by Linda Scrivner
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – The SHOW HIO hosted an industry wide meeting at the Blue Ribbon Circle Club on the Celebration Grounds in Shelbyville, Tenn. on Friday, February 18, 2011. There was a standing room only crowd with visitors in attendance from all across the country.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform those present and answer questions about the current environment in the industry, what is going to happen this show season, why the horse card is going up to $150, to discuss show development and to discuss a new unity structure concept.  This concept would try and unify Owners, Trainers and Registry members under an independent organization with an independent HIO, including responsibility for the  Rulebook, Judging, show development and numerous other initiatives and responsibilities that would typically be included in an all encompassing Industry Organization like AQHA and others.

The most important messages from the positive meeting were the need to continue bringing up compliant horses, have successful shows and, as Eichler pointed out, “Have fun.”  Eichler pointed out that no matter the course of action taken by the USDA with regards to revoking SHOW’s certification, something would be in place to ensure show management the ability to have horse shows.  The meeting lasted longer than expected and ended with a long line of questions.

The meeting was opened by a welcome and presentation by TWHNC CEO Dr. Doyle Meadows. He made a presentation that he had given to the Celebration Advisory Board recently which was an update on the Celebration and its financial condition.

Meadows presentation highlighted figures reflecting a decrease of $150,000 in stall rental income, a $400,000 decline in box seat revenue, and a $120,000 decline in entry income that totaled $670,000 in lost revenue in just the last five years. In addition, the corporate sponsor program is down $350,000 in the same time frame. Meadows said, “At the Celebration we simply can’t continue to host events and take on initiatives that lose us money.” He announced that the 2011 Fun Show would be back in Calsonic Arena to reduce the additional $3000 - $4000 that it costs to put on in the outside arena. Meadows stressed the importance of the four shows owned by the Celebration to the Shelbyville and Bedford County communities. “We must continue to market our grounds as an event facility and we plan to take an aggressive approach to this to offset these losses,” continued Meadows.

Meadows also pointed out that they had made an industry contribution at the request of the trainers and owners to fund SHOW HIO at a cost of around $500,000 in the last 18+ months and that they would continue to assist financially while at the same time looking for a funding model that will allow SHOW to become independent and not a part of the Celebration. He stated that they want to get out of the HIO business and continue to focus on hosting the “Greatest Show in the World” and improving it each year.

The Celebration continues to be on sound financial ground but has committed to doing those things possible to reverse the downward trends. One positive that Meadows pointed out was 2010 income stayed the same and The Celebration reduced expenses another $100,000, bringing the total to $1,100,000 in reduced expenses in the last two years. Meadows concluded with, “It’s been an interesting and pleasant 36 months since I was hired.”

SHOW attorney Frank Eichler opened his portion of the meeting by asking the attendees what they hoped to get out of the meeting. These were put on a board as they were asked. He began by discussing the status of the industry in 2011. He said that SHOW in the last two years had accomplished much. SHOW has overcome all OIG Audit concerns, the trainers and owners were doing a great job on showing compliant horses, and SHOW had been complimented for their inspection process, including complimentary reviews by USDA VMOs. A current issue is confusion over what penalty the trainer or owner gets when found in violation.

Eichler informed the owners and trainers that it depends on the decision that show management makes on HIO affiliation. SHOW HIO is and will continue to use their 2010 penalties and rulebook.

Eichler said that to move forward in 2011, we must show compliant horses under a compliant inspection process and have fun.  Eichler commented, “SHOW will continue to inspect consistently and improve the process and keep you informed as the year goes on regarding interaction with the USDA.  SHOW will work on any unity progress and support the unified Organization Structure Committee, or whatever it is called if it gets started. SHOW will do the best job it can but please remember we are only human and will make mistakes and we/you are dealing with an animal-it may not always like the inspection process.”

Eichler discussed the SHOW Horse Card. He said, “The concept was a funding model to support the expense of SHOW and let show management make additional monies for their show. The $100 was selected on belief, from previous years’ statistics, of probably 5000 unique horses to be shown. In 2010, the result was that approximately 2400 unique horse were shown. The biggest difference from the previous NHSC expense and the SHOW revenue is that entries are down nearly 50%. The biggest driver of SHOW’s budget is Dr. Mullins, who is well worth the cost, in my opinion.”

Eichler gave the following reasons for the value of an AAEP vet to SHOW; “Best inspection process in the industry, the best group of DQPs in the industry, the ability to talk at the same level to VMOs at the show and to the Washington, DC heads. In the last 10+ years VMOs (veterinarians) matched up with non-veterinarians as far as ability to make the same determination as to whether a horse was sore or not, natural human reaction is not to have the same level of respect for an individual that is not in their chosen profession or of the same level of education. Dr. Mullins bridges that gap. Is he worth the money? The Board thinks so, many outsiders, many stakeholders, and others think so. I 100% believe it myself,” continued Eichler.

Eichler related that the law says that Show managers are responsible for disqualifying non-compliant horses. “The USDA is not required to inspect horses at a horse show. It is still show management’s responsibility to inspect and disqualify sore horses or for other violations of the HPA/Regs whether the USDA shows up or not. That’s the reason for the HIOs. We should be trying to encourage more show development and not create a risk or concern that allows show managers to go to a different event to raise money for their charity,” said Eichler.

Eichler next presented his Unity proposal outline which may be seen on the WHR website, under the title “TWH-SHOW Presentation – Industry Organization.” This unity proposal was presented in high level to presidents and one other person from WHOA, WHTA and TWBHEA on Friday, Feb. 11, 2011. “We personally requested that each president and officers be proactive in countering any lies or mistruths of or about any person or organization as a show of unity and we requested that each group come together, at a minimum to develop a Unified Show Development Program,” said Eichler.

Eichler continued, “The structure is only for illustrative purpose. This is the structure of most business organization boards. The goal would be to get a small group from each organization to participate on an Industry Organization Committee to develop, propose and hopefully implement in the next 6-12 months. The Independent Board would have seven members (Four independents and one each from the owners, registry and trainers). Once these are nominated any vacancies will be approved by a supermajority of “shareholders” – trainers (1), owners (1), registry (1). The concept is to mirror the best-in-class structures of the other industry organizations – the Jockey Club, AQHA, etc.”
Eichler concluded his speech by giving the reasons for unification. “We need one voice and one organization. We need a new organization and structure because no one trusts any other organization or will allow WHTA, TWHBEA or WHOA to be the lead. The Celebration will not own an HIO, it is a show. SHOW will not be in control, it is an HIO. Fragmentation continues to allow dilution of the best services, people and program, - an example is show development. All organizations are struggling financially with a duplication of costs. History and current examples are proof of need for unification, such as AQHA, Jockey Club, etc.”

“It will reduce or eliminate weekly, monthly and yearly attacks on and by each organization that only serves to weaken the industry. It would eliminate “competition” for a rulebook, judging, shows, etc. that continue to create hatred and distrust within the industry. The failure to unify will probably lead to the demise of some or all of the organizations.” 

Eichler concluded with an appreciative applause from the audience and then answered questions from the audience.  The evening was very informative and provided a great strategy for how to tackle 2011 and beyond as the Tennessee Walking Horse moves forward.