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Has the walking horse industry improved over the past year?



Reprinted with permission of the TWHBEA from their website, www.TWHBEA.com.

The short answer is maybe.

To understand this answer one needs to recognize that the show circuit, representing a small but important portion of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, has reached a crossroad and is hesitant. Last year, prior to the 2006 National Celebration and the three shows leading up to it, the show circuit was still in denial. The shutdown of the industry’s pinnacle event was a turning point in the world’s awareness of the animal welfare problems within the Tennessee Walking Horse show circuit. The Kentucky Horse Park, the site for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, initially did not want the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association (TWHBEA) to showcase our breed due to the soring issues highlighted at the 2006 National Celebration. After explaining the TWHBEA’s efforts to restore industry integrity, they allowed our horse to again be exhibited.

This year’s walking horse registrations are down 30 percent and sales have declined 25 percent. The TWHBEA’s mid-year Board of Director’s meeting paired those calling for industry change against those wanting to abandon the progressive programs that provide for uniform standards. The progressive TWHBEA leadership is openly being opposed. Violations for soring are still occurring and the new stricter USDA Operating Plan has already been amended. The Humane Society of the US is lobbying the USDA for stricter enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. All of these situations raise attention to a show circuit in turmoil with some still unwilling to take the progressive steps necessary to effectuate total change. The above items overshadow the industry’s non-show circuit growth areas, such as trail preservation and education, versatility, breeding, youth initiatives, and recreation.

The TWHBEA is the breed registry with 460,000 horses registered and 20,000 members. The Association is working to promote the Tennessee Walking Horse and its welfare. We believe that the show circuit has issues due to the appearance of a lack of independence between those that own and train horses and those that inspect and judge them. For this reason, the TWHBEA adopted and agreed to sponsor an industry self-regulating plan. This USDA-endorsed Sanctioning Plan was adopted to implement uniform standards for inspections and judging using one industry rule book. We believe that the majority of the show industry is for change; however due to concerns that trainers and owners may not show their horses at sanctioned events, show managers are hesitant to embrace the TWHBEA sponsored plan. During this first year of the Sanctioning Plan implementation, 33 of the 450 industry events adopted this plan.

Change comes from within. As long as horses continue to be in non-compliance at events and participants continue to receive violation tickets, the industry will appear as unwilling to change. Although the past year represents some positive changes including tighter rules at the 2007 National Celebration, there is now a much heightened awareness of the industry’s animal welfare and enforcement issues. The public is being asked to join with the TWHBEA (www.twhbea.com) and support our efforts to promote and protect our Tennessee Walking Horse. Together we can change the image of this industry and restore the Tennessee Walking Horse to its renowned status….recognized and respected worldwide for its unique gait and gentle disposition.

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