On November 30, 2011, the Boards of Directors for Walking Horse Trainers Association (WHTA), Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration (TWHNC), Walking Horse Owners Association (WHOA) and Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association (TWHBEA) formed what was termed a “Unity Committee”.  However, since the formation of this Committee, it has become increasingly apparent that some members of the Committee appointed by TWHBEA and WHOA intend to use this Committee as a mechanism to propose to the USDA a modification of the shoeing and action device Regulations.

The WHTA Board of Directors believes the best interest of the horse and our industry are being jeopardized and that the shoeing and action device Regulations are not issues affecting “unity” within our industry.  As a result, and in consultation with our attorneys, the WHTA is re-examining its involvement in the Unity Committee.   
As documented in the November 30, 2011, press release which followed the initial meeting, six (6) goals were set for the Committee which included addressing rulebook and judging issues, marketing and public relations and education.  The release went on to state that “[i]n addition, the group also took a unified position of being against any reduction of pads and action devices and being opposed to the USDA mandatory penalties.”  The positions now taken by some of the Committee members appointed by TWHBEA and WHOA contradict this position.
In late-November 2011, the TWHBEA Executive Committee met with Dr. Chester Gipson, Deputy Administrator of Animal Care for the USDA.  On November 21, 2011, the Executive Director of TWHBEA, Ron Thomas, e-mailed Dr. Gipson to thank him for the meeting and advising him that “[a] meeting has been scheduled on November 30, 2011, to begin the process that we discussed.  The Boards of Directors of four organizations will be included:  WHTA, TWHBEA, WHOA and TWHNC.” 

Later on November 21st, Dr. Gipson responded to Mr. Thomas’ e-mail and documented the fact that members of TWHBEA committed to Dr. Gipson at the November 2011 meeting that a proposal to modify the pad and action device would be made.  On November 21, 2011, Dr. Gipson wrote to Mr. Thomas:  “[a]s a reminder for the group on the action devise (sic) the message is while USDA considers removing pads and chains the industry will propose a modified pad and action devises (sic).” (emphasis added).

TWHBEA did not disclose its prior commitment to the USDA to propose a modification to the pad and action device Regulations to the WHTA members of the “Unity Committee”, nor did TWHBEA representatives make the e-mail from Dr. Gipson to Mr. Thomas public.    
On January 6, 2012, the Unity Committee met for the first time and developed a set of four (4) goals – none of which included a discussion of a potential modification to the pad and action device Regulations.  In fact, at the January 6th meeting, Marty Irby, President of TWHBEA, specifically stated to the group that the purpose of the Unity Committee was not about pads and action devices. 

However, since the January 6th meeting, some Unity Committee members from TWHBEA and WHOA have both verbally, and in writing, stated that the “sole” mission of the Unity Committee should be to address a proposed modification to the pad and action device.  In an e-mail dated January 13, 2012, one of the TWHBEA members of the Committee stated that “we should at this point adopt a very specific mission statement, which would look a lot like this:  To recommend to industry organizations and to implement regulations and marketing proposals in cooperation with government regulators and to best promote the padded performance horse.”(emphasis added) 

One of the WHOA appointees to the committee has stated via e-mail dated January 28, 2012:  “the fact remains the first order of business is to in some way address the pads and chains issue.”  In response to the WHOA member’s e-mail, Marty Irby, President of TWHBEA, wrote:  “First, I agree with you one hundred percent on the statements in your email.”
Additionally, Mr. Irby sent priority mail invitations to certain Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) for the afternoon session of the upcoming February 3, 2012, Unity Committee meeting.  Several of these HIOs do not and have never inspected horses and others support only “flat shod or barefoot horses.”  One of the HIOs invited to participate, FOSH, announced in July 2011 that it “will request that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ban the use of action devices and pads in the exhibition of Tennessee Walking Horses.”  
The Board of Directors for the WHTA is very concerned about the possibility of a proposed modification to the pad and action device HPA Regulations, in an attempt to curry favor with the USDA. which would not be in the best interest of the horse or our industry  As a matter of fact any proposal by the Industry to modify the Regulations regarding the pads and action devices is in itself a unilateral request by the Industry for Rulemaking!

The WHTA Board of Directors is of the opinion that the issues which affect “unity” in our industry do not stem from the shoeing and action device Regulations.  Importantly, the WHTA is concerned that FOSH and/or certain humane groups intend to petition the USDA for removal and/or modification of the pad and action device regardless of any proposal which may be forthcoming from the remaining members of the  Unity Committee. 
As a result, the WHTA representatives to the Unity Committee intend to be present and participate in good faith at the morning session of the February 3, 2012,  meeting.  However, the WHTA Board of Directors has instructed their representatives to withdraw their participation if the Committee continues to pursue any modification to the shoeing and action device Regulations.