By Jeffrey Howard

The Walking Horse Trainers’ Association annual membership meeting got off to a similar start to the 2007 show season as it was slow getting started because of traffic on I-65 leading into Franklin, TN. In a change of pace to previous meetings where elections were held, the ballots were distributed prior to the meeting and the 2007 election was one that saw none of the officers selected by the nominating committee have any opposition. This nominating committee consisted of Rollie Beard, Chris Bobo and Nathan Clark.

The new officers for 2008 will be President Link Webb, 1st Vice-President Mickey McCormick and 2nd Vice-President David Landrum. The board had four open spots and these were filled by the contingent voting for four of the following: Wayne Dean, Ray Gilmer, Dale Watts, Chad Williams, Wendell Kirkpatrick, Carl Johnson, Dan Waddell and Benny Johnson. Elected to the board from this group were Wayne Dean, Ray Gilmer, Chad Williams and Dan Waddell. The election was once again overseen by Connie Bailey from Winnett Associates.

As the meeting came to order, the normal Commission report was not given as Lonnie Messick is recovering from surgery. 2007 President Wink Groover continued with his remarks about the 2007 show season and the successes gained throughout the year. Groover let the membership know that Bill Hawks is trying to get the VMOs to attend several of the Trainers’ meetings throughout the year so as to build a better rapport with these VMOs and the USDA as a whole. Groover let it be known that this relationship is a very important one and anything that can be done to help build this relationship should have the full support of the WHTA.

Groover also took the opportunity to thank the membership for putting the horses in the ring in 2007 in compliance and although they were not 100% compliant all year the percentages were good. “We will never be 100% compliant but that is my goal and what we should strive for” said Groover. “If we continue to strive for this we will continue to put the majority of our horses in the ring in compliance.” Groover reported that the USDA told him personally that the horses in 2007 had improved miraculously over those presented for inspection in 2006. “We don’t have to spend money on a publicist to improve our public image, the horses we are putting in the ring in compliance are doing just that” said Groover.

Groover also commended the trainers for sticking together in a tough year and he hoped that will continue in the future. Groover let the membership know that signing the Operating Plan on Bill Hawks’ recommendation was a decision that turned out to be a good one. He admitted to holding that process up at the beginning of the year but after developing trust in Bill Hawks and hearing his recommendation he decided to recommend the Commission sign the plan, which they did. Mack Motes made a recommendation to the Board to get a committee together to begin work on the 2009 Operating Plan as much of this negotiation would occur during 2008. Leigh Bennett also commended Bill Hawks for his work on the plan and said that this signing of the plan ended some gridlock and made the remainder of the year a little easier.

A long discussion was had regarding the Celebration and how the WHTA can have a better working relationship with the Celebration. “It is imperative we have a say in what happens at the Celebration,” said Groover. Many of the attendees jumped in and added their sentiments toward the Celebration. It was agreed by all that the Celebration is the upper echelon of the business and the show they all wanted to attend and participate in. Steve Aymett asked Groover if the Trainers were represented on any advisory board. Upon hearing that they were not, Aymett stated, “ We should ask the Celebration to have a Trainers’ Advisory Board.” Many in the group agreed with this idea and agreed that communication with the Celebration needed to be better and more complete. Russ Thompson added that “The Celebration has gotten the fun taken out of it and without the fun back in it, it won’t be worth coming to.” He also added “I love the celebration and want to continue to come every year and show at the Celebration.” Johnny Puckett requested that the Trainers ask the Celebration to look at moving the show later in the year because of the heat and he added “there weren’t people in the stands because it was too hot to sit in the bleachers and watch the show.” Mickey McCormick made the suggestion of moving the Fun Show outside in the Celebration arena and not inside the Calsonic Arena.

Groover and Link Webb reported to the membership that they have met with Celebration Chairman, David Howard the previous morning and that he assured them the Celebration would welcome the feedback of the trainers and that it was the intention of the Celebration to meet with the Commission in the next couple of weeks about affiliating their shows.

Benny Johnson gave the horse show report and stated that 2008 would be the last year in the current contract with the Celebration to have the show at the Calsonic Arena. He stated they will open this up for bid and that one competing bid had already been received. It was later confirmed that this bid came from the Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, TN. Johnson also said he had discussions with David Howard from the Celebration regarding continuing the show on their grounds and that he was open to talking with the trainers and would do anything he could to help out and allow the show to be held at Calsonic Arena. Johnson thanked the Celebration for their continued commitment to a $30,000 donation and the city of Shelbyville for their $10,000 donation. He also told the membership with the increasing costs of running the WHTA that the decision had been made to attempt to have a fall show. The initial plan is for this to be held in Cleveland, TN.

Wayne Dean gave the financial report and let the membership know that they currently have three CDs. The total value of these CDs totals approximately $190,000. Dean also reported that the 2007 Riders Cup paid out $63,503. The two major liabilities include the note on the WHTA building and the monies owed to Bill Hawks.

The discussion of Hawks role and continued use was one that dominated the last portion of the meeting. Most in attendance were in agreement that they wanted to keep Hawks working for them and they had to have someone in this role but the problem was how to fund his efforts. Groover let them know that over the past year Hawks had charged them $250/hr but that in the future he felt they could negotiate with him on this rate. Many ideas were circulated regarding how to pay which included an increase in dues and entry fees and the formation of a fund similar to the Show Horse Support Fund in the past. Incoming President, Link Webb agreed to talk to Bill Hawks about continuing their relationship and also negotiate an agreement with him that the Trainers could fund.

As the meeting came to a close David Landrum thanked Groover for his efforts and applauded him for keeping everything on track in a difficult year. Everyone in attendance rose to their feet in a standing ovation.