by Jeffrey Howard

LEWISBURG, Tenn. – Tough economic times are nothing new to anyone in the industry and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) sure isn’t exempt. Mike Inman gave the financial report and reported a $22,000 year-to-date loss and is working on a revised budget with additional cuts.

Registration revenue is off $24,000 from forecasted figures and the Voice has also been below projections. Inman stated, "The cancellation of the Trainers’ Show and uncertainty in inspection are the key elements in the Voice revenue being down." On a positive note, the association does have close to three months operating capital in cash reserves, which has been a constant over the last several months. Cash reserves are approximately $656,000, however, the Futurity and Commemorative Garden accounts, which can’t be touched, make up approximately $50,000 of the reserves.

New revenue generating ideas are on the top of the to-do list at TWHBEA. "I am concerned about our financial situation. We need to put our heads together and think of new ideas," said President David Pruett.

"One thing we can do is increase our membership and we will begin a phone-a-thon to contact our members for renewals and to look for new members," said Executive Director Stan Butt. "This (economic and industry time) calls for drastic measures."

Everyone on the Executive Committee was saddened by the loss of 2008 TWHBEA Member of the Year Chuck Cheek. "I would like to express my sorrow for the loss of Chuck Cheek. Our sympathies go out to Paulette and his friends and family. I ask all of you to keep them in your thoughts and prayers," said Pruett. Butt remarked, "We lost a very staunch supporter of our association." Senior Vice President Robert Thomas concluded, "Chuck was a great fellow and a very good lawyer. He was unique in his ability to disagree without being disagreeable."

Cheek was also the TWHBEA Horse Industry Organization (HIO) representative and had only served for a couple of months in that role but had begun to make strides for the industry. A large discussion centered on who would fill his shoes in the role and the committee decided on an interim basis to select Pruett .

The TWHBEA HIO is not active, yet does participate in the HIO meetings. "The report from the latest meeting had blatant mistruths about someone from show management being arrested in Jackson, Miss," said Inman. "We need to stand up and say something about these mistruths being reported in the industry.

"I think any correspondence we have with the USDA should be approved by this committee," remarked Inman. He also brought up that in the job description of the vice president of Owners’ & Exhibitors’ it states this position should be responsible for governmental affairs. Kathy Zeis resides in that role and has formed a committee of the vice presidents of Performance Horse, Training and Pleasure Horse Committees and the senior vice president. Those positions are Wayne Dean, Chris Bobo, Diane McMurtrey and Robert Thomas, respectively. This committee will approve correspondence from TWHBEA to the USDA as well as look for a permanent replacement for Cheek as the HIO representative.

Inman also raised the question, "Should we even have an HIO? There is still misinformation; what is the value, what is the return to our membership? I just don’t see any value in it." Many on the committee felt that the HIO did have value in providing TWHBEA a "seat at the table" for the HIO meetings with the USDA.

"I would like to keep a seat at the table to listen to what they are saying and then have a proactive approach," said Dean. "What is the downside of staying at the table?" asked Debra Jack.

A real concern is the lack of cooperation and communication with TWHBEA as an HIO or organization. "Dr. Gipson refused to answer any of the questions in our letter, which was signed by the Owners’ Association and Trainers’ Association as well," said Inman.

Also addressed at the meeting was the current state of the industry. Thomas said, "What a nightmare in Jackson. We have to get something moving in a positive direction and find a way to work with these guys (USDA). Our horse is bigger than all of this."

"It is a really hard time right now," said Dean. "The number one group to support the trainer is TWHBEA and I think it is sad that we don’t have a statement on the front of our site that says we support the performance horse. It is time for TWHBEA to stand up for every aspect of the horse. The horse is not a criminal."

"Our industry is in crisis right now," added Jack. "Should we look at some type of benefit to create a fund to help the trainers?"

"The current crisis is definitely hitting home," said Chris Bobo.

McMurtrey brought to the group the opportunity to have Rick Lamb host his show, "The Horse Show with Rick Lamb" from the World Versatility Show. The cost of sponsoring the show and having Lamb at the World Versatility Show is $2,500, however Lamb will require he make a statement against the practice of soring and he won’t promote the padded performance horse. "I would like to get $2,500 from marketing and pursue having Lamb at the show and review his statement (before he airs it on his show)," said McMurtrey.

The committee was uncomfortable voting on the request from McMurtrey for several reasons including the absence of Kasey Kesselring at the meeting and using his money from marketing without his input. "I am tired of people coming to us and saying I will not support you but if you send me money then I will promote a certain discipline," said Inman.

"I am greatly concerned about him not promoting performance horses," added Thomas. The motion from McMurtrey was tabled.

McMurtrey also raised concerns about the financial support of the show. "How much financially is TWHBEA willing to support the show regardless of monies raised?" asked McMurtrey.

"Most of the expense is prize money," said Pruett. "We may have to change what we do, not stop what we do. People may have to come and participate (without prize monies)."

Another concern from McMurtrey was the communication within TWHBEA. "There is a communication problem within TWHBEA this year which is causing roadblocks. If I am the show manager I need more input," said McMurtrey. McMurtrey was concerned about how the judges were hired (Rick Weis and Sherrie Szucs), how much money was allocated to the show and where the contract on the facility stood. "The left hand isn’t communicating with the right hand," sated Inman.

After reviewing the budget, TWHBEA had allocated $13,000 for the show and the show will be held in conjunction with the WHOA Pleasure International at the Miller Coliseum in Murfreesboro, Tenn. Pruett said, "We should all help each other, we are one organization, one horse and here to help each other."

Here are other highlights from the committee reports:

• TWHBEA gained authorization from the National Walking Horse Association to include their results in iPEDS

• The first release of iPEDS is scheduled for May 1, 2009

• David Williams and Dr. Bob Womack will serve on a committee to select Master Breeders’ Awards

• The Regional Futurities will continue to be limited to 10 spots and will be opened up if the original 10 don’t operate a futurity

• Two of the TWHBEA Youth Scholarships will be named in honor of Lizzie Umberger and Chuck Cheek

• The TWHBEA rulebook has been translated to German