Four groups representing the Tennessee Walking Horse Industry have selected members of a new "unity committee" that is to focus on the future of the business.
Two weeks ago, the boards of directors of four industry groups -- the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA), Walking Horse Owners' Association (WHOA), Walking Horse Trainers' Association (WHTA) and The Celebration -- met and agreed to form the committee to discuss issues related to the future of the breed in the show ring, as well as unification within the performance horse division.
The group stated that it objected to any reduction of pads and action devices for walking horses, also opposing proposed mandatory penalties by the Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Three representatives from each of the groups were selected for the committee. It will have no official decision-making power; members will gather information, then report back to their respective groups.
The Celebration appointed Chairman of the Board Henry Hulan and board members Jim Allison and David Howard to the committee, it was announced in a recent press release.
WHTA selected Jamie Hankins, Link Webb and Chris Bobo as representatives. The association said they would "bring a wealth of leadership experience and industry knowledge to the committee."
Hankins is the current President of the WHTA and has been a multiple term director for both the WHTA and the TWHBEA, serving a number of terms on the TWHBEA Executive Committee as Horse Shows Vice President, Trainers Vice President and Enforcement Vice President. He has also judged nearly every major show in the industry including, on several occasions, The Celebration.
Webb, the son of a Tennessee walking horse trainer, is a multiple-term director for the WHTA and has also served as its second vice-president and president for two years. In 2008, he directed Santana's El Nino to the World Grand Championship and is the owner/operator of Webb Stables in Lewisburg,
Bobo, a third generation Tennessee Walking Horse trainer, is a trainer and business manager for Bobo Farms in Shelbyville. He has served as a director for both the WHTA and TWHBEA, also sitting on the TWHBEA Executive Committee as enforcement vice president and trainers vice president.
During the first meeting of TWHBEA's newly seated Executive Committee, President Marty Irby, Enforcement Vice President Christy Lantis and Performance Horse Vice President Tom Kakassy were unanimously selected for the unity committee.
The Irby family has been involved in the Walking Horse industry since 1955, and Marty began riding performance horses at age 3. He has served TWHBEA on several committees including pleasure horse, horse shows, bylaws, breeders and the steering committee for the Sire Summary. He was elected as TWHBEA vice president of marketing in 2007 and 2010 before taking on the role of president in 2011.
Lantis grew up riding and owning Tennessee walking horses, began showing at age 13 and, in addition to riding and showing, enjoys breeding the horses. She serves as secretary/treasurer for the West Coast Walking Horse Trainers' Association and is a director of the Tennessee Walking Horse Foundation.
The family currently owns five Tennessee Walking Horses, including their World Champion It's Chavez, whom they bred and raised.
Kakassy started on hunters and jumpers at a riding school in Chicago at age 8, and became involved with performance walking horses after his family moved to North Carolina.
He owned and trained WGC Pride's Winning Edge, I'm Pushing Gen, Flashy Sky, Call of the Wild, Sweet Hard Cash, and many others. Kakassy currently works padded and flat shod horses at home and enjoys trail riding as well. He is also a private attorney with involvement in various equine issues including contracts and Horse Protection Act issues.
The Walking Horse Owners Association picked Tamela D. (Tam) Brogdon of Panama City Beach, Fla., Duke Thorson of Huron, Ohio, and Kim Bennett of Alvaton, Ky., for the committee.
"This group exemplifies the diverse background and demographics of the Walking Horse Owners Association membership. They will represent the interest of the owners of the industry well," said Tommy Hall, executive director of WHOA, in a press release.
Brogdon rode her first performance walking horse at age 12, growing up owning and trail riding walking horses and showing throughout the 1970s and 1980s as a juvenile along with the rest of her family, mostly in the Georgia and Alabama circuit. Her family owned several notable contributors to the industry including Pride's Generator, Ebony's Miss Dixie -- the very first amateur 2-year-old World Champion -- and the family's beloved Sweet Georgia Brown.
She graduated from Auburn University and entered the United States Air Force as an officer, flying as a C-130 aircraft commander for six years with the 815th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Air Force Reserve Unit at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. She had the unique honor of being the first female pilot to ever guide an airplane through a hurricane.
Brogdon later was hired by American Airlines, was promoted to captain on the Boeing 727, flying internationally for her entire career. After returning to the show ring in 2007, she enjoyed many successes -- the pinnacle being her World Grand Championship spotlight ride this past year aboard her charismatic gray stallion Bouré.
Thorson grew up in Minnesota where he owned his first Tennessee walking horse as a youth. Duke and his wife Rhonda own ThorSport Racing which competes in the NASCAR Truck Series and the ARCA series on a national basis.
Duke, Rhonda and daughter Allison own 19 walking horses and attend over 35 walking horse shows per year in over 13 states. They are members of several Walking Horse associations throughout the country.
Bennett is a third generation horsemen, born and raised in Western Kentucky, working with Tennessee walking horses at the stables of Ellic Bobo. He graduated from MTSU as one of the first graduates of its Equine Science program.
He worked with a number of stables over the years, and his family currently owns 27 Tennessee walking horses including brood mares, flat shod and performance show horses, breeding stallions, and pleasure horses.
Bennett has judged horse shows from the Carolinas to California, including both the Celebration and the International two times each, serves on the National Board of TWHBEA representing Kentucky, and has served as president of WHOA.