By Christy Howard Parsons

Copyright – WHR 2006 –

            “All eyes are on us,” said National Horse Show Commission Executive Director Lonnie Messick to the general membership of the Walking Horse Trainers Association in the pre-Trainers Show meeting, their first in their new building. Messick was joined by the leadership of the WHTA in calling for trainers to present clean horses for inspection in the National Trainers Show which begins Wednesday evening. Benny Johnson, Link Webb, and David Landrum all encouraged trainers to act now to work to clean up the image of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

            “The show is all paid for. We’re waiting for everyone to come,” encouraged co show manager Benny Johnson. “We’ve got the best horse living. You do ride the best horse. And this is your show. You own every bit of it. Let’s make it the best one we’ve had in a long time,” said Johnson.

            The membership turned out in full force, filling the new large meeting room of the WHTA building. They were active throughout the meeting, asking questions, seeking specifics. Lonnie Messick answered most of the questions.

            “We have to do a better job,” said Messick. “The trainers have to do a better job presenting their horses and the DQPs have to do a better job enforcing the law. We didn’t do as well as we should last year. This year we’re going to have a DQP and a veterinarian walking the show grounds, observing the barn area. If they see a horse that is not acceptable, they may ask you to leave, or to put the horse up,” explained Messick.

            Landrum continued this point later in the meeting. “Two people walking the show grounds is a big thing. We have a small window to make this thing survive.”

            Lonnie Messick went into a great deal of detail about inspections for 2006. For the National Trainers Show, Charles Thomas, Bob Flynn and Andy Messick will be the DQPs inspecting horses. He said that he did not know when the USDA would be here, but that he did expect them to come, and that trainers needed to have their horses ready as if they were here on Wednesday evening.

            “ We have to do better at having the same turndown rate when the government is here and when they are not,” said Messick. We had a good joint training. We’re not on a witch hunt, but we are going to write the violations that are there.”

            “There is an auditor from the Department of Agriculture in my office right now reviewing the NHSC records. He’s already said that these shows where 150 or 200 horses are presented with zero turn downs are not going to work this year. He’s already said “something’s wrong.” We have to do a better job inspecting when we’re by ourselves, just like they were there.”

            Benny Johnson took it one step further, “We are one half of this new Commission. If it gets decertified, we’re finished as an association as far as helping with the regulations.” Decertification applies to any HIO who is not enforcing the law, the regulations and the Operating Plan.

            Messick was asked from the audience if he had a quota for turndowns. He said he did not. He was also asked if the scar rule would be more stringent than last year.

            Messick answered that based on the joint training, the scar rule would be enforced in the same way it was last year. He indicated there had been confusion at a show earlier this year in Monroe, La., that followed through to Starkville, Miss., but that they were able to work it out. “If you showed a horse at the Celebration last year and he got in, then he will get in at the Trainers Show,” said Messick.

            As for vapor analysis, the “sniffer,” Messick said that he did expect the USDA to be swabbing horses at the Trainers Show.

            “They indicated that they would be swabbing at the next horse show. They’ll be taking the information from that swab, sending it to Ames, Iowa, and then if a foreign substance is found, they will be sending a letter of warning to the owner and the trainer with what they found. This is their first step. If they continue to find foreign substances, they’ll take another step. They didn’t clarify what that would be at this time.

            There were lots of questions about the procedures for swabbing, it’s legality, and the possibility for error. Messick answered those questions one by one. “They (USDA) have the authority to inspect horses in any manner they want according to the act passed by Congress in order to enforce the law. This is part of their inspection process now,” said Messick.

            He explained that a horse is swabbed pre-inspection to eliminate the possibility of contamination by the inspector. Messick said that they took samples from the front, back and sides of the pastern and that they were looking for any substance besides mineral oil, petrolatum, and glycerin. He also outlined the procedures for taking the samples to ensure that they are not tampered with en route to the lab in Ames, Iowa. Messick indicated that the complete procedures would be on the USDA web site.

            He was also asked about therapeutic use of substances. Messick answered, “I don’t believe I would show at this time.” He also indicated that the NHSC would be continuing to study vapor analysis, testing work grease, etc., to give trainers more specifics about what will be allowed.

            Dick Peebles spoke up from the audience. “If they swab and don’t find anything, they’ll be up a creek without a paddle. We have to show our horses or we’re going to lose our jobs, it’s just that simple. The trainers have to step up themselves,” said Peebles.

            David Landrum agreed. “They are looking for masking agents. Their numbers indicate that 50% of horses at the Celebration had some type of masking agent. Stay away from anything like that. We have to show them we can do this job.”

            The audience asked specifics about future negotiations. Messick explained that they have currently done away with the scoring system for penalties. The DQPs will still rely upon locomotion, physical examination and general appearance evaluations in making a judgment about whether a horse is sore, but there will be no score. The penalties will remain the same however.

            Messick also discussed possibilities of a so-called “minimum penalty” of sending a horse back to the trailer, of having a change in the scar rule where current horses are grandfathered but that sometime in 2010-2011 there would be an even more strict scar rule, and other negotiations. Messick explained however, that to enact these changes currently, the NHSC would have to opt out of the current Operating Plan, which they do not think is a wise move. These items are under negotiation for the next Operating Plan.

            Steve Aymett, a member of the Advisory Committee of the National Horse Protection Society, was present at the meeting. Knox Blackburn is also on the Advisory Committee. The WHTA board of directors voted unanimously at their preceding meeting to endorse the ideas and efforts of the NHPS. In the general membership meeting, Wayne Abee made a motion, seconded by Link Webb, to endorse the NHPS as a group. This motion passed unanimously.

            David Landrum also asked the membership to use any influence they had with members of TWHBEA to convince them to endorse NHPS as well.

            Tom Blankenship gathered a group of influential industry noteables as well as reputable veterinarians and equine officials outside the Walking Horse business. Blankenship has indicated that these veterinarians are behind the Tennessee Walking Horse.

            Landrum explained, “The WHTA needs to lead the charge against the sore horse. The vets will back us if we don’t let them down. Trainers can do it themselves. This is our opportunity,” pleaded Landrum.

            “Step one – show your horses clean. Step two – clean up the show grounds the way we’re supposed to do. We’ll have a vet and DQP walking the grounds to make sure we do, and they’ll back us. This is a who’s who list of vets to back us. Now we have to do our job,” said Landrum.

            Mack Motes made a motion, seconded by Wayne Abee, to accept a mission statement put forth by the NHPS. The membership passed the mission statement unanimously.

            “The Walking Horse Trainers Association, in an accountable, transparent, fair and balanced manner, will work to insure that only sound horses are allowed on the show grounds and exhibited at Tennessee Walking Horse shows, and will provide for fair and equal treatment to all participants.”

            Other encouraging news came from Mickey McCormick. Through Waterfall Farms, McCormick and Justin Jenne were able to meet extensively with Monty Roberts, the well-known horseman dubbed the “Horse Whisperer.” Roberts came to Shelbyville with a negative image of the Tennessee Walking Horse, but left on Tuesday feeling very differently.

            “He said it’s one of the greatest breeds he’s ever been around,” said McCormick. “He is willing to put his reputation on the line to help us promote this horse as long as the WHTA is going in the right direction. He could be a real asset to this association. He wants to help us with the image of our horse,” said McCormick.

            Link Webb spoke to the group about the WHTA awareness program, begun earlier this year. “We’re already past the original plan we started with. The NHSC is the Trainers and WHOA. If we don’t do a good job with the horse shows, none of this matters. This has to start today. It starts with me. It starts with you. It’s all about image, image, image. It’s simple. If he looks bad, put him back up. Don’t make someone come tell you to do that. We have to show that we’re wanting to do the right thing,” explained Webb.

            At that, the meeting concluded with all eyes on the Trainers’ own show coming up in the next four nights.