Copyright WHR 2007

By Christy Howard Parsons

“I asked you to come today because I feel strongly that I was elected to make some changes, and with your approval I’d like to start with the National Horse Show Commission. I’d like to tell you what I have in mind and then take it to the Commission meeting on Monday for their approval,” began new WHTA President Wink Groover at the special called general membership meeting of the Walking Horse Trainers Association.

Groover laid out a plan to restructure the National Horse Show Commission whereby Lonnie Messick would serve as the Executive Administrator.

“According to everyone I’ve talked to in the USDA, the NHSC has the best recordkeeping of any HIO,” said Groover.

Groover would then propose to hire a new DQP Director and a new Director of Judges. He also explained he wants to hire five veterinarians on an advisory capacity and to begin a steward program at horse shows.

“These stewards would be different than in the past. They would be monitoring the showgrounds, the trailer area, the warmup area. They will have the authority to tell anyone when they have a horse that should not be presented to inspection. As long as the person complies with the steward, they’ll return to the truck or the stall with no penalty. If they refuse to comply with the steward, the steward will have the authority to take a 30 second video of the horse to bring back to the NHSC. The Commission can then decide when a penalty needs to be levied,” explained Groover.

Groover was passionate in his comments regarding the horse business. “In my opinion, we have lost a majority of our business in this industry and we’ve blamed it on everything but us.”

“We’ve got to get out of denial and think about what is really happening. The government is not putting us out of business. The public is putting pressure on the government. We have to put a horse in the ring that is something the public will accept. We have to change what we think a good horse is. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but we’ve got to make a horse that people want to come see, that they want to come ride,” said Groover.

Groover explained the difference in the environment we live in today. “Most owners used to have horses or mules at home. But today most owners live in condos or gated communities and the only animal they have at home is their dog or cat, and they are treated better than their kids. They have another animal and it’s their horse, and they expect that horse to be treated just like their dog and cat. We have to do away with the packaging we put on our horse in 1970 and repackage him for 2000,” explained Groover.

“Every one of you cleaned up today more than you would have at the barn so that you could come out in public. We know how to present ourselves in public, we just forget sometimes. Every time we leave the barn with our horses, we are going for a public inspection. Forget the DQP inspection. We have failed the course in public inspection,” declared Groover.

“Everytime you lead a horse off the trailer and he’s awkward, you’re hurting the Tennessee Walking Horse. Look what has happened to the racking horse business. The government didn’t shut down racking horses. The public did. The public didn’t like what they saw and they quit buying it,” Groover said.

“My plans for the DQP and steward program are important, but they are minor compared to the change we have to make in ourselves. We have proved for 35 years that we didn’t have to show our horse in compliance. We can continue to do that. But the public won’t watch us do it anymore,” exclaimed Groover.

“Most of you know that I’m a recovering alcoholic. I went to rehab because I didn’t want to die. After rehab someone followed me around for months before they trusted me to go anywhere by myself,” said Groover. “We are at that point in the horse business. We are going to die if we don’t do something. And we are going to have to prove we have recovered before people are going to trust us to do it by ourselves.”

Groover called for different solutions or for comments from people who didn’t agree. What followed was one of the most productive discussions of the general membership of the trainers that has ever taken place.

Several trainers expressed concern over the scar rule and Groover expressed his opinions.

“All the government officials I’ve talked to say that if we get the unsound horse out of the show ring, that the rest will be okay. I don’t know exactly what that means, but I’m an optimist,” said Groover.

Groover passed around a photo that the USDA has represented as a “perfect pastern.”

“There is no such thing as perfect. You can’t work an animal andhave a perfect pastern. But the public is not looking at his pastern, they’re watching that bad image. If we convince the public that we’re getting the unsound horse out of the ring, the rest will take care of itself. Then it’s up to me to make sure that we can work with the government on the scar rule,” said Groover.

“I live in the real world. I watch how the horses come in the first night when it’s rumored that the government is going to be there. Then when they’re not I see what happens between the first night of the show and the last night,” said Groover. “We all whisper to one another about all the same things that the public is talking out loud about.”

A lot of discussion centered around the judge’s responsibility to get the unsound horse out of the ring and to change the horses that get tied.

Groover disagreed with the judge absorbing that responsibility. “The DQP and steward are paid to enforce the law. It’s hard for a judge, who is hired by invitation only, to do that. We can’t do everything all at one time. We have to stop the cheating before the horses come in the ring,” said Groover.

Mack Motes pointed out that unless all HIOs enforced the HPA that horse shows would simply affiliate elsewhere. “If Kentucky or Heart of America don’t do it too, then we’ll lose 100 shows,” warned Motes. “You’ve got to get the government to believe you’re serious and then make sure they spread out to cover all affiliations.”

Groover concurred. “I can’t make the government do anything, but I am trying to structure this so they can see we’re making changes and they will want to help us.”

Ray Gilmer offered his support. “This is all new for us. There will be changes as we go along, but if we’ll give it a chance to work, we can add to it along the way… If we all leave here and say it won’t work, then it won’t. But the only thing that can save us now, is us. If everybody tries this and it doesn’t work, we can try something else.”

Joel Weaver called for a change in focus. “We are all a little guilty. Up to now my number one goal has been to win. But I’m going to make an effort to have my number one goal be that every horse that comes off the truck be something that I can be proud of. And my number two goal will be to win.”

Groover agreed but went a step further. “I agree with Joel, but I’d like to see our number two goal be to show everything we brought to the show. The government at times has been unreasonable, but if we show a conscious effort and have weekly communication with them, then we can get them to work with us.”

Herbert Derickson returned to the judging issue. “We, the trainers, are the judges. We can help. We can choose to not reward the horse that looks out of compliance. We can choose to tell the owner ‘Your horse was a little too crampy.’”

The discussion turned to finding standards for judging that would assist judges in determining what the public was looking for in a horse and putting together a proactive presentation to educate judges.

Groover agreed, but quickly reminded everyone. “Five weeks from now, we’re going to a horse show. We have to operate quick to make this change now.” Groover also explained that the board had already discussed having clinics at the December convention to address more education for trainers and judges.

Benny Johnson reassured the trainers. “The public buys what we have for sale. Whatever horse we call a great horse, that is what they’ll buy. If we take care of our image problem, the public will flock to our horse.”

Winky Groover gave his own analysis. “Our problem is the gait our mediocre horses are doing. That’s the horse that is all cramped up. The good horse will still be the good horse, because he is freegoing. That horse is still going to beat every other horse. But we have to get rid of the artificial looking horse.”

Wink Groover was encouraged by the crowd response. “We didn’t get here in one year and we’re not going to get out of it in one year. But if the majority of us walk out of here today believing we have to make a change, then this will have been the most significant meeting we’ve ever had.”

Carlyle Johnson asked Groover for some immediate dos and don’ts and Groover simply replied. “When you load him, if you say to yourself, ‘I hope he’s alright,’ then put him back up,” said Groover.

Ty Irby asked Groover to include in his proposal to the NHSC that the new DQP Director be a veterinarian. “It would add so much credibility to the DQP program,” said Irby.

Groover answered Dr. Jim Baum’s question about the current status of the operating plan with an honest answer. “I don’t have a clue. Supposedly it’s going to be on the USDA website and then they will take two weeks to consider it and come back to us,” said Groover.

Groover talked some about the difference in a flagrant scar rule violation and a violation that was not “flagrant” which could be deemed unacceptable with no penalty. “We’ll be working these things out in the DQP clinic on February 9 and 10,” explained Groover.

After a two hour discussion, a motion was made from the floor to endorse Groover’s plan for the Walking Horse Trainers Association and the National Horse Show Commission. It passed unanimously.

Groover will then take this plan to the Commission at their meeting on Monday, January 22, 2007.