Front row: David Landrum, Bill Cantrell, Billy Gray, Larry Wheelon & Wayne Dean.
Back Row: Winky Groover, Jamie Hankins, Chad Williams, Jamie Bradshaw, John Allan Callaway,
Link Webb, Chris Bobo & Philip Trimble. (Brock Tillman, not pictured)

by Chrystal Abernathy

FRANKLIN, Tenn. - The Walking Horse Trainers' Association (WHTA) held its annual membership meeting on December 3, 2010 at the Cool Springs Marriott with 125 active members present including other invited guests.  President Winky Groover welcomed all of the trainers and thanked them for the very good turnout.

After the meeting was called to order by President Groover, Mayor Roger Anderson of Williamson County welcomed everyone and thanked all the trainers for hosting the event in Franklin.

The first item on the agenda was a presentation by Frank Eichler, attorney for SHOW HIO, regarding the responses filed this past week by SHOW.  Eichler addressed the response to the petition filed by the Humane Society of the United States, as well as the responses to the Office of Inspector General Audit and the USDA Mandatory Penalties.

“This time in our industry is very crucial,” said Eichler. “This is unlike any of the past 20 years or so.  There is a request put forth by the petition asking for rulemaking and APHIS responded to the audit by the OIG saying they will file for rulemaking.”

Eichler went on to describe what has been sought through rulemaking and what would be the result should that process prove successful.  The USDA is seeking to control the DQPs, the ticketing process, the hearing process and ultimately to hold everyone responsible for the entry in violation, including the head trainer.

The USDA has been very public and very clear regarding their position on the mandatory penalties.  The USDA has said on multiple occasions that all HIOs must accept the mandatory penalties or they will be decertified and can pursue litigation.  Eichler pointed out that show management is afforded some options in the HPA to still conduct shows without a certified HIO but warned this was not a strategy that would be conducive to horse show management.

“If I’m a show manager and I can have a tractor pull or a horse show and if I have a horse show I have to have someone inspect horses, take information and if a sore horse is allowed to show I may have liability, and if the USDA shows up then my entries will reduce drastically then I probably won’t have the horse show,” said Eichler.

Eichler pointed out repeatedly that the mandatory penalties and the penalties agreed to within the Operating Plan that the HIOs last signed in 2007 are very similar.  “It is a big deal that our industry has already agreed to penalties similar to these and operated for a period of time under these penalties,” said Eichler.  A major difference in the Operating Plan penalties and the mandatory penalties is that in the mandatory penalties they cover the life of the trainer and at no point go off the record of that trainer, unlike those under the Operating Plan.

Eicher thanked the trainers for on the whole doing a very good job over the last couple of years and helping SHOW collect facts and data that are very helpful in SHOW’s position that it has “effectuated the purposes of the HPA.”  He stated, “I would like to thank you because you are the ones that have brought the horses up to inspection.”

Eichler touched on the next steps but warned that until the USDA responds on January 1, 2011 it would be hard to know exactly what path SHOW, other HIOs and the industry will need to take.  “We will all need to get together after the first of the year and formulate a strategy,” continued Eichler.

Eichler urged the trainers to trust the attorneys of SHOW and understand that they can’t always divulge everything they know.  “We (the attorneys for SHOW) are supporting you but this is a two-way street and we have to have your support,” urged Eichler.

Eichler concluded his remarks stating, “This is a wonderful industry and I feel we have a great capability to come out of this OK.  You have done a wonderful job and it is a testament to all of you guys in this room.”

Next on the agenda was the election, an annual tradition during the December meeting of the WHTA.  The nominating committee, chaired by Allan Callaway, recommended a slate of Winky Groover, President; Chad Williams, 1st Vice-President and David Landrum, 2nd Vice-President.  Williams and Landrum were both unopposed and will serve in 2011. Wayne Dean and Bill Cantrell were both nominated from the floor for President.

The nominating committee put on the slate for new board members Dick Peebles, Laurie Toone, Frankie Roark, Brandon Stout, Larry Wheelon and Wayne Dean.  The floor was also open for nominations which included Billy Gray, Vicki Self, Dude Crowder, Link Webb, Brad Beard, Jeff Green, Brad Davis, Brock Tillman and Joe Fleming. 

After the nominations were closed, President Groover asked that each presidential candidate say a few words to the trainers.  Bill Cantrell was the first to the podium.  “I am humbled to be standing before you,” began Cantrell.  Cantrell served as president of the WHTA in 1992-1994 and is a charter member of the association.  “Our industry is in crisis and we are on the verge of losing everything.  I have been doing this for 50 years and I still look forward to waking up and going to the barn,” said Cantrell.

He continued, “We must act now or our livelihoods are in danger.  We are our own worst enemy at times and the time has come to unite as one and overlook personal agendas and look out for each other.”  Cantrell spoke to the importance of communication within the association as well as with all industry groups.

“I would like to hold monthly meetings and invite others to attend and that means members from all HIOs,” stated Cantrell.  “We need to be rewarded for all that we’ve done.  The time for change is now and we can’t answer today’s problems with yesterday’s solutions,” concluded Cantrell." 

Wayne Dean was next to the podium and briefly and pointedly addressed the membership.  “I have been a member for 30-plus years and have been budget chairman for the last 12 years.  We need to take a strong leadership position to protect our business,” said Dean.

Dean stated he would like to do three things.  “First I would like to unify our industry and we as trainers must get together and unite.  Secondly, we must work on our finances and understand what we can and can’t spend.”  Dean said his third area of focus would be to continue to lead compliant horses and know that we (trainers) can go and compete.  Dean finished his speech by saying, "The only way to make these things happen is by change."

President Groover was the last to speak on why he wanted to remain president for 2011.  Groover focused on the accomplishments that the entire industry had made in 2010 stating, "We have made great strides with the horses this year.  They have been great."  Groover also noted that the tickets written at this year’s Celebration were cut in half compared to last year’s numbers.

Ballots were passed out and taken up to be counted by the Ethics committee and Jason Reece of Winnett and Associates.  After a brief break, the voting was final and announced by Allan Callaway.  Bill Cantrell was elected as the new President for 2011 along with new Board members Billy Gray, Brock Tillman, Larry Wheelon, Wayne Dean and Link Webb.  Cantrell won with 47 votes, Groover was second with 44 votes and Dean third with 32 votes.

President Groover concluded the meeting by wishing the new board the best of luck and thanking the membership for the opportunity they gave him to serve them as their president.