Copyright WHR 2007

By Christy Howard Parsons

Ron Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, was a guest speaker at the general membership meeting of the Walking Horse Trainers Association on Tuesday, May 22.

Thomas came to express his appreciation for the efforts being made by trainers to show sound horses.

“I’m here to say thank you and congratulations for a good job showing horses. Change is hard, change is sometimes resisted, but change is necessary – it’s a way of life,” said Thomas.

“The Gallatin and Petersburg shows were great. That horse will sell. That horse will excite. This is the horse of our future,” said Thomas.

“Show management can help. We can tweak show schedules, we can add more workouts, we can help get fans fired up again. They come because of you – the professional trainers riding horses. We know that. We want to build on that,” continued Thomas. “After the disasters in last year’s show, we’re implementing checks and balances so that doesn’t happen again.”

“There’s a lot of credit to go around. It all starts with you. Credit goes to the DQPs and to their director. It goes to everybody who wants things done right,” said Thomas. “I’m proud of you. The Celebration Board is proud of you. We are putting a program in place to put horses in the ring that the public will accept and where we can stand behind you,” said Thomas.

Thomas also suggested changes for the 2008 Fun Show. “The days are gone where people stay on the grounds for multi-night horse shows in Tennessee. We won’t make a decision until sometime this winter, but we are considering changing the format of the Fun Show to three back-to-back one night horse shows. Three different judges, three different stake horse winners, three different three-year-old winners, all in one venue, Calsonic arena. It would be very easy for us to do if you would like it,” said Thomas.

After Thomas left, President Wink Groover called the meeting to order.

His first order of business was to address the Operating Plan.

“Truthfully, we haven’t gotten any word from the Department about any changes to the Operating Plan. We voted on the original plan and rejected it. It hasn’t been changed so there’s nothing to vote on,” said Groover.

“We contacted the Department early last week and told them about this meeting this week. We wanted to know if there were to be any changes before this meeting. But we did not hear, so as far as I know, that is a mute subject,” concluded Groover.

Groover then introduced the new Code of Ethics (see separate story entitled WHTA Code of Ethics). Groover said that Bill Hawks of Agworks Solutions had drafted a new statement similar to the previous code of ethics but with some wording changes.

“This is done in every industry. We’ve already proven we can make changes. I’ve even heard from some amateurs that the horses are a lot easier to ride than they used to be,” said Groover.

Groover also said that Hawks was putting together a scar rule workshop with the USDA, AAEP and some humane groups to work out the number one problem facing the industry.

“We content that the blemish on the pastern is from usage but we need data to convince people.”

Groover also introduced Dr. John Bennett who has proposed an alternative scar inspection procedure.

Dr. Bennett addressed the crowd to explain his proposal. He said he had presented the procedure to several individuals at the AAEP. He also said the Burton Eller liked the program as did Bill Hawks. Bennett also presented the plan to Dr. Poe and Dr. Todd Behre with the USDA last spring, and that while they had not made a comment, they had not been negative about it.

“You all know there is a lot of inconsistency in the DQP inspections. I propose that we use the existing regions in the industry and inspect the horses with the same committee composed of vets, DQPs, USDA, even someone from the humane groups. The first time the horse was checked he would get a 125 MHZ microchip inserted and the chip would stay with the horse. It’s pretty cheap to use and would follow the horse,” explained Bennett.

“That same committee would inspect every horse every four months. Then if he’s out, he’s out for four months, and if he’s in, he’s in for four months. Bennett explained that the first step in the procedure would be to establish a guideline to follow in enforcing the scar rule through the scar rule workshop proposed by Bill Hawks.

“A clean pastern is a pipedream,” said Bennett. “We have to allow for changes from usage and as the horse ages. Our skin ages and theirs does too.”

There was some discussion among the trainers about post show scar rules and how a horse is judged to pass the scar rule in pre show inspection, and later be given a scar rule violation in post show inspection.

“The post show scar rule is ridiculous anyway,” said Tim Gray.

Bennett explained, “There would be no post show violation anymore.”

Some trainers expressed doubt that the program would work. “What keeps someone from getting a horse through inspection and then riding him every day with a 10 ounce chain and rubbing every hair off. They’d be able to get away with it for four months?”

Bennett responded. “It’s not a fool-proof plan.”

Wink Groover continued. “If you did that, then you’d be out at the next inspection.”

Groover supported the program saying “Ron DeHaven has said he was receptive to listening to it, according to Bill Hawks.”

“It’s not an answer to everything. It’s not a foolproof plan, but it’s something. I haven’t met tremendous resistance to it,” concluded Bennett.

Groover concluded the discussion on the matter, “We are open for other suggestions. We are trying to come up with a plan. We are not just sitting around doing nothing. All this is to be done this fall and winter to come up with a more secure, better plan than we have now.”

David Finger then addressed the trainers regarding the upcoming Fun Show.

“I met with Ron Thomas this morning. They’ve requested we provide monitors, licensed DQPs in the warm up area and in the barns. These DQPs are not to inspect horses, but to watch for general presentation and when there’s a justifiable cause, to ask them to leave the show.”

“We expect lots of media out on the grounds, probably filming. It’s a carryover from last year’s Celebration. There have already been requests to witness the inspection area. We have to face that we have done a con game for thirty years. But we’ve turned that around. You’ve done a fantastic job, it’s unbelievable how much this horse has changed,” continued Finger.

“We expect the government to be here, but we don’t know. In some ways, we will be monitored more closely by the media if they’re not here than if they are. We’ve come a long way from the first night of the Trainers Show. Our turn down ratio at shows has averaged 97% with some shows having a higher turn down rate when the government was not there than when they were. At Florida, we had a 98% pass rate with the government there. They are really pleased with our performance,” said Finger.

“Ron Thomas said that in his last conversation with DeHaven, that he couldn’t tell him when or if they were coming, but that if they came, they would be in the same mood they’ve been in. Let’s do everything we can to keep them that way,” said Finger.

“It doesn’t matter if we have an Operating Plan or not. There’s nothing any different. If they are so-minded, they can ask for twenty years the first time if they want to,” said Finger.

Finger commended the trainers on leading the horses up to the ring. He said he had often been told Mickey McCormick and David Landrum got away with this or that, but that he had watched them lead good horses up there time after time and had not seen any of those problems.

Finger specifically commended two other trainers for consistently presenting horses to the government, even if they had had some problems with the government. Joel Weaver and Jeff Green were each recognized by Finger. “I’m really proud that some people are confident enough that they lead their horses up no matter what,” said Finger.

Finger did also explain that Ron Thomas had requested that horses that were turned down in inspection but who requested additional inspections remove their horses from the warm up area through the back door where they could have the opportunity for their own independent exam away from the public eye.

“We cannot draw any more negative attention,” explained Finger.

Groover then presented a new owner liability document drawn up by Sister Milligan. Dick Peebles said that if trainers and owners completed the steps required by the document and have the proper veterinarian signatures and copies filed, that owners could be protected and that the USDA would honor the statement. See copy of the Owner Liability Statement in this issue.

“I recommend that all trainers get one of these to your owners. This takes the place of the owner liability clause in the Operating Plan,” said Groover.

Groover then addressed the negotiations with the Celebration. Link Webb is on the committee meeting with the Celebration, and Groover asked Webb to make a statement, but he declined.

Groover said that the trainers had visited with Ron Thomas and David Howard of the Celebration.

“We are in agreement to work with the Celebration to get it affiliated with the Commission and to see that everything is done for the Celebration to protect itself and for the Commission to protect the trainers. It’s going to happen, but it hasn’t happened yet,” explained Groover.

Sonny Holt questioned Groover from the floor about what progress had been made since last fall in the industry problems.

“The Department is here to stay. The general public is here to stay. If we want to stay in walking horses, we are going to have to do what the public accepts and what the Department says, then we will be here to stay,” said Groover. “As long as the public is fine, the Government is fine.”

“You think they’re fine now,” asked Holt.

“I think they are. I see a lot of difference,” said Groover.

Groover was asked why there were so few horses showing in Missouri when the Government attended. “They weren’t prepared for the government to be there,” said Groover.

Holt interjected “Everytime I sign the entry blank, I know there is a chance they’ll be there. I’ve had five cases and my next one is probably for life. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I always assume there’s a chance they’ll be there.”

Holt also said that he had seen a copy of a letter from Dr. Chester Gipson that indicated the USDA had accepted the HIO changes to the Operating Plan.

Groover had no knowledge of such a letter. “The government never said anything different than the original Operating Plan. The HIOs met and made amendments to give us probation back and to make amendments to the scar rule, but the government hasn’t approved anything as of today,” said Groover.

“I did not attend the May 7 HIO meeting, but Valarie Ragan sent me a copy of what was said. Dr. DeHaven was there for 10 minutes. Dr. Gipson was there only part of the time. But the Department never agreed to adopt anything. The majority of the HIOs agreed but FOSH and NWHA have signed the original plan and have said if it changes, that they will then opt out of the plan,” explained Groover.

Holt also questioned Groover about when and why the WHTA would vote on the plan.

“We decided not to sign the original. If they change it, we’ll bring it back up. But right now, there’s no change, so there’s no reason to revote,” said Groover.

With a final announcement that the July 1 WHTA Scholarship deadline was approaching, the meeting adjourned.