On his first day on the job, Mike Inman jumped in with both feet running.
He knows he's got work to do.
(T-G Photo by Tracy Simmons)
He says he wants -- he needs -- to promote the walking horse, starting with the performance horse.
"We are in difficult times, and we know that, and hopefully (I) can be a part of the solution," said Inman. "We (The Celebration) put on three horse shows a year, but my responsibility is larger than that. I think my responsibility is to promote the walking horse 365 days a year, not just during show season."
Inman has owned and shown horses for decades and also co-founded FAST (the Foundation for the Advancement and Support of the Tennessee Walking Show Horse, Inc.), a non-profit dedicated to promoting and raising funds for the industry in addition to serving on the Tennessee Walking Horse and Breeders' Association's executive committee in the past.
In what has been a difficult year for the Celebration, which has been continuously criticized by media following the arrest of a prominent horse trainer, Inman says the industry needs to move on and focus on sharing with the community all of the good things about the breed.
First and foremost, this includes showcasing a sound show horse. He says it's unfair the industry has been broadly painted in a negative picture as a result of a few trainers who have poorly represented the horse industry, which is filled with good people, who love and care for their horses properly.
"I believe in this horse. Right now, we need to promote all the things we're doing right," said Inman. "All we're doing right now is being defensive ... There are things in this industry that have to change, but our biggest problem right now is that we are allowing our detractors to dictate who we are. We need to focus on the positive and actively promote the performance horse."
In short, Inman believes this mission can be accomplished by engaging the community, educating the public and addressing any issues head-on.
"When you understand the package, the action device, when you put it in people's hands, they understand it, they get it and accept it," he said.
Inman, whose background is in the residential home business, is leaving his home in Birmingham, Ala., with his wife Karen to permanently reside in Shelbyville, where he has had a second home for about a decade.
"Now my preferred home is becoming our permanent home," he said, explaining he and his wife have found delight in showing their horses in Shelbyville for 27 years.
"The hardest part about (taking this new position) is going to be selling my (show) horses," he said, explaining the Celebration Executive committee prohibits this due to it being a conflict of interest. "They have been gracious, though, in allowing me to keep a few trail horses."
After all, trail horses are what drew Mike and Karen Inman to the industry nearly 30 years ago. Mike and Karen both were working for Sears in Dallas at the time.
"I told Karen, if I got a promotion, I'd get her a horse," he laughed. He said they first acquired one walking horse and one appaloosa. "We'd fight over who got to ride the walking horse, and I lost the fight every time."
Soon enough, the Inmans had a string of trail horses, and that evolved over the years to include a crop of breeding and winning Tennessee walking show horses, many of those in training with local trainer Allan Callaway.
Though he says he and his wife will miss showing horses, they feel the sacrifice is justified. His passion, knowledge and dedication make him the right person to succeed outgoing CEO, Dr. Doyle Meadows.
"The hardest thing will be not showing," said Inman, of his new role. "We love showing and love the competition aspect, but the thing is, these (people who show) are our friends, and that's key. There's nothing better than being able represent your friends. Karen and I are passionate about this."
Inman also pointed out his wife will be assisting him in many of his duties as CEO, in addition to other resourceful industry insiders who, until now, have not been asked to help.
Inman recently resigned from his FAST position to focus on his new job, however he plans to work closely with the organization, in addition to TWSHO (a new group that is also dedicated to promoting the horse) and all other groups that support the show horse.
He wants to get into the schools, and get community leaders involved.
"People are very generous with their horses and want to show the world all the good things," he said.
In reference to June's AACA dual antique car meet, held at the Celebration, Inman said he would have liked to have seen show horses being exhibited all day long, for visitors to the community to see.
"Now that would have made the newspaper," he laughed.
Inman said he wants to call on the industry, one that's made up of people from all walks of life, to help him accomplish his mission of promoting the horse.
"There's such a variety of people with all types of resources," he said.
Inman, who worked with well-known motivational speaker Zig Zigler for a year, knows the year ahead will not be easy, but he says with the right attitude, success will come.
"I believe 80 percent of finding and keeping a job is attitude," he said. "If you don't have the right attitude, I don't care how smart you are ... My attitude is that I love this horse.
"Anyone who is successful can succeed in good times; it's those who make it through difficult times who are truly successful."
Meadows, who announced his retirement last year, will continue his role as CEO through October, but until then, Inman will be assisting him. Both will be present for this year's show.
"My plan is to help Dr. Meadows put on a good Celebration," he said. "I will be out and about, thanking sponsors, thanking exhibitors and talking to as many people as possible."
Beyond the Celebration, Inman also wants to unify the currently divided industry. He says there is a need for everyone to come together.
"I started with trail horses and that evolved into showing, so I love it all," he said. "But there are some people who (only) love trail horses, and there are some -- very few -- the other way (who only like performance horses), and that's what makes it difficult ...The extreme versatility of our horse sometimes pulls us apart instead of pulling us together."
Approaching this year's event, Inman remains energized and optimistic about the future.
"The Celebration is the best product in the equine industry, and we have a strong product that we have to sell," he said. "It is an event that any other breed in the equine industry would swap with in a minute, even in a down year."