LEWISBURG, Tenn. – The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association held its International Board of Directors Meeting on February 6, 2021 at both its headquarters and via Zoom. Due to the pandemic, the meeting was delayed from December when the election and board meeting are typically held.  By allowing board members to attend either way, 54 of the 56 directors were in attendance, one of the highest totals in recent memory.

All but the President and VP of Marketing were decided at the meeting due to the nominees running unopposed. David Williams and Jack Heffington were the choices for President and Keegan Meadows and Frances Bates were the nominees for Marketing. TWHBEA later released the final results which are reflected below:

President - Jack Heffington
Senior Vice President – Ashley Wadsworth
Owners/Exhibitors/International – Brad Woodruff
Bylaws/Enforcement – Robin Webb
Admin/Fiscal/Audit – Joyce Moyer
Marketing - Frances Bates
Breeders – Kasey Kesselring
Youth – Chris Hazelwood
Performance Horse – Amanda Wright
Pleasure Horse – Kristen Reichard
Training – Thom Meek
Equine Welfare – Jim Heiting
Secretary – Walt Chism

The nominees for president and marketing were each given two minutes to speak to the other directors.  All agreed it is a critical time in TWHBEA’s existence as well as in the time of the Tennessee Walking Horse.  Williams, who is a past President of TWHBEA spoke about the need for positive promotion of the horse, the acceptance of positive change and focusing on change that improves the profitability of the industry.  Williams goals include putting more exhibitors in the ring, more horses in the barns and more people in the stands.
Heffington agreed with much of what Williams had to say when he spoke. Heffington spoke about the decline of TWHBEA over the years in its numbers but also in its role in the industry. He blamed TWHBEA for allowing its own decline and spoke also of change needed to bring TWHBEA back to prominence.

The directors in attendance were able to vote via ballot but those on Zoom have to have their ballots to Winnett Associates accounting firm by 5:00PM CST on Wednesday February 10.  The results will be announced as soon as Winnett Associates sends the results to TWHBEA.

Also during the meeting the new directors were sworn in and will begin their terms. The standing committee reports were the same or similar to those given at the membership meeting in December. To view that recap click here.

One item reported on during the meeting that has happened since the meeting in December was the association’s response to the National Academies of Science study on the inspection protocols in the industry. That response was formulated by a committee under the direction of Jim Heiting. TWHBEA’s response read:

The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association is pleased that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NAS) recently concluded their study entitled, “A Review of Methods for Detecting Soreness in Horses (2021)”, recently published. The study, for the first time combining efforts of the USDA and the Tennessee Walking Horse industry (Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ Foundation, the USDA, and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture), was commissioned to examine methods and approaches for detecting soring of horses and to improve the reliability of inspections and conclusions related to soreness and soring.

The Horse Protection Act is a commerce law governing the showing, auctioning, and exhibiting of horses that outlaws soring, defined as an action by a person that results in physical pain to the horse. Soring is further defined as possibly including irritating or blistering agents, burns, cuts or lacerations, or use of any tack, nail, screw, or chemical agent used to irritate or cause pain to the limb of a horse. (Ref. 15 US Code Section 1821, Section 3).

A variety of experienced and well-respected veterinarians with private and university affiliations conducted the study and considered testimony and materials over a two year period to prepare their findings in the report overseen by doctors from Michigan State University and Washington University (St. Louis).

The NAS committee first acknowledged the stamina, gait, even disposition and unique smooth four-beat running walk and popularity of competing Tennessee Walking Horses, and then turned to their findings.
NAS found as a result of the study (and the Walking Horse industry and USDA appear to agree), that the inspection system and methods involving Tennessee Walking horses are inadequate and need to be improved through objective tests and methods.

NAS was charged to explore new methods and approaches and technology involving inspections, with the goals of consistency, objectivity, quality and reliability. Their guiding principle was consistent with ours – the welfare of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

We agree with NAS findings that there has been great variability and discrepancy in inspections; experience and training vary greatly in inspectors; and inspectors may have real or perceived conflicts of interest. The study found that this results in lack of valid and reliable methods of inspection and fails to meet the goals of consistency, objectivity, quality and reliability.

Even though “new methods, approaches and technology” will require further research and development, NAS suggests that only “highly trained and experienced equine veterinarians” would or should be examining horses, and any person not an experienced equine veterinarian should not be doing the inspections. That is a definite step in the right direction, and we look forward to the use of certified equine vets stepping into this role; but we must continue to call out for, and find, better and more objective testing, as some have voiced that this recommendation to use only qualified, experienced equine veterinarians will be difficult and carries costs, and veterinarian opinions will vary between veterinarians and remain subjective, thereby impeding consistency, objectivity, quality and reliability.

Although the NAS study discounts the need or desire to have a second opinion that results in consistent findings before disqualifying a horse, we believe that insuring consistency and reliability in inspections is always to the benefit of the horse, the exhibitor, the trainer, and the owner.

NAS suggests that one method of obtaining objectivity, consistency, quality and reliability is the use of blood testing and swabbing to test for chemical and/or drug applications. We agree with NAS findings that such testing is certainly desirable when done under appropriate circumstances and using methods that insure reliability.

NAS also examined the so-called “scar rule”. They found that the rule, as written, and considering past interpretation and use, has been inconsistent and that “the rule is unenforceable”. If it is to continue, it must be reexamined and rewritten. They agree that, even if scarring is found, the cause of an established scar (not an active or raw lesion) will not necessarily be clear, and the presence of an existing scar would not, in itself, necessarily be a source of soreness in the animal as presented. They recommend a revision of the rule and certain findings as necessary to enforce it. Of course, as it stands, findings of redness, swelling, or an active lesion or raw spot would disqualify a horse from showing; and we can call for future considerations to explore how an old scar that may not contribute in any way to soring or reaction of pain in the animal at the time of exhibition or training, would be viewed.

We appreciate and applaud the efforts of the USDA, the Tennessee Walking Horse Foundation, and the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, along with the equine veterinarians and scientists that participated, as well as those that testified and supplied materials for the study.

In summary, this combined effort concludes in findings that current inspection practices and methods are inadequate, makes suggestions for improvements that must be made, and in the agreement that we must continue to search for quality objective methods, approaches and technology that result in findings that are consistent and reliable.

Although the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association is not in the business of inspecting horses, we look forward to HIOs joining in exploring and establishing objective tests that meet the standards suggested and result in predictable, consistent, and verifiable findings.

The association continues to make strides financially and finds itself in one of the best positions in recent memory. The net income in the fiscal year ending November 2020 was $99,000.  In addition, TWHBEA has over $730,000 in cash as of January 31, 2021.  It wasn’t too long ago that TWHBEA was looking at selling its building because of the dire straights it found itself in financially.