by Linda Scrivner

FRANKLIN, Tenn. - The Walking Horse Trainers Association had a productive annual meeting Friday, Dec. 5. One of the most talked about items on the agenda was the election of officers.

Ronnie Spears presented the slate from the nominating committee. The committee recommended David Landrum as president, Allan Callaway as first vice president and Mickey McCormick as second vice president. Each of these was elected by acclamation with no nominations from the floor.

Spears related that there would be four openings on the board of directors and that six individuals had expressed an interest. Those six were Bill Cantrell, Jamie Hankins, Mack Motes, Benny Johnson, Link Webb and Jeff Givens. Nominations from the floor added Sonny Holt, Allan Callaway, Jerry Collier, Bill Young and Bill Bobo. Sonny Holt could not be included since he was not a full time horse trainer, according to the by-laws. Ballots were cast and the meeting continued while they were counted.

President Knox Blackburn said the association would have a 50/50 Cash Drawing with one half of the proceeds going to trainer Paul Watlington, who is seriously ill and battling cancer. The other half will going to the winner of the drawing.

Mickey McCormick spoke to the audience concerning a program he would like to the Trainers’ Association to start. According to McCormick there are many children in the Appalachian Mountains who have very few clothes and don't have enough food. He would like to collect food and clothes at the Trainers' Show to take to those children. McCormick also mentioned that filming this event would give the trainers recognition and positive publicity. Winky Groover made a motion, which was seconded and carried that the project would go forward.

Several issues regarding the Celebration were discussed. Blackburn said the Celebration asked for suggestions to improve parking around the barn and to shorten the night shows. The board discussed these ideas, but felt it would be problematic to decide which owners would get passes if they were limited. The Shelbyville Fire Marshall has given notice that a change must be made and that only a certain number of cars can park on the grounds safely.

The fire marshall said no more than 1,100 cars should be parked on the grounds at a time, according to the number of parking spaces available. This year 1,900 car passes were sold, which means parking must be reduced by 40 percent. The fire marshall has declared that he will close down the Celebration if cars are left in the road because it causes a tremendous fire hazard. Many agreed that something should be done, and that it is a real problem to get in to load horses after the show because of the parking.

David Howard, Celebration board member, addressed the problem. He said the Celebration had been working with the fire marshall for five years, but the fire marshall will only authorize a certain number of cars on the grounds.

Wink Groover suggested that the owners be parked at the closest lot and be transported to the grounds. He said they should also limit the amount of trainers’ passes per barn. Howard added that trams can be rented to carry people to the barn area.

Carlyle Johnson asked about golf carts as an option. Thompson reminded everyone that the police will not allow golf carts to be driven off the grounds.

The Celebration suggested that eliminating time outs might be a way to shorten the night performances. The WHTA board disagreed with that suggestion, but proposed that five minute time outs be called for things other than thrown shoes. Thrown shoes would need 10 minute time outs.

Sammy Day suggested that they have more than one ring showing at a time. Russ Thompson explained the downside of that suggestion was that a trainer might have customers showing in both rings and could not be at both rings at the same time.

Howard relayed the fact that the board was doing their best to solve these problems. He said many owners don’t want to be away from their office, which is a problem for expanding the Celebration with extra days. Mack Motes said because the industry is growing, something must be done. He explained that the Spotted Celebration added two more days which helped them greatly.

Jerry Woodlee suggested that workouts take much time. He said it would be to everyone’s advantage if more splits were made, instead of time consuming workouts. Woodlee said it would take one third less time to work a split class than to have workouts in full classes.

Blackburn suggested that classes be split at 25 entries and that there should be no workouts until the stake classes. Steve Aymett disagreed saying that it only would cause more problems, since more classes would mean more prize money. Mack Motes suggested that a committee be appointed to draw up a plan to take to the Celebration.

Spencer Benedict reported on the Youth Medallion classes. Twenty or more were held this year with additional money. Next year the TWHBEA may give top 10 award similar to the MASCUP program at the Trainers’ Banquet. The Championship for the year would remain at the Futurity.

A new tax law was discussed. Yearlings and stallions new to showing or breeding could be a depreciable asset through 2005. Much of the cost could be deducted which would be a big thing for the industry. Each person needs to consult his accountant for their particular interest.

Craig Evans spoke to the trainers about the 2004 Operating Plan. Evans said changes were implemented and things were more positive in 2003 than in 2002. Dr. Chester Gibson has delivered on everything he has said, according to Evans. He said he was deeply encouraged about the industry's relations with the USDA.

Evans also reported that there are new people in the USDA. Horse Protection Coordinator Dr. Jody Kulpa has been replaced with Dr. Todd Bair, which Evans felt was a plus. “Dr. Bair is an equine vet and a huge breath of fresh air. His perception of us is great. He wants to learn and he understands horses. These are huge pluses and we have a whole different atmosphere,” Evans said.

Evans said there had been a change in the HIO meetings. One person from each HIO is present and this has changed how business is done. There is no anti-commision bias present, according to Evans.

Among issues that continue to plague the industry, Evans said, are the conflict resolution cases. None of those cases were resolved while Dr. Kulpa was in charge. Lonnie Messick, of the NHSC, said that at least one half of the cases have now been resolved. Dr. Bair is reviewing the cases, and he and Messick have worked many of them out. Those cases older than 90 days may be forgiven since the USDA didn’t meet the time lines. Evans hopes to have these resolved by Jan. 1, 2004.

Evans said they had hoped to have the Operating Plan Document by Sept. 1, 2003, but nothing quite yet. Several HIO’s had misgivings and couldn’t agree. Finally, Oct. 12, 2003, an informal draft was made, and on Nov. 24, 2003, a formal letter with the HIO’s recommendations was ready. This document is now before the department and will go next to APHIS. The government will then give their proposed plan, which can be voted for or against. In the past, the HIO’s have had to negotiate.

Evans reminded the trainers that the scar rule proposal “follow the horse, follow the trainer,” was for one year only. In the new plan, probation will continue. Neil Hotch has met with the board and is keeping them informed. They have gone through 15 or 20 drafts, according to Evans.

Lonnie Messick said the NHSC was encouraged by Dr. Todd Bair. Messick said Bair is good to work with and is a big plus to the industry and the inspection program this year. Messick also said that the trainers did an outstanding job in presenting their horses last season. The penalties were down while shows and entries were up.

Evans commended the trainers as well saying that in 2001 there were 50 sore horse cases, in 2002 there were a little over 40, and in 2003 there were 30 cases. He said Dr. Bair was comfortable with the NHSC. There are no new penalties and some, such as high bands, are now correctable.

After Evans spoke, the results of the vote for the board of director positions were announced. Bill Cantrell, Jamie Hankins and Link Webb were the top three and there was a tie between Mack Motes, Benny Johnson and Jeff Givens. Ballots were passed out to eligible members and the tie was broken. Mack Motes is the fourth board member.

President Blackburn announced that there would be a Judges’ Refresher Course that afternoon from 2-4 p.m. Blackburn ended the meeting by saying how much he enjoyed his term as president.

The meeting was lengthy but productive, and concluded with the gathering of new officers and members of the board of directors who will lead the organization throughout 2004.