Copyright WHR 2006

By Linda Scrivner and Christy Howard Parsons

The Walking Horse Trainers' Association (WHTA) held a question and answer session from 1-3 p.m., Fri., Feb. 24, at the Blue Ribbon Circle on the National Celebration grounds in Shelbyville, Tenn. The Blue Ribbon was full of interested persons with many questions and suggestions. The main topics discussed were unity, scar rule issues, the operating plan, and improving compliance within the industry.

David Landrum, president of the WHTA, began the session stating, “We want to share everything we know with you for the betterment of the Walking Horse industry.” He recapped all that had happened pertaining to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA) and the National Horse Show Commission (NHSC).

WHTA and the Walking Horse Owners' Association (WHOA) have encouraged TWHBEA to come back into the NHSC. They need to be united to best serve the industry, particularly while the industry is negotiating a new Operating Plan for 2007. Following the Jan. 16th decision of TWHBEA to withdraw from the NHSC, WHOA and WHTA signed a contract to continue the Commission. Lonnie Messick signed a three-year employment contract with the new Commission. Landrum stated that they felt good about the operation of the Commission and the alliance with the KY-HIO, where they can use a common panel of judges. Mack Motes, board member of both the Commission and WHTA spoke next. He stressed the importance of the USDA operating plan. The main advantage of the operating plan is that it separates the scar rule violation from sore horse violations. Without the operating plan, a scar rule ticket is considered a sore horse ticket. Also the operating plan has an advantage by including the probationary period. With the probation period, if a trainer or owner does not receive an additional ticket within 12 months following a violation, his slate is wiped clean. Without the probation period, a second violation several years later would be a much stiffer penalty since it adds to the previous penalty. Motes stated that they had hoped that TWHBEA would have stayed in the Commission until the operating plan for years 2007-2009 with the USDA was agreed upon.

Most questions showed that those present were concerned about the borderline scar rule horse and 2006 inspections, the perceptions about the Walking Horse, the improvement of the image, and the ability to show horses even when the USDA VMOs are present.

It was stressed that inspections would need to be the same if the government was there or not there and that violations should not be different. Everyone was encouraged to bring their horses to the show in a manner that they could pass any inspection. Several there indicated that our breed would flourish greatly if everyone was on a level playing field.

“The figures are what kill us,” said Mack Motes regarding the difference in violations when USDA inspectors are present and when they are not. “We show at the Celebration in front of the government. Then we don't have 50 horses at Wartrace. I don't understand. We can do this. The horses at the Celebration looked great,” explained Motes.

Winky Groover spoke from the audience. “I want to be a positive force. I am somewhat of an expert in the scar rule,” he explained. He referenced two instances where he felt his horse was in compliance and he received scar rule tickets which were later overturned in appeals. “If you go to the show in compliance, you will win out,” he said.

The WHTA has begun a new awareness program to identify the problems that the industry faces with the image of the horse. A committee of the WHTA which includes Allan Callaway, Justin Jenne, Link Webb and others will be meeting with trainers across the country to help each other stay in compliance and to present their horses to the public acceptably all over the show grounds and in the barns as well as in the inspection area.

“This has never been done,” said Link Webb. “We are trying to look at our own image. We have to remember, whatever I do hurts you, and whatever you do hurts me. We don't have all the answers yet, but we've got to work on the public perception of our horse.

“We are going to draw attention to the problems,” said Allan Callaway. “We don't want to get in the penalty business, but we've got to make people aware that we have to clean up the business. We're going to point it out and they're going to be called on the carpet.”

A representative of the Mt. Pleasant Horse Show spoke from the crowd. “I appreciate you trying to figure out how to show no matter what. Mt. Pleasant lost money 2 of the last 3 years. We may not have a show this year. Shows won't continue losing money,” he said.

Wayne Abee, an NHSC judge, also spoke up. “I like a freer going horse than what I've seen in the last few years. Free them up a bit and you'll be able to sell him anywhere.”

The sniffer and swabbing of horses was of great concern. Many questions were asked and the trainers are delving into learning about it as much as possible. They will be meeting with the government soon on this issue. At that time, they will relate what they learned to the public. Double swabbing was one method discussed for the industry to be proactive in 2006. When the government swabs the horses, it may be possible to use two swabs, one of which will be given to the NHSC to analyze. More needs to be learned in this area although the WHTA has already met multiple times with Dr. Popp to learn more about this technology.

An audience member made the comment that they didn't want to see pressure shoeing, which is worse than soring. Landrum answered by explaining the WHTA has a lifetime ban against any trainer caught pressure shoeing. “Our penalty is stronger than the Horse Protection Act on this,” said Landrum. “We have to present the right horse, we're not looking for tricks.”

Motes said that the most important issues this year with negotiating the new operating plan are issues of owner liability, the scar rule, enhanced penalties and the probationary period.

Lonnie Messick also spoke about the Commission. He said that shows are affiliating as normal. At the present, the Commission has 36 DQPs. He said that they had just finished a very beneficial VMO/DQP training with the majority of the HIOs present. He felt that communication between the HIOs and the USDA was very good.

Landrum perhaps summed it up best when asked what could be done to give owners confidence that they could show their horses at horse shows. “Yes, we can get there. This is a transition year and it's going to take patience from the owners. We've done a good job, but there is lots of room for improvement. We can put a horse in the ring that excites you and that followed the Horse Protection Act. I am 100% comfortable that we can present these horses and show whether the government is there or not.”

“Look at the Celebration. Every one of those horses was inspected. They were exciting. I was impressed and humbled by the horses I saw. We can make a living with a horse like that. This is not doomsday,” continued Landrum.