By Jeffrey Howard

LEWISBURG, Tenn. – “We have the greatest horse in the world and we will survive it,” said Senior Vice President Robert Thomas. What will we survive? The forecast from the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) is that tough times exist today and they will only get tougher in the coming years. Thomas pointed out the major sources of revenue for TWHBEA include membership, registrations, transfers and the Voice magazine. All are down and point to even greater declines in 2010.

The International Board of Directors for TWHBEA meet twice a year and the Saturday of the Fun Show in May hosts directors from all across the country, Canada and Europe. The board approved the 2008 annual audit, which showed a profit of $427,304 for 2008 versus a loss of $549,730 in 2007, a positive change of $977,034. The jump was made, however, in a reduction in expenses of $1,764,050. Revenue decline is a concern and 2008 saw revenues at $3,448,108, a decline of $787,016 from 2007.

The decline in revenue will continue in 2009. Mike Inman gave his report and pointed out the need to tweak budgets and find ways to cut even more expenses. “It is going to be worse next year and we will have to fight just to stay where we are,” said Inman. “We will have a negative at the end of the year of maybe $60,000 but we will do our best to end as close to flat as possible,” he concluded.

Year-to-date through April total revenue is at $1,007,447, down $194,254 versus budget and total expenses are $1,021,882, down $211,807 versus budget. The $14,436 loss year-to-date is better than the budgeted loss forecast by Inman and TWHBEA.

TWHBEA does have approximately $500,000 in cash reserves in addition to the futurity fund and commemorative garden fund, which equals about three months of operating expenses. Also, to prepare for the decline several employees have gone to a four-day work week, a net savings result of approximately one employee.

President David Pruett presided over the meeting and welcomed everyone in attendance. “We are facing difficult economic conditions as a country and we are still facing hard times as an association,” said Pruett. “It may get tougher in the days ahead.” Pruett did commend the entire staff and fellow executive committee members for their hard work and dedication to TWHBEA. Pruett stated that the commemorative garden initiative was back and accepting donations.

“I am proud of our sponsorship of the Sound Horse Conference this past March and look forward to being one again (in 2010),” said Pruett.

Thomas echoed Pruett’s comments about the tough economic times. “The facts are we are facing a period of time that we haven’t ever seen,” said Thomas. Thomas did commend the 2008 Executive Committee for its rescue of the association from potential bankruptcy as well as everyone being receptive to continued changes to allow TWHBEA to survive.

Stan Butt accepted a service award for five years with TWHBEA. “I am honored to say I have served for five years,” said Butt. Butt echoed the comments of Pruett and Thomas and told the board every measure possible is being done to help cut expenses. Butt commented on the reduced hours of the staff and the suspension of the cleaning service. Butt also spoke to the drastically reduced size of the Voice magazine. “We have done everything to keep revenue in line with expenses and the magazine does have a lot of information in it,” concluded Butt.

As is customary in international board meetings of TWHBEA, each vice president gives a report on their committee’s actions. Dee Dee Sale from Breeders’ reported that iPeds’s new release was activated May 5, 2009, and that it is a continued work in progress. Sale also spoke to the recently completed survey of the membership and announced the newly formed Master Breeders’ Award TWHBEA will give in the future. “This will be the most prestigious award given at TWHBEA,” said Walt Chism.

Bruce Vaughn gave the horse show report. Vaughn noted that the regional futurities have restructured criteria and the regionals will be capped at 10 and only one per state will be allowed. Also Vaughn and the Horse Show Division committee decided that to be eligible to show in the National Futurity, both the owner and exhibitor must be members of TWHBEA.

Vaughn also pled with the board to help horse shows whenever and wherever they can. “Horse shows all over are struggling and please donate what you can or we are going to lose our shows,” said Vaughn.

Kasey Kesselring from Marketing was unable to attend the meeting because of graduation at Montverde Academy but Chris Coffey gave the marketing report. Coffey said efforts for membership drives are being considered and spoke to upcoming projects such as podcasts and videos on the web site, new membership packets, TWHBEA’s 75th anniversary promotion, a branded view book and a shoeing video.

Kathy Zeis from Owners/Exhibitors updated the Go Gelding! program and spoke to the importance of programs for geldings and keeping them updated in the registry. Zeis has also secured 15 clinicians to come and head clinics during the Celebration.

Wayne Dean, Performance Horse, applauded the academy program. The academy program had 493 entries in six shows in 2009. The championship show had 97 entries. “The academy program is a great way to introduce beginners to our horse,” said Dean. Dean also urged shows to continue to add the Youth Challenge class to allow children to participate in the three-gaited class.

Dean’s committee also presented to the board for approval the following statement. “The Board of Directors of TWHBEA is dedicated to the sound horse. We do not support practices in violation of the Horse Protection Act in the development and training of the horse. The Board of Directors supports the sound and compliant horse as one of the breed’s numerous disciplines.” This statement was approved by the board and will be publicized in literature and online at the TWHBEA web site.

Diana McMurtrey is in full mode of preparing for the World Versatility Show. The event needs volunteers to help and McMurtrey called on the international board to consider volunteering at the show.

Chris Bobo gave the Training Division report. Bobo gave an impassioned plea to support the Tennessee Walking Horse and all aspects and disciplines of the horse. Bobo spoke to the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association enacting more thorough requirements to become licensed trainers. He also hit highlights of his committee’s work on brainstorming ideas to use science and education to showcase the walking horse, cost-cutting measures for trainers and continuing to enhance the Certified Riding Instructor program.

Debra Jack, Member-At-Large Bylaws, reviewed the proposed bylaw changes submitted to her committee and alerted the board members to the one change recommended that the Executive Committee had taken action on. The current bylaws call for one seat on the board for every 25 members and a corresponding member for every 175 thereafter. To help with international memberships the proposed bylaw change will have one seat on the board for the first 25 members, a second for the next 25 members and then one for every additional 175 members. This change would allow currently one additional director from Canada and Germany.

Jack also informed the board that a new operating division, Equine Welfare, will be active in 2010 and have a vice president. The purpose of the Equine Welfare Committee will be at the forefront of TWHBEA’s activities to develop and administer programs directed towards the protection of the welfare of Tennessee Walking Horses.

Christy Lantis, Member-At-Large Youth, keeps the youth very active within TWHBEA. Lantis announced that two youth scholarships will be named in honor of Lizzie Umberger and Chuck Cheek. Lantis also gave a synopsis of other projects working for the youth including the European Clothing Drive, web project, creative contests and camps at Montverde this summer.

During member comments, Tom Kakassy made a plea to TWHBEA to fund a blind study of the scar rule and its enforcement. “We are 10 years behind on doing this and TWHBEA needs to be the group to do this,” said Kakassy. He specifically charged TWHBEA to immediately sanction, arrange and finance a blind study, along the parameter of the Auburn study, the point of which is to determine whether callous formation, wrinkles and folds in the back of a horse’s foot are caused by soring or are an “indication of past abuse,” or whether they are caused by the natural action of the foot in this and other breeds.

The annual meeting will be held in December and the actions of the next six months will prove to be paramount as the association strives to maintain fiscal responsibility.