SHELBYVILLE - The crowd outside the Walking Horse Trainers' Association's building here on Monday was there for a good reason. In an industry that has seen more than its share of conflict and criticism, more controversy is blooming.
The WHTA is recommending that the National Horse Show Commission dissolve its Horse Industry Organization status and turn its duties over to SHOW (Sound horses, Honest judging, Objective inspections, Winning fairly), the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration's HIO.
This comes a week after the organization canceled the annual Walking Horse Trainers' Association Show, originally scheduled to begin next week, according to the WHTA.
The Celebration Board of Directors convened in special session Monday to receive an update from Celebration CEO Doyle Meadows on industry discussions relating to the activation of SHOW.
"The Celebration is looking into all aspects of the HIO activation but awaits membership approval of WHTA, NHSC ratification of the request, as well as financial position statements from NHSC," according to a press release from the Celebration. "The board will continue to monitor the situation and will make decisions as more information is made available."
The decision was made by the WHTA Board of Directors after two days of meetings focused on the best strategy to improve the Walking Horse Industry, the release states.
The HIOs work with the USDA, sanctioning shows and working with the government to keep the industry in compliance with the horse protection act.
After the 2006 Celebration, when no World Grand Champion was named, the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association created its own HIO, a move that cost it in both finances and reputation. The HIO was abandoned before the current director, Stan Butt, came on board, and TWHBEA renewed its association with National Horse Show Commission.
"That was several years ago and under a different administration," said Butt. "I think most of the members didn't want that at the time. They learned a valuable lesson."
TWHBEA's efforts are now directed at "taking care of the integrity of the breeding and the horses and the promotion of the breed."
The decision to postpone the Trainers' Show was made March 2, according to a spokesman at the WHTA offices. Jimmy Burton, who manages Calsonic Arena, said he believed one reason for canceling the show was because the trainers wanted to get the HIO matter settled first.
"I think they'll end up rescheduling some time soon," Burton said, adding that there were openings at the arena in April.
Both Meadows and Andrew Messick, the recently appointed NHSC executive vice president and director of animal welfare and DQP services, were in Nashville Tuesday morning, in discussion with HIO representatives, according to his office, and were unavailable for comment.
Not everyone in the industry supports the recommendation.
"The Walking Horse Owners Association would like to affirm our support of the National Horse Show Commission," wrote Frank Neal, WHOA president, in a recent letter to the NHSC. He referred to the "current discourse" as "discouraging."
Neal said in the letter details were too vague now to make any kind of a decision.
"It would be irresponsible of our organization to act without complete information on how our owners would be affected," wrote Neal. "Furthermore, our commitment to NHSC will not change without the consent of our board of directors."
Link Webb, who serves as both the president of the Walking Horse Trainer Association, and the NHSC chairman, was also not available for comment.
According to its website, "The National Horse Show Commission Inc. was organized to perform specific functions within the industry. The main function of the commission is the operation of a USDA certified Designated Qualified Person (DQP) Program, which includes training, licensing, monitoring, supervising and administering DQPs to officiate at commission-affiliated shows and sales. Other powers granted to the Commission include the affiliation of horse shows and sales, the formulation and issuing of a rule book and the training and licensing of judges."
"Hopefully, they'll get it all worked out," Butt said.