FRANKLIN, Tenn. - The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association held their annual membership meeting on December 13th at the Cool Springs Marriott. President Bill Cantrell opened the meeting with a silent moment of prayer for trainer Joe Martin, who is battling illness.

The trainers welcomed Dr. Betty Goldentyer from the USDA to the meeting. Goldentyer was recently named the permanent Deputy Administrator in charge of Horse Protection under the Animal Care program of APHIS. “I believe in relationships and working together,” opened Goldentyer. Goldentyer has 30 years of experience with USDA which began after a brief career as a small animal veterinarian in Chicago.

Goldentyer assured those in attendance of her intention of working with the industry on enforcement and compliance just as she had done with the commercial kennel industry in her previous role with APHIS. “Scientific research proves that if people are helping to regulate their own industry, they are more likely to comply,” stated Goldentyer. Later in her presentation Goldentyer further stated, “my philosophy is the path to success is working with the regulated community.”

Goldentyer did not have the final numbers ready for release but promised those compliance figures and explanations behind them before the February training date. “We are trying to find a better way to post the results that show the accomplishments that have been made,” stated Goldentyer.

She did release that in 2019 the HIOs inspected 52,000 horses, which was about 500 more than in 2018. HIOs found 1039 horses noncompliant in 2019 versus 693 in 2018, 1.9% this year versus 1.2% in 2018. The USDA inspected 1200 horses this year as comparted to 1600 in 2018. The USDA only had five findings of noncompliance in 2019 versus 31 findings in 2018, further illustrating the work of the HIOs under the HPA.

The Deputy Administrator gave three updates for the upcoming season. First, she informed the trainers that as part of a pilot program they will be allowed to have the saddles on their performance horses when they come to inspection. Pleasure horses were previously afforded this opportunity by USDA. The exact rules for this change will be made public after the first of the year.

Secondly, she informed of the uniform policy and change at APHIS. All personnel in 2020 will be in gray shirts and navy pants with the USDA logo being visible. Thirdly, she updated the date of the annual VMO/DQP training as Saturday February 8, 2020.

Next on the agenda was Jeff Speaks who gave a similar message to many of this in the past. Speaks spoke to the need for the industry, and specifically the trainers, to pay attention to the elections and support through votes and donations those elected officials that are helping the industry. On multiple occasions, Speaks said, “Elections matter.”

Speaks warned of both the PAST Act in the Senate and the USDA rule that would put the PAST Act in place through the regulatory process. “If there is a new President in November 2020 the rule will be published and the industry will find itself in court,” said Speaks.

On a more positive note, Speaks and his associate Jeff Terhune, debuted the videos they worked on to present to congressional offices to better show the impact and positive nature of the Tennessee Walking Horse. They showed three videos to the trainers, all focusing on a different positive aspect of the breed. At the conclusion of the videos, the trainers in attendance all applauded the content and production of the videos. Speaks applauded the Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse (FAST) for funding the videos. (Click here for the TWH Community Video; Click here for the FAST Female Empowerment Video)

The major point of business at the December meeting is the election of the board and officers for the upcoming year. This year the nominating committee selected Bill Cantrell for President and Bill Young as 1st Vice President and Ross Campbell as 2nd Vice President. When nominations from the floor were opened Wayne Dean was nominated for President. The nominating committee also had to recommend four board members for open seats. 

The committee selected Link Webb, Larry George, Edgar Abernathy and Brad Beard and also put forth after getting calls expressing their interest from Mickey McCormick, Jamie Hankins, Larry Wheelon, Aaron Self and Keith Blackburn. Russ Thompson was nominated from the floor.

After Winnett Associates helped count and validate the results the 2020 officers were announced as Cantrell as President, Young as 1st Vice President and Campbell as 2nd Vice President. The four board members were Jamie Hankins, Brad Beard, Russ Thompson and Larry Wheelon. Chad Williams had previously resigned from the board so the fifth highest vote getter was to take his place. Mickey McCormick, Edgar Abernathy, Link Webb and Larry George, in order, declined the spot vacated by Williams with Aaron Self ultimately being put in Williams place.  On Tuesday December 17th, the WHTA board met and removed Larry Wheelon from the board replacing him with Link Webb.

In other board business Wayne Dean gave the budget committee report.  Dean updated the account balances of the association stating the horse sale account has approximately $32,800, the horse show account has $174,600, the operating account has a balance of $7,800 and the Riders Cup account only has the approximate $30 to keep it open. The Riders’ Cup account had the $96,100 paid out over the weekend to the winning performance and pleasure trainers.

Thom Meek from TWHBEA also addressed the trainers and urged them to join the Breeders’ Association.  Meek and the new executive committee dropped the membership fee from $75 to $50 for any trainers wanting to join. The first 25 paying their fee for new or renewal membership will be hosted by Fawn Weaver for a private tasting at Uncle Nearest in Shelbyville.

Herbert Derickson updated the membership on proposed bylaw changes which included requiring board of director members to attend two of the four annual meetings and all conference calls in order to remain on the board of directors. In addition, all members of the association must attend two of the four meetings to be eligible for trainer of the year, Riders’ Cup payouts and to apply for the Trainers’ Scholarship fund. In addition, the deadline will now be the last day of Trainers’ Show for payment of dues or the member will forfeit their right to vote. Derickson’s committee also formalized the Ethics committee as a standing committee and moved Trainer of the Year voting from the middle of the season to the end of the season to be recognized at the Horse of the Year banquet.  These bylaw amendments passed unanimously by voice vote at the meeting.

Mickey McCormick addressed the membership regarding the formation of a Political Action Committee and the trainers setting one up.  This would allow the formed PAC to make political contributions to candidates supporting the Tennessee Walking Horse.

The WHTA will next meet in conjunction with their 2020 National Trainers’ Show in Shelbyville on the weekend of March 19th-21st.