the AAEP to continue to work with the industry.  “With the AAEP on our side, it will help when we go to the USDA,” stated Bennett.

A ninth element was rules/penalties and judges evaluations.  Bennett mentioned he didn’t know exactly how to evaluate the judges best but that he had heard many good ideas for this.

Tenth was regional veterinarians.  These regional veterinarians would be tasked with overseeing the Designated Qualified Person (DQP) program and the individual performances of those DQPs.  He didn’t think it was feasible for every DQP to be a veterinarian but did stress the importance of the consistency of the program and accountability of the program.

Last was the show steward program.  The show steward would be in center ring during the show and assist the judge with rules violations and the excusing of horses that are not presenting the correct image of the Tennessee Walking Horse.  This person would have to be a horse person according to the task force but not a walking horse person.

After finishing the presentation Bennett took questions from those in attendance about the proposed plan.  Mark Farrar asked “ was there was anything in the white paper that the task force didn’t agree with?”  Bennett responded with all of the items in the white paper were valid but not all were practical.  He specifically mentioned the urine testing, licensed veterinarians checking all horses and pulling of shoes on performance horses.  He noted all of the objectives of these could be achieved however through technology or programs within the plan presented.

Farrar also asked, “If we adopt this plan have you talked with the USDA and the AAEP and will they be on board with this plan?”  Bennett responded, “Yes and the AAEP will get on board and will be waiting for us to ask for help.”

Bob Ramsbottom asked, “How will we fund this plan.  Will this be left up to the owners to fund this?”  Bennett relayed that he didn’t know exactly how to fund the plan and that he had thought a lot about that, “but to be honest, I don’t really know how to fund it.”  Frank Neal interjected, “they were tasked with coming up with the plan, it is now the task of the groups within the industry, WHOA, TWHBEA, WHTA, and the Celebration, etc. to fund the execution of this plan.”

Bennett mentioned earlier in the presentation that regional veterinarians would oversee the DQPs at the local shows but that at the bigger shows such as the Celebration, Fun Show and Trainers’ Show that these regional veterinarians would serve as the DQPs.  Wink Groover objected, “I don’t think the people that check the horses all year long should then not be the people that check at the Celebration.  That is a big part of the problem right now.  We need to have a strong enough DQP program that if you can’t get in at the Celebration then you can’t get in at the local show.”  Bennett agreed with Groover on this and stated the importance of the regional veterinarians in making sure the DQPs are doing their jobs correctly.

A search committee was formed to find the new CEO of the HIO and consisted of Link Webb, Frank Neal, Frank Eichler, Lonnie Messick, Dr. John Henton, and Dr. Tom Vaughn.  Messick had earlier agreed to work through November to help with the transition to the CEO.

At the end of the meeting, Neal commended the WHTA for “their willingness to work toward the future of the industry.” 

Names of the policy board members were discussed in the executive session of the meeting but with nothing finalized at this point, none of the names were released.

As the meeting adjourned and those in attendance left the Miller Coliseum, a renewed sense of optimism was a common theme.  The Walking Horse industry took a big step in addressing the future needs for the welfare of the industry as a whole.  Unity has been a common theme in 2008 across the industry, however tough times continued to hamstring the industry.  Unity wasn’t just talked about, it was practiced today as the owners and trainers within the industry came together and initiated substantive change.