The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) held its semi-annual international board of directors meeting on May 29, 2010 at its headquarters in Lewisburg, Tenn.  The meeting coincided with the 75th birthday of TWHBEA which was celebrated the previous day with a ceremony and luncheon.

A staple of the TWHBEA has been its dedicated office and registry staff.  During the meeting Gloria Rambo was recognized for her 45 years of service to TWHBEA.

President David Pruett opened the meeting by recognizing the 75th birthday and giving a brief recount of the formation of the association.  Pruett spoke to the importance of the upcoming World Equestrian Games in Louisville, Ky and the fact that registered Tennessee Walking Horses will be in attendance at the event.

As has become customary, an organization’s president spoke to the challenges facing their organization and TWHBEA is no different.  “We are always facing new challenges and we must make adjustments daily,” said Pruett.  “We need our directors to enlist new members and urge their constituents to register and transfer their horses.”

Pruett discussed the Sound Horse Conference and its importance as well as TWHBEA’s sponsorship of the event.  “We need to promote the Tennessee Walking Horse.  We have the smoothest riding, most intelligent horse and we must grow and sell our breed.  My hope is 75 years from now that we will be the dominant breed around the world because we have the best horse,” concluded Pruett.

The arrival of the new book, The Tennessee Walking Horse:  An American Tradition was on display at the headquarters.  TWHBEA acknowledged the eight sponsors of the book that allow 100% of the proceeds of the sale of the book to benefit TWHBEA.  Those sponsors include Frank Neal, Bud and Suzanne Moore, Randall and Sadie Baskin, the Duke Thorson family, Harlinsdale Farm, the Chip Carrier family, Jim and Judy Leek and Bruce and Nancy Lovato.

Senior Vice President Dee Dee Sale urged the association and general walking horse public to focus on the positive instead of continuing to dwell on the negative and gloom and doom of the industry.  She pled with the directors to focus on the fact that the walking horse is the best product in the world and there is a need to sell it.  “Please focus on the positives and send that message to the industry,” said Sale.

As an example Sale pointed to former executive committee member Joyce Moyer.  “She is a breath of fresh air and promotes the Tennessee Walking Horse everywhere she goes,” concluded Sale.

Stan Butt addressed many challenges within the association during his remarks.  Butt pointed out that the recently completed membership survey showed that 80% of the membership is 45 years of age or older.  “We must develop programs that interest our youth,” said Butt.

“We have lots of challenges but also lots of opportunities.  How we view both of these will determine our future,” continued Butt.  “We must be doing some things right.  We recognized yesterday that between four members of our staff, we have 179 years of experience.”

Butt also pointed out that in July or August of this year, TWHBEA will register its 500,000 horse.  “I am optimistic about our possibilities but programs generate membership and we have to create interest in our association,” concluded Butt.

The financial status of TWHBEA has been a hot topic for several years now and 2010 is no different.  The association is down $71,710 in revenue year-to-date versus its budgeted revenues.  Through five months, TWHBEA has lost $13,534 which is actually $9,772 better than budgeted for the first five months.

The TWHBEA has over $500,000 in cash, yet over $115,000 is held in the futurity and commemorative garden accounts which can’t be used for operations.

During the Breeders’ division report it was pointed out that the trends in membership, registrations and transfers were alarming, especially considering these are the major revenue sources for TWHBEA.  Year-to-date first time foal registrations are down 27% over last year and 64% over 2008.  In dollar figures this is $22,790 less than 2009 and $74,795 less than 2008.

Transfers are down 15% from last year and 37% from two years ago.  Membership is continuing to decrease and in April 2010 there are 10,464 members compared to 12,431 in last year.  Just four years ago there were 17,975 members.  That is a 42% drop.

Also the most recent stallion breeding report shows an increasing retraction in the breeding of the Tennessee Walking Horse.  The report ending in September 2008 showed 13,252 mares bred.  The September 2009 report had 9,387, a 29% drop.   The 2003 report showed 27,493 mares bred.  That is a 66% drop in just six years.

Jack Heffington summarized these trends this way, “When you see a downturn that means the breed is improving.  Our breed will be a far better breed as a result of this downturn.”

Bruce Vaughn updated the directors on the upcoming futurity.  Vaughn spoke to many changes in the class schedule.  The park pleasure will now be classic park pleasure.  The futurity will not have any tungsten shoe classes.  Also added was a new two-year-old country pleasure class.

The weanling class will now be split between fall and spring weanlings.  The park performance class was eliminated and the trail pleasure class was split into English and Western.  There will also be a two and three-year-old optional tack trail pleasure class.

Vaughn also urged the HIOs to communicate better and make the rules better known.  “This has been the most confusing year for participants and there are lots of unknowns,” said Vaughn.

Other topics during the meeting included foreign membership, Celebration clinics and the youth challenge program.  “I still feel like our children need to learn to canter,” said Wayne Dean.  Also, the World Versatility show is in July and will now be three days.  Upcoming youth activities include a creative contest, youth trail clinic, king and queen and the deadline for scholarships is June 15, 2010.

The annual membership and international board of director meetings will be the first weekend in December.