Discussion of horse operating plan continues

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Horse industry organization (HIO) representatives and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) met in Washington, DC, Monday to discuss amendments relating to the wording of the Operating Plan 2007-2009.

Three proposed changes to the current wording were made. These amendments are to be discussed by the organizations within the Walking Horse industry represented at the meeting. According to sources for the Times-Gazette, the meeting was considered successful by all those in attendance.

The first proposed amendment regarding the wording structure of the Operating Plan has been one of the main stumbling blocks with the Walking Horse Trainers' Association (WHTA) and the Walking Horse Owners' Association (WHOA) , the two organizations with presently comprise the National Horse Show Commission (NHSC), the regulatory agency for the industry.

The Operating Plan did not address concerns that the industry had about how past offenses would be considered when determining the punishment for new offenses. Industry groups thought that there should be a period after which past offenses were no longer considered, so that a long-ago offense wouldn't have any bearing on the punishment for a more recent offense. Because of that, the NHSC negotiation team had refused to sign the new proposal.

NHSC Chairman Wink Groover has met with USDA officials several times since December to try to negotiate this phrasing in the Plan but was not in attendance during this meeting. Dr. Valerie Reagan of AgWorks Solutions, a lobbying group hired by the NHSC, represented the NHSC.

However, it is unclear, according to sources, what benefit any change in the wording would have for NHSC because there is, to date, no intention of signing the agreement. Sources said the USDA doesn't sign the Operating Plan and, therefore, no real agreement is considered complete between the two organizations.

The status quo among industry officials -- WHTA, WHOA and NHSC -- remains stalwart in relying on the regulations of the NHSC and the Designated Qualified Person program's penalty structure.

If approved, the new wording to the penalty phrase in the Scar Rule would provide "for purposes determining scar rule violations, a subsequent violation will become cumulative in accordance to the chart above [within the Scar Rule structure], only if it occurs within 12 months after a suspension is served."

The penalty structure for scar rule violations was also discussed. Proposed changes in the wording of the present script would replace the number of horses considered in a first violation phase from four to two.

The phrase for the "follow the horse penalty section is proposed to read, "more than two first offense violation with different horses… The suspension for a trainer, owner and/or exhibitor is two weeks each for each first scar rule violation for up to two different horses. Starting with the third horse and continuing through the eighth different horse, the penalty for each first scar rule violation is eight weeks."

The new wording within the penalty section of the Operating Plan proposes changes within the responsibilities of HIO boards in preventing anyone on suspension from serving. Anyone on suspension must relinquish his position and not serve on an HIO board for an additional 12 months following the period if the suspension is for 30 days or more.