The International Board of Directors for the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association met on Saturday, December 2, 2023, and elected their Executive Committee for the coming year. The slate that was presented by the Nominating Committee was elected without opposition.

Executive Committee Members elected for two-year terms were:
President: Amanda Wright (TN)
Senior Vice-President: David Williams (TN)
Administrative/Fiscal/Audit Vice-President: Kasey Kesselring (TN)
Marketing & Communications Vice-President: Dale Daniels (AR)
International Vice-President: Denise Bader (Germany)
Trainers Vice-President: Dee Cantrell (AL)

The following will continue their service on the Executive Committee for one-year to complete their Executive Committee term:
Advocacy Vice-President: Bill Stricklend (AL)
Bylaws & Enforcement Vice-President: Tom Kakassy (SC)
Membership & Registry Vice-President: David Sisk (TN)
Show Horse Vice-President: Lance Meisenheimer (IL)
Versatility & Trail Vice-President: Lyn Montgomery (CA)
Youth Vice-President: Chris Hazelwood (TN)

In addition to being elected as Administrative/Fiscal/Audit Vice-President, Kesselring was also appointed in a dual role as Secretary for the new Executive Committee. Kesselring was currently serving in that role.
Over the course of the two days of meetings, the general membership met on Friday and the International Board met on Saturday, the Vice-Presidents updated the members and board on the progress made over the past year. Outgoing President Jack Heffington, who held the role for three years, introduced each executive committee member for their reports to highlight the actions taken under his tenure as President.

During her report as Senior Vice-President, Amanda Wright highlighted the new strategic plan that centers around four main objectives. Those objectives were the Registry, where it is now possible to report deceased and castrated horses directly into Ipeds, and now emails are sent to the buyer and seller once a transfer is received.  

The second objective is promotion. TWHBEA has always held as one of its responsibilities to be the promotion of the Tennessee Walking Horse. The Voice has been a focus and grew in 2023, exceeding its goals, but also the promotion of the Tennessee Walking Horse outside of its traditional show ring performance is also a goal of TWHBEA.

The third objective is advocacy. Bill Stricklend gave this report on Saturday after a more in depth report on Friday given by Jeffrey Howard. Advocacy is at the forefront of the horse industry right now as USDA considers a rule that would effectively eliminate the show horse and horse shows in the Tennessee Walking Horse industry.

During Howard’s report on Friday he updated the memberships of both the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association and TWHBEA on the current rulemaking status, as well as the opportunities that may exist for the industry to take a proactive approach in seeking answers to many of the questions that surround certain aspects of the inspection process and how the USDA interprets the Horse Protection Act.

As the USDA stated in their proposed rulemaking, it is no secret that there are due process issues and concerns surrounding the disqualification of horses with no opportunity for notice and hearing prior to the penalty being issued. In addition, even though the National Academies of Science stated in their study regarding the inspection process that the current scar rule is unenforceable, the USDA continues to disqualify horses on the current scar rule. Also, the USDA used the need to correct and update the scar rule as a reason for the courts to not force the implementation of the old 2017 rule and allow the formation of the new 2023 rule.

The industry must also better understand and potentially challenge the post-show inflammation being called a violation of the HPA. This violation began being called back in 2019 and continues to disqualify a large number of horses each year. At this year’s Celebration, a ring injury was called an HPA violation for the first time in the history of the Horse Protection Act.  

The rulemaking should come to a head in 2024 with a most likely effective date in early 2025, but, at the current time, the industry is in a waiting game as the USDA considers the comments made on the rule and formulates a final rule to send to the Office of Management and Budget for final approval.

Stricklend reiterated on both Friday and Saturday that currently advocacy for the horse and the protection of our show horse remains a top priority. TWHBEA did file a comment in opposition to the proposed rule, which was a change from 2016 when TWHBEA was silent on the proposed rule, and their silence was used as a rallying cry for the opposition to the show horse.

The fourth objective is leadership. TWHBEA is dedicated to becoming more of a leader in the industry and has added staff in multiple areas, including Mark Farrar as CEO and Kerry Huckabee as Director of Finance and Operations. These, along with other staffing additions, position TWHBEA to carry more of a leadership role moving forward.

In Farrar’s comments to the association he thanked those employees that were leaving, which included Marilyn Walker after 52 years in the registry. Farrar also mentioned how TWHBEA is doing a better job of recognizing members’ accomplishments, the presentation of the World Grand Champion portrait to the Tennessee Commissioner of Agriculture in conjunction with The Celebration, Ag Day on the Hill in Nashville, repairs and maintenance to the building and the formation of the Legacy Circle. This Legacy Circle includes members who donate at least $250 and for that donation members receive a commemorative bottle of Uncle Nearest. The Legacy Circle has raised over $21,000 so far, much of which is designated to go toward Advocacy.

The financials of TWHBEA show a relatively strong position for the association. The balance sheet of TWHBEA shows total assets just over $2 million, with over $1 million of that in current assets. TWHBEA has switched to a calendar year of accounting so it has made comparisons hard to previous years. For example, membership is down significantly, but in past years all memberships had the January 1st anniversary date and now they are on the anniversary date of the each membership.

Net income from January 1 – October 31, 2023, stands at $66,474. The positive position is better than budget by $102,500. The revenue in the registry was strong, the revenue of The Voice was improved and cost savings came from staffing changes that eliminated overlaps in staffing. Of the total income of $1,216,786, the registry and membership continue to make up the lions share. Those two income sources total $786,453, or 65%.

In new business, the new International Board of Directors approved an increase in two fees. The name change fee was increased to $150, and lease fee will now be $250. A new fee approved will be a one-time fee of $500 to reserve a prefix or suffix for naming purposes. David Sisk had talked about the new abilities to add prefixes and suffixes earlier in his report.

TWHBEA’s board also approved TWHBEA to administer an exhibitor card program that would be instituted in 2024 to raise money for the legal fund. This fee was capped at a maximum of $150 during the motion with discounts for TWHBEA members, and an ability for TWHBEA to possibly collect a small percentage of the fee for the card to help offset the costs to administer.

This fee would be dependent on HIOs requiring the TWHBEA issued exhibitor card to be mandated for participation in those affiliated shows. TWHBEA shows approximately 1,700 unique exhibitors that showed in 2023 making it possible, through this fee, to raise significant sums for the overall legal fees that will be needed in 2024 and beyond.