Walking Horse association has new executive director

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A former chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in Shelbyville is the new executive director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association, headquartered here.

He is Ron Thomas of Murfreesboro. His first official day on the job was Tuesday. The TWHBEA Executive Committee unanimously elected Thomas, according to a Feb. 11 statement from association offices on North Ellington Parkway.

"We are very pleased that Mr. Thomas accepted this position and thank him for his willingness to serve our great breed," said TWHBEA president Marty Irby of Columbia. "I feel we have a bright and fruitful future ahead of us."

Thomas has been in the Walking Horse industry all his life. Beyond serving association members and leaders, Thomas said last week that he plans to continue the Walking Horse breed's registry as the best of its kind and to make visits to the association's facilities smooth, professional and a pleasure for members and customers.

"A longtime advocate for the walking horse industry, Thomas was the chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration from 1984 until 2007," the association's announcement says. "During his tenure, The Celebration saw unparalleled growth in entries and attendance. Thomas was the first to create a sponsorship program for the event and, between 1984 and 2007, that program raised over $16 million in revenue."

Thomas succeeds Stan Butt of Columbia who resigned on Feb. 10.

"It's an honor to be asked to serve," Thomas said. "I look forward to working with the Executive Committee to accomplish their goals and objectives. I'm anxious to work with other industry leaders to continue to promote this great breed."

During his tenure as the Celebration CEO, Thomas brought about increased attendance, sponsorship and oversaw the addition of Calsonic Arena, Champions Arena, Celebration Plaza, and reconstruction of nearly half the barns at the Celebration grounds. Thomas was inducted into the TWHNC Hall of Fame in 2004.

Butt was named interim director of TWHBEA in December 2007 and was given the permanent position about six months later. He came into an organization and an industry that was rocked by the 2006 season, when no world champion was named and lawsuits, bad press and financial disasters seemed to be lurking around every corner.

"Basically, I was brought in to restore financial and fiscal responsibility to the association," said Butt in a May 2008 interview with the Times-Gazette.

"As the executive director, I hope it will be said that under my watch, I saw the association through some of the worse economic times that we, in our lifetime, have ever witnessed," he wrote in his resignation letter.

"I can honestly say that I am leaving TWHBEA in much better shape, financially, than when I became the executive...

"Conditions and circumstances in our industry dictate that I go a different path," Butt said.

Thomas was one of many industry casualties in the fallout from the 2006 Celebration, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette recalled last week. A few days after that year's Celebration, Jerrold Pedigo lost his bid for the TWHBEA presidency and Butt was named its executive director.