by Linda Scrivner
SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – The Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) board of directors held their monthly meeting on Thursday, May 22, 2008, at the WHTA office in Shelbyville, Tenn.

The meeting opened with WHOA President Frank Neal welcoming everyone and calling the meeting to order. Neal said that things were going extremely well this year in the walking horse industry, the National Horse Show Commission (NHSC) and WHOA.

Tommy Hall, executive director of WHOA, gave the financial report and said that the membership was very steady and continued to come in and that financially WHOA was up to where they were last year. A financial report was given and two balance sheets were passed out with comparisons between ’07 and ’08.

Frank Neal gave the NHSC report and said that things were going so well that the last meeting only lasted 38 minutes. He understood that things were running about the same as last year and that they had about the same number of shows affiliated.

Neal spoke about the recent meeting they had with the AAEP, USDA, TWHBEA, WHOA, TWHNC and WHTA representatives. WHOA was represented by Tommy Hall and Frank Neal. Dr. Doyle Meadows, the executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, was also in attendance. WHTA’ s three representatives were Chad Williams, Link Webb and Joel Weaver while David Pruett, Bob Cherry and Dr. John Bennett represented TWHBEA. Neal stated that the industry right now is more unified than it has been in some time.

Neal continued, “We are all on the same page. We’re attempting to make sure the best and cleanest horses that are well prepared for the ring are presented. We must compliment the trainers for this.” He discussed the comments about the scar rule and the sniffer at the meeting and said that the majority felt that the horses are being presented in an outstanding fashion. He felt that the difference in the horses presented 10 years ago and those presented today is unbelievable.

He felt the attitude of the government was excellent and that the USDA was being bombarded constantly from all sides and yet, they sat down and met with industry leaders. He stated, “They recognize that unity is better but that all of the HIOs are not the same. Some are not on board. All of the 14 HIOs appear to be on the same page, but there are two that are not. This meeting was not an HIO meeting. The trainers requested this ‘industry discussion’ with AAEP and the USDA with three representatives from each of our organizations and it went extremely well.”

Tommy Hall then commented that he had been here 30 years and this was a very positive meeting. He stated that Link Webb did an excellent job. Hall felt that at the Panama City show (where he was a ringmaster) the horses were the same Wednesday as they were Saturday without the USDA present and that people need to give the trainers and Webb credit for that. Hall felt one question that came up (at the aforementioned meeting) was “How do we find a pressure shod horse?” There was much discussion of this and a committee was formed to make suggestions.

Debra Coleman asked what should be done about judges not sending out horses that were not representing the type horse that we want presented and a discussion followed. They said this was also discussed at the meeting. During the meeting, the AAEP representatives became more receptive to the industry. The AAEP said they would work with the DQPs, and the trainers need to work on the judges. Everyone felt that it was important not to have a horse in the ring that does not represent what the horse should look like. Hall said that they discussed the same thing at the meeting and perhaps something needs to be done. He said it was suggested that maybe judges, trainers and owners should have a test on the HPA. A committee will be working on this. Hall felt that many did not know the HPA and perhaps before a trainer could get his license that perhaps they should take a test on the HPA and that it could even be an open book test just so they would be knowledgeable. He felt that owners need to know about it as well.

Neal continued his comments about the meeting. “The young trainers have the right attitude. They are all on the same page. They want to have an industry years from now. The judges need to take the risk and send out the unacceptable horses. Joel Weaver brought out the fact that horses have improved dramatically and that they shouldn’t have to use a flashlight to find a problem.”

Hall continued, “Weaver did an excellent job of communicating the problems with the USDA and AAEP.” Weaver also requested that the USDA explain exactly what they are looking for when they use the sniffer. He asked if cosmetic things like baby powder and hoof polish would be masking agents.

Kim Bennett spoke up in length on the sniffer problems, just as he had in the earlier trainers’ meeting Thursday evening. His greatest concerns were owners getting letters from several trainers where they had horses and that there was no defense against the letters and there was no wiping the slate clean. He commented, “Sulphur is considered a masking agent even though it is healing and is a preventive agent for the horses.”

 He was concerned that if the industry accepts this on June 1, the interpretation may change once officials change and therefore, more time is needed to get it perfected. He said that he requested that Link Webb send letters requesting that the June 1 implementation date be moved back until some questions are answered. “Would it be prudent for us to send a letter on the timeline of June 1st also?” Bennett asked.

Neal replied that a letter with some of these questions has been sent. “The industry is trying to show good faith and we want to do the right thing.”

Joel Weaver said, “We should have some medically approved cosmetic agents allowed. If there are lots of caustic problems, the USDA will probably start prosecuting. The USDA knows there are lots of problems with this and they know that the industry is not taking it lightly.”

Hall next gave the Academy Committee report. He was proud of the fact that they had 211 entries at one show and broke records at most of the shows with regards to entries. He reported that many of the academy riders have stepped up into other areas. The academy shows have made about $3,500 this year and that is probably the first time this has happened. The number of shows has grown and WHOA will be looking at adjusting class schedules. They probably will not have the early January show but start later in January due to various problems. He reported that the program went really well and they appreciated the judges and volunteers donating their time. He also praised Harolene Willis for the excellent job she did with the program.

Hall next commented on the Pleasure Horse Committee Report. They met that afternoon with rule changes and comments going to a committee in the morning for recommendations for NHSC changes. The versatility shows are increasing in number and entries. A new Georgia show had 60 entries and the new one at Harriman had 154 entries in 19 classes. This helps the shows because they have people showing in the versatility show and the regular show that many are connected with. Many are traveling long distances for these, such as Carol Worsham traveling from Florida to show at Harriman. Alabama, Florida and many more states are wanting shows. Hall commented, “It is unbelievable the calls that I receive about this.” They have 36 shows this year.

Mark Taylor next gave the International Sponsorship and the Youth Committee reports. Taylor reported that the Youth Challenge program was going exceptionally well with 36 shows having the class with more coming in.

Last year, there were 22 children at the Youth Camp and at the present time they have 36 for this year. There are also three needy kids that have been sponsored by donors, bringing the number to 39. He reported on the events there and the money involved. He complimented Dee Dee Sale on her excellent job.

When the horse show report was given by Hall, he suggested that a grooms’ class be added but he would like to have places besides first (which most shows now give one place in this class). He would like to give $500 to first and $100 to second through 10th. It was suggested that this be the last class on Friday night. A motion was made and carried. Hall also said that they would put the Amateur/Amateur class back in and that they would try the three riders to judge class one more time.

Sarah Dunn reported that the Fundraising Committee would have something big to report on at the next meeting. Debra Coleman offered a trailer to be painted with promotional pictures/and or material so that it could be seen across the country. The web site was discussed and the new web site should be up by June. Coleman also commented that she liked it when the newsletter was in the Walking Horse Report. Taylor said that they would do that since the Report was always willing to assist them.

Kathy Zeis spoke about the Tennessee Walking Horse Foundation, reiterating that it was an industry-wide foundation and not just associated with TWHBEA. She reminded everyone the foundation was tax deductible and donations could be requested to go to a certain project or show. Zeis said, “The industry is together and the foundation represents the whole industry.” She said they were working on having funds and to bring in grant money to help the industry. She said that if they donated to the Challenge and Academy programs through them, then it would be a taxable donation.

It was also addressed that many of the members on the board weren’t attending and that others were constantly wanting on the board.