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One Year Ago - by David L. Howard

Just over 10 months ago the SHOW HIO was activated as a result of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association and the Walking Horse Owners’ Association agreement to disband the National Horse Show Commission.  On April 1, SHOW was activated and immediately went to work trying to develop a strategy and plan for a show season that was already underway. Needless to say, SHOW had its share of issues and challenges as they began formulating and implementing a plan.


Since that time there have been significant changes in the leadership, staff and policies of SHOW, not all of them greeted warmly or supported by key officers in other organizations and individuals.  For that reason, 2010 is a critical year for SHOW.  The pressure is on the Board and staff, under the leadership of Dr. Steve Mullins, to put in place both a reputable and effective judging and HIO program.


There were some who did not want to disband the NHSC but they needed to be aware of the Horse Protection Act Review of the Commission covering the 2008 show season. It was basically an indictment of the Commission and recommended that USDA Animal Care send a department notification for decertification.


The Review and Analysis Branch (RAB) in conjunction with USDA Animal Care performed a review of NHSC records and issued their report.  RAB is responsible for evaluating APHIS programs and activities for overall effectiveness and efficiency in meeting their objectives.  RAB conducts regular reviews of all HIOs.


In their Executive Summary, RAB made the following statement.   “Based on current year findings and the support of the Horse Protection Regulations (HPR) sections 11.7(b) and (g), RAB will recommend that Animal Care send a department notification for decertification citing non compliance with the regulations.”


The report went on for nine pages citing problems with the Commission’s performance and recommending changes.  Under NHSC Committee Structure, the report stated “NHSC will officially dissolve on April 1, 2009 and the new organization SHOW will be transitioned into ownership changing the entire Board of Directors.”


How this transition into SHOW affected NHSC decertification will never be known but that option was actively being considered.  Fortunately the WHTA and WHOA decided to disband the Commission and the industry was able to complete the 2010 season without dealing with NHSC decertification and its impact on 250 affiliated horse shows.


In time, the RAB will be conducting its review of SHOW and its nine months of operation in 2009.  The results will have a significant impact on SHOW’s future and perhaps the future of the industry.


The Board of SHOW is the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Board.  The plan for 2010 is for the Celebration Executive Committee (three directors) to meet monthly with Dr. Mullins to review and understand any developments, changes or issues that SHOW has been presented or would like to implement and for him to later attend the full SHOW Board meeting.


SHOW had to deal with a number of internal challenges in 2009. Communication and policy making were compromised by the late start and the need and desire for fundamental changes in the operation of an HIO.  This year a full time staff, under the direction of a licensed veterinarian, is in place and the communication and working relationship between the Board, staff and industry will hopefully be much improved.  


Finances were also a significant issue last year and will play a major part in SHOW’s future success or failure.  They have introduced a new funding model which to date has not been adequately explained, opening it up to legitimate criticism.  The Celebration has loaned money to cover SHOW’s operating shortfall in the amount of $150,000 plus in 10 months but that can’t continue forever.


The Celebration has committed to support and sponsor SHOW until an independent board is formed and the organization is financially viable.  Dr. Mullins has informed the board that he thinks the success, failure and/or future of SHOW will be known at the end of the 2010 show season.


While it is true that industry organizations have historically had strained relationships and too little cooperation, the fact is they are business partners and the product is the Tennessee Walking Horse.  The competition is other forms of entertainment and the goal has got to be to protect and develop this horses’ future. 


Our industry organizations are doing many worthwhile things and they should be commended for that.  The problem is they are operating independent of each other with no clear plan to address our two major problems – non-compliant horses and faulty judging.


They need to be operating in full and open cooperation …interdependently, not independently.  Working together these organizations can accomplish far more than, even at their best, they could accomplish alone.


The industry is where it is today because of choices made yesterday and it is time to make peace with the past and not let it screw up the future.  It is not necessary to win every argument, agree to disagree, but then work together where there is a common purpose – the Tennessee Walking Horse.


2010 presents a window of opportunity but that window will not open itself.  It is up to the industry’s leadership to show the way and time is of the essence.  No one is in charge of the future but us and we must turn to the leadership of our organizations for guidance.  No doubt they have questions and concerns on how to proceed - but when in doubt just take the first small step.


Remember what Dr. Jim Heird, a key leader in the quarter horse industry, said about this horse - the Tennessee Walking Horse should be the second biggest breed in the world.


Working together that can become a reality!  

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