Copyright 2009 WHR

By Jeffrey Howard

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Saturday June 6, 2009 proved to be a memorable Walking Horse Owners’ Association meeting.  Most of the morning was met with strong opinions, strong opposition and hurt feelings as the WHOA board battled over their role in the industry and a vote of no confidence in President Frank Neal.

WHOA Board Member, Andrew Waites addressed the board and ultimately made a motion for a vote of no confidence in President Frank Neal that was seconded by Bud Moore.  Waites led his presentation with an email from Frank Neal to Dr. Chester Gipson regarding Gipson’s claim in a letter to Dr. Meadows that although the pre-inspection was coordinated by WHOA it did create a disturbance to the inspection process.  Neal’s email refuted Gipson’s claim that it was sponsored by WHOA and in fact said that WHOA didn’t endorse the pre-inspection at all.  He also claimed that WHOA would be willing to work with the USDA on a mutually-agreeable pre-inspection process.

Waites claimed that this letter from Neal was not the position of the board and should not have been sent without their input.  Neal responded, “I wanted to correct his erroneous statement that WHOA coordinated the pre-inspection.”  He also said, “Why would we not want to work with the USDA?  Telling them to go to hell won’t get us anywhere.”

Waites then questioned the separation between the leadership and the board and questioned how the government had helped with the gauntlet now required in inspection.  “Your letter demonstrates a disconnect,” said Waites.  He continued, “There is no strategic plan.  Where do we want to be in 5 years, 3 years, 6 months?  We as a board have not had the leadership and vision that Section 1, Article 1 of our own bylaws provide.”

Waites then informed the board that to remove the president would require a two-thirds majority vote or they could simply vote a no confidence in the president and ask him to resign.  Waites made the motion in two parts.  The first, a vote of no confidence in the president and secondly the vote be taken by secret ballot.  Waites added, “If you think our leadership is taking us where we need to go then don’t vote for it.”

At this point Kim Bennett emphatically defended Neal and pled with the board to support Neal.  “I agree there has been a lack of leadership, but it is over in Shelbyville.  This industry has problems with pressure shoeing, why does nothing happen?  The failure to follow up and have another meeting with the compliance conference, it is a tragedy to let this happen.  Bill Hawks has the ability to do what we need and we aren’t using him,” pled Bennett. 
Virginia Stewart then added, “When they had the meeting in Shelbyville to discuss the problems on the weekend it snowed, why did you (Neal) and Tommy (Hall) not attend?”  She added, “When we had the conference call to vote to opt out of the NHSC, you didn’t stay on the phone for the debate and it was one of the most important decisions in the history of the industry.”

Tommy Hall then added, “Mr. Neal had other commitments and we were pressured into having the conference call instead of waiting for our regularly scheduled meeting.” 

Don Hancock injected, “Where you’re pointing the finger today is wrong.  We messed up long ago and now we need to buck the government.”  Bud Moore entered the debate, “We have sat over here and twiddled our thumbs and done nothing.  We have done very little to raise money.  It is not that he (Neal) can’t do what we need, it is that he hasn’t done it.  Let’s start making things happen.”

David Pruett added that Waites needed to look at what leadership wasn’t supporting the industry.  He mentioned the letter written to the USDA by the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association and WHOA by AgWorks Solutions.  “Who’s signature was not on that letter, it wasn’t Frank Neal’s it was the Celebration and Doyle Meadows that refused to sign the letter.”

At this point Neal addressed the board to defend his position.  “I have listened to your comments, some I agree with and some I don’t.  In my time I have tried to do what is best for the industry.  At times, as President and Chairman you respond to things and at times if you are willing to be apologetic when you are wrong that is the correct thing to do.  When I got on the conference call about the vote I gave you my comment.  I thought it was disastrous for WHOA to follow the WHTA and disband the Commission.

I feel like we made a mistake.  David Pruett had conversations with Dr. Cezar and they (USDA) were comfortable with WHOA running the NHSC as a single entity.  I was not in favor of SHOW and they have proven to not be the answer.  SHOW is trying to bring the industry back together and I am in favor of that.  The vote was 19-6 to follow the WHTA and that is what we did.  I am willing to do anything this board says to move the industry forward.
Andrew, you were completely out of order in how you have gone about this.  I was not only not invited to the meeting in Shelbyville, I was purposely not invited to the meeting because of how I felt.  When I resigned from the NHSC last year I did so because I felt a segment of the industry was not trying to do the right thing.

The Compliance Conference is as close as we will be to surviving with a relationship with the government.  It was not the leadership of WHOA that fell down, it was the WHTA that fell down.  If we had the second meeting then SHOW would never have happened.  The trainers are gravitating backwards and if anything it has been worse with SHOW.

I am not a person that will pat myself on the back so whatever you choose to do is fine with me.  I want to say that there are certain actions I will take with Tommy (Hall) that I will not seek approval from the entire board,” concluded Neal.

Pruett then amended the motion to have a secret ballot in favor of a role call ballot.  This amendment failed 13-11.  After this the secret ballot was taken and the motion of a vote of no confidence failed 13-11.  Waites said, “Things like this are never easy.  I thank you for hanging in there and appreciate all of you.”  Judy Martin added, “We need to go forward and do the best we can and not split our association.”

Neal then added, “If I had not inspired your vote of confidence, I would not have resigned.  As of the first of the year, I will not seek re-election but I will continue to agree with what I think it right and be against what I don’t think is right.  I do appreciate all of your opinions and have received a letter from Dr. Meadows appreciating his relationship with me.”

Also as part of the meeting, Lee McGartland and Frank Eichler explained the topic of owner liability and how it applies with SHOW now out of the Operating Plan.  McGartland opened with “Owners must take an active role and not sit back and let the trainers do everything.”  She then laid out steps owners must take to avoid owner liability.  She recommended the following:
• Take an active role
• Send letters to your trainers and keep on file yearly (if not more frequently)
• Lay out your instructions
• Demand compliance with the HPA at all times
• Have the trainer acknowledge your instructions and have them sign that they have read and understand the HPA

“Without the operating plan… document, document, document.  Active participation as an owner to not allow your horse to be not in compliance with the HPA is key,” said McGartland.

Eichler then took on record keeping.  “All of our horses have a show record, but very few have an inspection record unless you got a ticket,” said Eichler.  Eichler had originally planned to come and ask WHOA to take over the pre-inspection process but since that time the industry veterinarians have decided not to continue the process.

The reason given is that the veterinarians didn’t feel the trainers were using the pre-inspection station as it was intended.  A statistic given was only 40 of the 160 horses the first night of the Columbia show chose to go through the pre-inspection.

“WHOA should take this on.  How do you educate and protect your owners?  You should think about putting on HPA education clinics and help your owners understand what to do and what to document,” added Eichler.

Bob Ramsbottom added, “WHOA needs to be taking a lead in what is going on in the industry.  It is not fun to come to Shelbyville and not show.”  Judy Martin continued, “The owners need to put pressure on the trainers.  The trainers need to get more credibility and have their own set of penalties.” 

“The owner can do a lot,” continued Eichler.  “I am not a proponent of a union, so let’s not unionize but at least let’s unite just once and see what we can do,” Eichler concluded.

In other business at the WHOA meeting, Bennett gave the nominating committee report and filled the vacant seat of Ty Irby with Chip Carrier.  Darren Gray resigned from the board and Harolene Willis has filled that spot.  Officers were also announced, Deborah Williams will serve as vice-president, Lynn Womack as secretary and Newton Parks as treasurer. 

Hall reported that WHOA had received the monies from the NHSC.  The $40,000 was split between the WHTA and WHOA and after WHOA paid its affiliations fees with the NHSC for the International in 2008 WHOA received $5,900.  Membership revenue stands at $91,275 in 2009 versus $169,370 for 2008 but spikes are expected leading into the International (Pleasure) and Celebration.

Hall also addressed the complaint that WHOA doesn’t do anything.  He said, “I am tired of hearing this and maybe we should toot our own horn a little more.  We have instituted the Quest Program, have a high point program, versatility program, youth challenge class, academy program and put on over 30 horse shows.”

Martin chimed in, “It is out there that the only thing WHOA does is issue amateur cards.  Nobody has worked harder than WHOA and you do need to toot your own horn, real loud.”

WHOA also created a task force to report back at the July 1, 2009 meeting on aligning WHOA with organizations such as the Safari Club International, that are under similar attack from the USDA.

A vow of unity was made as the members left the Miller Coliseum on Saturday.  Waites has since resigned his seat on the WHOA board and it remains to be seen if leadership and the members of the board can live up to the unification pledge they made as they exited.