By Jeffrey Howard

LEWISBURG, Tenn. – The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) held its executive committee meeting on Monday, May 2, 2011, at its headquarters in Lewisburg. The main action taken in the meeting centered around a presentation by Tom Kakassy on the official TWHBEA response to the request for comment posted by the USDA in the federal register. This came as a result of the petition filed by the Humane Society of the United States, former Senator Joseph D. Tydings and other humane groups.

After review of Kakassy’s response, the committee voted unanimously to post the response. Buster Black and Rick Weis abstained from the vote. Readers may view the response and separate story by clicking here.

During the president’s report, Marty Irby informed the committee that the staff at TWHBEA had received a 5% increase in pay. Previously, all of the staff had received a 10% reduction in pay as a budget reduction. Irby expressed the hope of getting the remaining 5% back to the employees in the next 90 days. Both Irby and Executive Vice-President Margo Urad commended the staff on a job well-done and both applauded the strides being made by the association.
Irby pointed out the goal of 10,000 members by the semi-annual meeting stating that they were about 150 members shy of that goal. Urad urged, “We need to get to the non-members in our states and promote the industry and bring our members back.”
Executive Director Ron Thomas addressed the committee regarding many issues including staffing and he announced that Sarah Gee will be moving to Michigan but will continue to help The Voice Magazine, similar to her current role. Thomas also pointed out the struggles of The Voice and stated, “We just can’t get it how we want it but we are still working on it.” 
Thomas is going to meet with a third-party vendor to look at its ability to help with corporate advertising. This group would be paid on a commission basis. Thomas also spoke to a meeting he and David Pruett had with a company regarding placing a museum at the headquarters, and they will be receiving proposals and drawings soon.
A major concern at TWHBEA is revenue and Thomas pointed out some of the ways he is looking to increase revenue at TWHBEA. He mentioned banner advertising on the Web site, sales in The Voice, improvements to iPeds, name reservations, the museum and a memorial park where previous breeding stallions would be buried.
“Everyone is looking for revenue and right now everyone is struggling. The Trainers’ are struggling, WHOA is struggling as are we, but obviously we are a lot better along than those groups and we are moving in the right direction,” said Thomas.
Thomas finished by pleading with the committee to look at its forms and how customer-friendly those forms are and, in turn, how customer-friendly TWHBEA is in dealing with registrations, transfers, etc. Thomas pointed out that 85% of the forms received by TWHBEA are incomplete. “We need to study our customer service and friendliness and ask ourselves if 85% of the forms are incomplete, do we need to look at our forms?” said Thomas.
Thomas continued, “We just aren’t customer-friendly but it is important to understand that our staff is just doing what this executive committee directs them to do and all of these decisions have been passed down by previous executive committees. I do not want to do anything to short circuit the integrity of the registry but I speak with every customer that I walk by in this office and our average age is getting older and, as I used to say at the Celebration, it worries me when I look out and see more dentures than braces."
“We have to make it easier for our customers and the staff is doing a better job of saying no and trying to assist the customer. The staff is dedicated and hard-working, but we won’t find the level of success we are striving for without making some changes in our service,” concluded Thomas.
In response, Kathy Zeis asked Thomas if the staff could track the types of errors that are coming in so that they would better understand what portions of the forms are problems. Brandon pointed out, “It is just human nature to fill out forms and make mistakes. People are in a hurry and thus make mistakes.”
Zeis then pointed out, “So many of these errors are from a lack of reading by the customer filling out the form.” Joyce Moyer pointed out, “We have revised these forms at least twice already.”  Black added, “We must have the lowest common denominator in mind when we design these forms.”
Irby and Urad pointed out that the staff needed to pick up the phone and call the member before returning the form and discuss how to properly fill out the form rather than just sending it back incomplete.
In new business, Black made it a point to address the public resignations from Moyer and Stephen Brown with the Unified Horse Show Development Program (UHDP). Black thought the resignations were very decisive in their nature and when they pointed out misleading information in the TWHBEA meeting regarding the program he wanted to know what misleading information was presented. “The statements were a statement of a political position that is decisive in nature and I just don’t see where the wrong is in this,” said Black.
Moyer responded that she felt all of them were elected to serve all of the membership and the UHDP, from what she understood was, to promote horse show development and she didn’t understand the exclusivity of Tennessee and Kentucky and the lack of support for anyone who signed on to the mandatory penalties. Moyer said, “I apologize. It was my ignorance for not asking more questions.”
Zeis also pointed out that some items such as the requirement for the HIO to not accept the mandatory penalties to be included were not mentioned in the previous meeting. Irby corrected Zeis and stated that he himself told the executive committee of this requirement and summed up the debate this way, “It’s one of those things where you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”
In other topics:
• Zeis pointed out that her Breeders’ Committee had been looking at fees at TWHBEA and comparing them to other breed associations. Her committee’s findings point to TWHBEA being the “cheap kid on the block.”
• Zeis has also taken bids from University of Kentucky, Maxxam, Canada and the University of California, Davis for the DNA conversion and is comparing prices and services.
• Mike Hicks, VP of Enforcement, had one issue brought to him regarding a release of confidential information, however, the topic was taken into executive session.
• Moyer gave information regarding the Equine Affair in Ohio and the positive response to the Tennessee Walking Horse stating, “We did not receive one negative comment about the padded horse.”
• The TWHBEA promotional material at the Equine Affair included the performance horse along with the other disciplines.
• Book Sales of Tennessee Walking Horse:  An American Tradition have been slow and the committee discussed ways to promote the book including putting it in bookstores.
• Weis made a motion that the same horse could receive points in both the 2-gait and 3-gait divisions at the same versatility event and the motion passed.
• Weis also suggested the name change to The Tennessee Walking Horse Association be brought to the national board in the May meeting.
• Weis also pointed out that in the TWHBEA rulebook points can only be received when a licensed judge is judging but pointed out that PWHAT, Western International and WHOA are licensing judges without any training. Weis suggested that licensing of judges should be handled by TWHBEA.
• Wayne Dean gave a report on the Academy program listing that there had been three shows to date; a fourth would be held at Main Gate Farms in Shelbyville in May, and the facility had been donated by Ed Lewis.
• Dean also pointed out four new Certified Riding Instructors had been licensed, bringing the total to 119.