by Christy Howard Parsons
The Walking Horse Trainers Association held its annual meeting on Friday, November 30, at the Franklin Marriott in Franklin, Tennessee. President Billy Young chaired the meeting which featured several items of discussion which were more controversial in nature than the annual meeting typically provides.

One of the items generating the most discussion was a resolution to be drafted by Craig Evans to the USDA objecting to the VMOs Dr. Michael Guedron. The discussion centered around the unprofessional attitude of the VMO and his bias against Tennessee Walking Horse owners and trainers. While there were mixed feelings about what the resolution might accomplish, Evans felt that it was important to come with the unanimous support of the Walking Horse Trainers Association and indicated that it might be possible to ask WHOA and/or the NHSC to draft a similar document. The motion to draft the resolution passed with a unanimous vote.

Another hot item of discussion was the NHSC’s action from their meeting the preceding Wednesday to require all four-year-old open classes to canter, therefore eliminating the four-year-old open specialty division beginning in 2002. This would not affect amateur four-year-old classes.

Many comments were heard around the room questioning whether the NHSC could require show management to change to canter classes. Some show management remains confused about whether they must follow the NHSC rules or if by naming a class an open four-year-old and under class they could get around the requirement to canter.

The NHSC does require its affiliated show to follow its rule book, and the commission does plan to require open four-year-old horses to canter at its NHSC affiliated shows in 2002 and beyond.

Another somewhat controversial issue discussed at the meeting was the requirement for members of the WHTA with a trainers license to also be a member of the TWHBEA. Steve Aymett spearheaded the motion which was passed by a majority vote of WHTA members to require the TWHBEA membership beginning in 2003. The Board of Directors of the WHTA strongly recommended the action to increase the trainers voice within the TWHBEA.

Billy Young, Neils Holch and Craig Evans also explained a provision of the three-year USDA operating plan involving owner liability.

“There is no reason for any owner to be on suspension,” explained Billy Young. Within certain criteria, the operating plan provides for an owner liability contract that must be signed by both owner and trainer which absolves the owner of the liability for violation of the Horse Protection Act. Craig Evans will have the contract available after the first of the year in the Walking Horse Trainers Association office for trainers who are interested in protecting their owners from future suspensions.

Holch and Evans also answered many questions from the floor about the continuing negotiations within the USDA and implementation issues regarding the Operating Plan and the scar rule.

Other items of importance at the meeting included Sister Martha Blackmon Milligan’s announcement that the 2002 Gulf Coast Charity Horse Show would continue in its same location in Panama City Beach. There had been some discussion earlier in the year that the horse show would be forced to change locations, but that is not true. Milligan also addressed trainers concerns about grooms having to pay to get on the show grounds last year and pledged that this would not be a problem at this year’s show.

Russ Walthers introduced his new Tennessee Walking Horse Riders Cup program to the trainers. This is a bonus money program where riders earn money at the end of the year based on their performance at the horse shows that participate in the program. Horse shows pay or get sponsors to pay for their participation and thus encourage more riders to come to their shows for the chance to win the end of the year money. Plans call for the program to start in the open division but could spread as the program grows more popular.

Jane Hardy Meredith spoke about the new Tennessee Walking Horse Foundation and its direct benefit to trainers. One of the funds within the Foundation is a crisis relief fund for trainers which would be available to assist Walking Horse trainers who have suffered a tragedy. The Foundation is a section 501(c)(3) organization which provides donors a tax deductible contribution which can be directed to the specific purpose they choose within the Foundation.

The elections for the new board of directors of the WHTA were also held at the meeting. Billy Young will continue in 2002 as the President of the organization as will Spencer Benedict and Knox Blackburn as first and second vice presidents. New board of director members Mickey McCormick and Ronnie Spears will join Allen McQuerry and Chad Baucom who returned for another term on the board. Retiring board members from 2001 were Wayne Dean and Danny Hughes. The nominating committee for 2002 was chaired by Steve Aymett and also included John Allan Callaway and Justin Jenne.

More information and pictorial coverage from the Walking Horse Trainers Association banquet and meeting will be included in the December 17, 2001 issue of the Walking Horse Report.