Where We Are Today

My Fellow Members:

This will not be the most popular letter of the week, but it is the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts. As the third of my series of six letters this week, I hope the information contained herein will serve you, TWHBEA, and our great horse well. Please keep in mind that I am a very positive individual, and as our Executive Director Mr. Thomas frequently says “I am not being negative, just facing reality.”

 I am thankful to have been blessed with such a professional, talented, and world class Executive Director as Ron Thomas during my time as President. He is the most straight forward, direct, to the point, and honest man I have ever had the pleasure of working with. I thank him for his willingness to serve TWHBEA, and for stepping out of retirement to help further the breed registry and great horse we all love so much.

More than one year ago Dr. Chester Gipson, USDA APHIS Deputy Director traveled to Lewisburg to meet with our TWHBEA EC, and present the hard cold truth that we as a breed were in danger of losing our pads and action devices. He delivered the same message in a joint meeting with the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association (WHTA) the next day, and again later with the Walking Horse Owners’ Association (WHOA). Mr. Thomas was one of the first men to step forward and present the word Dr. Gipson had delivered, and as your President I felt it my duty to deliver the message as well.

On a number of occasions, during group meetings of TWHBEA, WHTA, WHOA, & The Celebration I reminded many of what the original intent of our meetings was, and that was to discuss the performance horse pads and action devices, and to help establish “One Voice” for our industry. Dr. Gipson specifically said that he was willing to help us, but the matter was a separate issue from inspections, inspection processes, and inspection services. Over the course of several meetings, a number of our TWHBEA representatives were ridiculed, and slandered for merely delivering a message from the government. A short time later, the USDA held listening sessions around the country regarding pads, action devices, the HIO system & inspections, and the all too common topic of soring. We as an industry and we as a TWHBEA Executive Committee drew our line in the sand and said “no” to making any changes or modifications to the pads and action devices.

A short time later came the release of the Jackie McConnell video. When the release came out I was quite shocked, and in the middle of judging the German Championship in Wemding, Germany. Being located in a foreign country while President of TWHBEA when the video was released really showed me a different perspective, and how our horse, breed, owners, exhibitors, and trainers were viewed internationally. Most compared performance horse people to barbarians, and many have thrown all of us in the same category as Michael Vick. Please understand I am not saying they are right, just merely delivering a message that “perception is reality.”

I recognize and realize many of those in our industry have been in denial about training techniques applied to horses in all divisions of our show horse segment. At the same time, I realize, understand, have enough knowledge, and have been involved with enough truly great and talented animals that I believe we do have sound padded performance horses. What percentage, I honestly don’t know. I do believe in what we have bred over the past 70 years. I believe in our show horse, its talent, ability, stamina, and gifted kindness.  The problem does not lie in the performance horse, its pads, or action devices. The problem lies within people who are willing to cheat and abuse a horse to make him mimic or imitate a truly great and natural show horse.

How will we ever stop the cheating? We won’t. Someone will always try to cheat. Someone will always try to take advantage of the kindness and love a horse has for them. Please realize and recognize that no law or amendment eliminates a problem, it merely regulates it. That is the unfortunate truth of government regulation and humanity. There will always be people that run stop signs, and there will always be people that will rob banks.

I am believer in the old saying “you are what you think.” Far too often we think about the issue of soring and catching people who break the law, when we should equally be focusing on promoting sound horses, education in training, and rewarding those who are doing the right things. Our industry has very little record of being proactive, and has become far too reactive. In the upcoming days you will see the beginnings of a new program at TWHBEA, under our Horse Shows Division that will start the process of rewarding those who are doing the right thing, and those who are showing sound horses. This program is long overdue. The concept of “The Champions Cup” which has been approved in concept by our Horse Show Committee and our current EC will be presented at the upcoming meetings.

In recent weeks and months we have seen major veterinary organizations speak out against our show horse. We have few friends, and very little time to work together to save our show horse. So many have asked for “One Voice” and if it is not too late already, that “One Voice” must be the voice at TWHBEA, The Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association which remains the oldest and largest organization in our industry since its inception in 1935. As a Lifetime Member I stand behind TWHBEA as the leader of our industry, as do thousands of others. I hope you will all stand up for TWHBEA, and voice your opinions and become a vocal part of this association at the upcoming General Membership meeting on Friday and International Board of Directors Meeting & Election on Saturday! Our association and our great horse need you!

With truth and dedication,

Marty Irby, President




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