Copyright 2006 WHR

by Sadie Fowler

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association Executive Committee met Monday, Feb. 27, 2006 to discuss recent industry issues including Tom Blankenship and the National Horse Protection Society’s (NHPS) proposal to adopt a new plan to achieve a permanent solution to 35 years of conflict in the walking horse industry.

Prior to Monday’s Board meeting, Jerrold Pedigo, Jane Meredith, Charles Wharton, Larry Lowman and Craig Evans, all representing TWHBEA, along with John T. Bobo, David Howard and Bailey Little, on behalf of the Celebration, attended a three- and-a-half hour meeting where Tom Blankenship outlined the NHPS proposed plan to clean up the industry.

“[Sunday’s] meeting was very broad-brushed,” said Pedigo Monday when updating the executive committee on his meeting with Blankenship. “In general, their belief is that we need to make industry changes and that they want to assist with that. I thought it would be appropriate that he meet with the committee working on [TWHBEA’s] Sanctioning Plan. We had that meeting yesterday from about 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.”

Pedigo said he felt Blankenship’s Plan was still somewhat sketchy. Blankenship informed those at Sunday’s meetings about a recent meeting that took place in Florida to get his plan underway. Jerry Johnson, a prominent veterinarian, invited five veterinarians to meet with him in Florida to come up with a basic, initial concept that would help the show horse industry deal with inspections. The veterinarians invited to attend all have major roles in their respective organizations including the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF), an organization that regulates most horse shows excluding TWH shows.

The NHPS’s concept calls for the organization of one major HIO that would be managed by an appointed, not elected, board of directors. All members of the board would be experts in their respective fields and would be of the highest integrity. Pedigo, and the TWHBEA Executive Committee agreed that there were several similarities between the NHPS’s concept and TWHBEA’s HIO Sanctioning Plan with the one major difference in the two plans being the structure of the NHPS board.

Blankenship’s major selling point, according to Pedigo, was how the NHPS would ensure compliance. Basically, under their HIO, the industry would be run by a very tight box of rules such that the industry would be able to regulate itself, without so much government oversight. The NHPS would be responsible for everything from rulemaking to the licensing of judges (it would not be in charge of registry). Board members in charge of the HIO, along with veterinarians chosen to perform inspections, it is hoped, would be of such expertise and integrity that the government would eventually merely audit inspections, rather than actually perform inspections.

“His [Blankenship’s] intent was to design it so there would be room for only one group [HIO],” said Craig Evans.

At Sunday’s meeting, Blankenship proposed coming up with an interim board to get the HIO off the ground, Pedigo explained Monday. Rhonda Martocci asked about the time frame of getting this plan together and Pedigo answered by saying right now, however, the specifics and the details about the plan just aren’t there. In essence, it was understood by the executive committee that Blankenship requested an endorsement from TWHBEA to acknowledge this body (the NHPS) and for TWHBEA to give up their own sanctioning plan.

Blankenship presented his plan to the Commission in a later meeting Monday (see separate story) and to a group of trainers on Monday evening.

After a good amount of discussion, the TWHBEA Executive Committee agreed that they could not endorse the NHPS’s plan as of right now because there are simply too many questions left on the table. However, Pedigo later confirmed with the Report that the NHPS is only a conceptual plan at this point and that TWHBEA would be willing to listen to Blankenship as details of the plan become forthcoming.

“We at the association will always be open minded and want to contribute to the success of industry as a whole,” said Pedigo. “We certainly do not want to close our minds to any ideas that might better the industry or to discourage any group of walking horse enthusiasts that wishes to work toward a better industry.” Jane Meredith perhaps summed up the executive committee’s stance on the issue best: “It is intriguing, but vague,” she said. “We are not in a position right now to favor it or disfavor it,” continued Sid Baucom. Craig Evans commented, “I prefer a democracy over an aristocracy.”

Another concern of the executive board was that the NHPS plan would have to be in place by Oct. 1, 2006, and the plan would also require the approval of Congress and amendment of the Horse Protection Act. Having this achieved by that time would be a very difficult thing to do, the committee agreed, even if the industry was in complete unity. Finally, the question was asked, “who would fund this plan?” Pedigo said that question had come up in Sunday’s meeting and that Blankenship did not have an answer as to how the plan would be funded now or down the road.

Aside from discussing Blankenship’s proposal, the executive committee Monday met with Washington D.C. lobbyist Niels Holch, The executive board addressed normal business and also had a good dialogue about recent industry happenings such as the USDA listening session held a few weeks ago and the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association question and answer session held last week.

Holch, who has represented TWHBEA, Walking Horse Trainers’ Association and the Walking Horse Owners’ Association, through the Commission, for 15 years in Washington D.C. legal negotiations, was there to request the TWHBEA continue to retain him as their attorney, even though the three organizations are no longer unified. Holch also requested at later meetings Monday that the Commission and the Trainers’ keep him on board as their attorney. Holch pointed out that in the event of a conflict of interest he would step aside and let Lonnie Messick represent the Commission and Craig Evans represent TWHBEA. TWHBEA reached a consensus, as did the Commission, to continue to retain Holch as upcoming negotiations are made concerning the next Operating Plan.

Holch also briefly discussed the Operating Plan and asked the TWHBEA Executive Committee what they wanted to accomplish in the next plan.

Prior to discussion of the Blankenship plan and Holch’s future role in the organization, Pedigo had opened the meeting by reporting on the USDA Listening Session, held in early February. While some disagreed with certain points made by Dr. Behre, Pedigo pointed out that the meeting was very informative.

“They are [USDA] much more confident in the path that they are headed and they are using science to back up their findings. They are pretty determined,” said Pedigo.

Toward the end of the TWHBEA Executive Committee meeting, Pedigo expressed his desire to keep open communication between his organization and the public and said he will be focused on working with the Report to get pertinent, newsworthy information regarding his organization out to the public.