By Jeffrey Howard

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Valentine’s Day weekend marked the annual Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA) convention and banquets.  The weekend was kicked off with the board of directors’ meeting on Thursday night and the Pleasure horse and general membership meetings on Saturday.  All sessions focused on the goals of WHOA for 2010:  horse show development and bringing the fun back to showing Tennessee Walking Horses.

The board of directors meeting did give a review of 2009 and WHOA, just like every other organization within the industry, was forced to deal with drastic revenue loss from previous years.  Revenue for WHOA in 2009 was $437,044.33, down $226,769.63 from 2008.  WHOA did offset much of this loss with a decrease in expenses.  Expenses in 2009 were down $214,320.16 from 2008.  At the end of the day WHOA lost $8,556.02 in 2009 compared to a profit of $3,893.45 in 2008.

Tommy Hall summed up the year this way, “2009 was a pretty good year.  We were down on memberships and hope to gain those back in 2010.”

Kim Bennett, chair of the nominating committee, reported that Frank Neal would serve as President in 2010 and the following eight directors would serve three year terms:  Martha Child, Betty Denton, Don Hancock, Newton Parks, Andy Rippy, Iris Schumann, Harolene Willis and Deborah Williams.

The president’s report is always a time for the entire board to reflect and Frank Neal summed up his thoughts this way.  “Our association is very active and we are overwhelmed with the response we are getting to our new direction.  I still receive one to two calls a week about our HIO…there is a lot of activity to say the least,” said Neal.

Neal did point out that getting the WHOA HIO started has been more difficult than he expected.  “I thought it was as simple as falling off a log however we are having to jump through hoops and there doesn’t seem to be any end, but we are still moving forward,” commented Neal.

WHOA recently contracted with Ron Thomas to aid in its sponsorship program.  “He is getting what you would expect.  They (potential donors) are concerned about the status of the industry and the economy.  He does feel good about a couple of individuals and businesses,” concluded Neal.

WHOA’s plans for 2010 include a horse show development program.  WHOA had a goal of 75 horse shows in 2010 and already has 63 signed up.  A goal of 100 new shows in 2010 is now a real possibility.  The horse show development program has allowed existing and new horse shows options for the level of partnership with WHOA.  Click here to view the Horse Show Development Program from WHOA

“It is almost scary how well it is going,” said Hall.  WHOA has added 13 horse shows in Franklin, Ky. that will all be affiliated with National Walking Horse Association (NWHA).  These shows will allow entries to qualify for the KEEPS incentive program in Kentucky.  WHOA has also partnered with the Florida Walking Horse Association and is working on deals with Wisconsin and Virginia.

Although predominantly the shows added by WHOA are pleasure, WHOA has added a performance horse shows in Lebanon, Tenn. and Lewisburg, Tenn.  The two-day show in Lebanon will feature performance horses on Friday and pleasure horses on Saturday.  The show in Lewisburg will be a traditional one-night pleasure-performance show.

WHOA has also partnered with the Mississippi Charity Horse Show in Jackson, Miss. and had added 18 pleasure classes to the schedule, compared to six in 2009, as well as adding a Saturday WHOA Versatility show that will feature an additional 18 classes. 

In all of these shows, the exhibitors must be a member of WHOA or a licensed trainer with the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association.  Of the shows that have announced affiliation, WHOA has affiliated one with Heart of America (Peoria, IL), one with the Kentucky HIO (Harriman, TN), 14 with NWHA and 14 or 15 with SHOW.

“I like the position WHOA is in although the decision on who to affiliate with is a tough one.  I like being able to affiliate with whomever, especially considering the area of the country the show is in,” said Hall. Regarding compliance, Hall continued, “We have to quit protecting the 10% that are the problem and as for the HIOs, show me you can do the job and I will go with you.”

The SHOW HIO has partnered with WHOA to allow ribbon-only shows (that were also ribbon-only in 2009 or a new ribbon-only show in 2010) to not require the $100 SHOW horse card.  Entries at these shows will be required to pay a $6 per horse per day fee.

A major focus of the weekend was the Pleasure horse committee, led by Sis Osborne.  Osborne was very proud to announce that 629 youth exhibitors participated in pleasure classes and 1955 adult exhibitors participated.  The 2009 show season saw WHOA host 28 pleasure shows, which included 20 versatility shows in eight states. 

Those shows had 2,672 entries, which does not include the 1,402 entries at the Pleasure International.  Also, 15 new adults and seven new youth participated in the Register of Merit program.

A big debate in the industry has been the shoeing requirements in pleasure divisions.  At the heart of the debate is the weight limit of the shoe and the use of tungsten.  The SHOW HIO will have four divisions that do not allow tungsten shoes and two divisions that will allow it. 

The four divisions not allowing tungsten shoes include country pleasure, trail pleasure, lite shod and classic park pleasure.  The two divisions allowing tungsten shoes are plantation pleasure and park pleasure.  For a complete list of shoeing rules see exhibit 2.

A major hurdle for exhibitors with regards to shoeing rules is that no HIO has the same rules as the other HIO.  For example, NWHA does not allow tungsten shoes and its size requirements are different and Western International did not accept the SHOW rules either.  HPC leaves the rules up to show management and the Kentucky HIO has different rules from SHOW, Western International and NWHA.  As exhibitors show across the country, horse shows will be affiliated with different HIOs which means one weekend you would be able to show and the next weekend not be able to show without changing out the shoes.

Although membership remains a concern across all organizations (WHOA is down 150 members at this point compared to last year), WHOA is far ahead of its expected pace with horse show development.  With all exhibitors having to be members of WHOA in order to compete, one can expect membership numbers to rebound.  “WHOA is very blessed to have somebody like Tommy Hall in leadership.  He has been the most steady thing our industry has had over the last several years.  At the end of last year, all the talk was of losing shows and we figured the best thing WHOA could do was to add shows and we could add 100 in 2010,” said Neal.

He concluded, “ WHOA is doing a lot and we are working hard in horse show development.  WHOA is not working against anyone.  We are providing a venue for people to bring their kids and have a good time which is what this is all about.”

WHOA has financial challenges ahead, but with a major industry need falling on horse show development, WHOA has stepped up to the plate and delivered in a major way.