Editorial by Jeffrey Howard

It seems everywhere you turn someone or something is negative about the Walking Horse industry. Read a newspaper, pick up a magazine, visit a chat room or talk to your friends…they will all tell you everything wrong with the Walking Horse business.  

Sometimes, I get accused by friends as being too much of an optimist but, at least, allow me to tell you what is going RIGHT instead of going wrong. A lot of people, both those you know and some you don’t, are working very hard to assure you, the stakeholder in the Tennessee Walking Horse, a future show horse industry.

Are there big problems facing the industry? We all know there are. How big? We will find out over the next couple weeks some answers to those questions. I recently attended an American Horse Council meeting and when we left they advised us to do three things:

1. Embrace science and technology to assure sound horses.
2. Get your story out. Partner with someone who can help you get the industry’s story out to the public.
3. Don’t worry about who you run off.

Let’s talk about “swabbing.” The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association has voted unanimously on multiple occasions to institute this technology at horse shows. For the first time anyone can remember, the four performance horse HIOs agreed and have endorsed implementation.  Just a reminder, this is not required by the HPA and the trainers didn’t have to do this, but they chose to do so in order to prove their ability and the talent of the horse. The industry has definitely embraced science and technology!
The Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization (TWSHO), (yes I know you are thinking, just what we need another new organization), has been started to complement the existing organizations to carry out the above initiatives. The new “swabbing” program is being paid for by TWSHO…that’s right there is no cost to the exhibitor, horse show or stakeholder. Will this change?  Of course, but TWSHO has picked up the slack at the start.
TWSHO also hired a communications partner, Purple Strategies from Washington, D.C. Everyone seems to be very skeptical of any outside help but Purple Strategies has a resume that speaks for itself. Six weeks after the Gulf Oil Spill, British Petroleum hired Purple Strategies for crisis management and rebranding of BP. The work accomplished in the last couple of years is phenomenal and, if we do the right things, they will rebrand our horse and image across the world.
There is no question that mandatory penalties are at the forefront of the industry’s thought and fear. Come July 9, they will be in place, right? Well, not exactly! Over six months ago the WHTA met to talk about the plan for penalties. In that room, well in advance of the problem, they gave the go ahead to endorse the plan instituted by SHOW’s legal team and work began on analyzing the legality of the new proposed mandatory penalties.  On June 25, 2012, SHOW and Mike McGartland filed suit against the USDA in federal court to challenge the mandatory penalties.  
Was that because SHOW and Mr. McGartland don’t believe in penalties? Of course not. SHOW and McGartland, as the volunteer prosecutor for SHOW, have handed down the most meaningful punishment over the last three years as any HIO in history. What did SHOW and McGartland do? They stood up for the constitutional rights of all HIOs and for all stakeholders in the industry.  
So before you believe all the negative, take some time and realize that real solutions are being implemented to overcome the problems. You don’t have to believe me, but do research the facts before you believe your neighbor who says the sky is falling. We are in a great position to take advantage of this opportunity before us and revitalize this great horse and our image.
Oh, yes I almost forgot, the ban on action devices and pads.  Yes it is true that the AVMA and AAEP called for a ban on these.  But did you read the press release closely? They admitted that there is very little scientific evidence that either harmed the horse but they were an enticement to people to sore horses. Now, you tell me, is that ridiculous?
When I get worried about our industry I remember that both science and the law are on our side. Those are two very good things to have when you face the challenges we do. 

Remember, action devices and pads don’t hurt horses, people do.  So encourage owners and trainers alike to put a sound horse in the show ring and watch our future unfold before you in a very positive light.