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Saddlebred Summit and Youth Conference Sparks Interest

by Bob Funkhouser

To put it mildly it had been a tough year for the American Saddlebred Horse Association (ASHA) with the ongoing litigation over the access of certain records by the membership. That back and forth tussle is currently in the appeal stage, but in the meantime there was lots of other business to take care of and lots to celebrate during the 2011 Saddlebred Summit and Youth Conference, held February 17-19 at the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort and Spa, Lexington, Ky. Executive Director Paula Johnson, ASHA President Judy Werner and the entire ASHA staff welcomed the membership to the heart of the Bluegrass State for the annual meeting and awards presentations.

In addition to the many committee meetings, Board meetings and activities available to the membership and youth, innovative ideas were introduced to help spur the growth of the American Saddlebred Horse. Like most breeds, the American Saddlebred has suffered a decrease in registrations during the economic downturn of the past few years, however, as noted by Barbara Molland, that decrease has not been as harsh as some of the other show horse breeds. Several of these ideas came out of a December retreat by the Board of Directors and have the potential to be a benefit to all associated with the breed.

Also during the weekend there was much talk about the versatility of the American Saddlebred and how it is excelling in many non-traditional settings. There was much emphasis on finding these Saddlebreds and the people associated with them and bringing them into the Association via memberships, award recognition, and breed education.

If you couldn’t be inspired by the energy and ideas of those who were there trying to be a part of the solution, then the exuberance of the breed’s youth was certainly infectious. But then, when you have Germaine Johnson at the helm, there can be nothing but success and that’s exactly what the 162 youth and their advisors enjoyed over the weekend. Each young Saddlebred enthusiast received a pair of sunglasses with the ASHA logo on one side and the slogan, "The Future’s So Bright" on the other. With so many inspired youth and the input of several hardworking ASHA Charter Clubs, the future of the American Saddlebred does indeed look brighter.

"Two aspects of the Convention really brought home to me the passion and dedication that our members demonstrate all year long," said Executive Director Paula Johnson. "First, I was struck by the amazing enthusiasm and energy of the young riders and their participation in the youth activities; they are the future and they renew us all in spirit.

"I was also overwhelmed by the commitment to giving back to the community that our members demonstrate as was evident by the presence of the Horses and Hope program which supports breast cancer screening for members of the equestrian community; the Lexington Junior League’s 75th year sponsoring a horse show, the proceeds of which help so many; and the All Glory Project that supports the wonderful work being done by Horses for Heroes. What an amazing three days!"

Those three days started on Thursday with several committee meetings and the Charter Club Council. That evening the Charter Club Council and the International Disciplines Committee hosted a wonderful reception to welcome everyone to the Convention.

The next morning another round of committee meetings was followed by an Open Forum on American Saddlebreds In Combined Driving. Darryl Leifheit addressed the membership regarding the use of American Saddlebreds in Combined Driving Events, citing the success of his horse, Singsation.

The Annual Awards Luncheon featured the best of the best from the National Pleasure Horse Awards, International Disciplines and Charter Clubs. Additionally, there were presentations for the charitable programs of Horses and Hope, Horses for Heroes and the Junior League of Lexington.

Other forums that afternoon included Equine Internships and Career Opportunities, Application Of Stem Cells Within The Equine Industry, and Lordosis.

Moving into the evening, many attendees gathered at the Museum for the opening of "Celebrities: Saddlebreds and Personalities From The Silver Screen, Cinema and History." Once again Tolley Graves and Kim Skipton did an incredible job securing artifacts and story lines, this time the American Saddlebred stars of the big screen and history. Besides the many great exhibits and socializing, another hit of the evening was when Redd Crabtree and Jimmy Robertson took center stage telling humorous stories from yesteryear.

While most of the adults enjoyed their evening at the Museum, the youth celebrated the American Saddlebred, beginning with a pizza party that was followed by roundtable discussions. The first was entitled "Futures In The Equine Industry Outside The Barn." Tuffy Owens, Scarlett Mattson and Bill Whitley gave the attentive youth an overview of their various jobs in the horse industry. "Yes, There Are Horses In College" was headed by representatives from William Woods University, Georgetown College and Midway College who spoke about the equine programs at their institutions.

Also on the agenda was Jennifer Mellenkamp from USEF. She explained the USEF’s high school letter program. The youth group was also grateful to have young professionals Ally Kopf, Tom Parsons, Kendall Blue and Kelly Lockhart on hand to answer questions regarding, "So, You Wanna Be A Trainer." This group gave insight to their experiences as assistant trainers at top stables.

Following the round tables, Germaine Johnson and her team divided the youth into teams and they played "Minute To Win It."

"The laughter and cheers spoke volumes to the amount of fun the youth had," stated Johnson. "Each year the youth attending the conference confirm my belief that the future of the Saddlebred and ASHA is very bright!"

On Saturday morning attendees applauded as the ASHA Academy Medals were presented at the Academy Awards Breakfast. Next the youth boarded buses and headed to Shelby County where they visited Premier Stables and Biggins Stables. At both stops they were entertained by world class show horses and trivia games in addition to receiving gift bags.

A stop at Claudia Sanders was a must and while they were there, the ASHA Youth Awards were presented (see separate charts). Following lunch and the awards ceremony, the youth were off to Alliance Stud for a presentation of stallions and show horses. Mr. All-American Cup himself, Jim Aikman, happened to stop by and was volunteered to give the youth an impromptu conformation lesson.

Back at the Marriott Griffin Gate, the convention continued with the Saturday morning Annual Membership Meeting. Paula Johnson called the meeting to order and things got a little tense before the meeting got underway. Johnson asked that anyone who wasn’t an ASHA member to please leave the room as it was a member’s meeting. She repeated her request a second time and finally a third time before she addressed the lawyer for the Concerned Members who was present and not a member. This gentleman eventually left the room and the meeting began.

Johnson introduced herself to the membership and discussed her qualifications for the job since she doesn’t come from a Saddlebred background. It was noted that her expertise comes from running the business side of the association as a business and that is what is asked for from an Executive Director.

President Werner took to the podium and gave an overview of the weekend’s activities. She talked about the impact the World Equestrian Games (WEG) had on the state of Kentucky. She noted the remarkable Saddlebred presence at WEG and the work done by Jimmy Robertson, Germaine Johnson and all the participants and volunteers.

On another encouraging note, Werner discussed a December Retreat that the Board of Directors participated in and the many wonderful ideas that came out of that retreat. She also reported that there were four new Board members as voted by the membership: Bret Day, Lisa Duncan, Bob Funkhouser, and Tandy Patrick. Re-elected were Carl Holden and Margaret McNeese. Lisa Siderman was added to the Board to replace Jimmy Robertson who had resigned. Werner also gave special recognition to outgoing members Vicky Gillenwater, Barbara Molland, Paul Treiber and Art Zubrod for their years of service to the Board.

Werner was re-elected as President of the association as was Jim Ruwoldt as treasurer. Newly elected officers included Dr. Margaret McNeese as First Vice-President, Chuck Herbert as Second Vice-President, and Betsy Boone as Secretary.

Directors were also announced for the American Saddlebred Registry. Elected to one year terms were Brian Curran, Lisa Duncan, Louise Gilliland, Larry Hartsock, Chuck Herbert, Carl Holden, Sandra Lilly, Dr. Margaret McNeese, Scott Matton, Don Schilling and Suzie Teater.

Ed Stopher, the Association’s lawyer, was on hand via Skype to bring the membership up to date with the litigation. A few questions were asked of Stopher and he gave an overview of where the Association was with the appeal. To try and give members a better idea of what the litigation was about he noted this was a dispute between two groups in disagreement with the exact and precise wording of Kentucky law governing 501(c)3 associations. Basically, the first sentence reads that books of record of account and minutes are open. The second sentence is much looser and has been ruled that "all" records are open. It is the Association’s stance that communications among Board members and nominating committees should be private as well as some personnel files.

"We have a disagreement with a small group of members of ASHA who wanted access to and to be able to copy all documents in the possession of the Association, including sensitive matters such as personnel files of staff, financial information, specifically their compensation and the like, and we gave those members access to and copies of all of the books and records of account of the Association in compliance with the Kentucky Statute," said ASHA counsel Ed Stopher. "That did not satisfy a few members that continued to press for personnel files and other sensitive information such as emails of committee members and Board members. The Association, believing that this is not required under the law, then asked the Court to interpret the statute, by filing a declaratory judgment action. The lawsuit simply asks that the court interpret the statute and determine which records and documents this small group of members is entitled to see and copy, and as we have learned in this controversy, immediately disseminate on the internet for public viewing.

"The court said that the statute was not easy to interpret, and in his view, books and records of account include personnel files and other sensitive communications. Based on that decision, we appealed. The matter is now pending in the Kentucky Court of Appeals. The Court attorney will now call the parties together to mediate and see if the matter can be settled. We fully intend to attend and we will negotiate in good faith to try and reach a settlement. Because the issue at hand is the interpretation of the statute we asked the court to grant a stay in delivering the documents. The Judge denied the motion saying it was already in front of the Court of Appeals and that he lacked authority to grant such a motion, but used his discretion to grant a 45 day stay to allow the Court of Appeals to rule. We are in process of filing the motion in a timely manner now, and we intend to point out to the Court of Appeals that there is a disagreement about what the statute calls for us to produce, and that requiring the production of such materials should be delayed until the case is decided on its merits."

Following the litigation update, a representative from the new accounting firm gave the Auditor’s Report and noted that everything looked good with the Association’s books. Barbara Molland then stepped to the podium to give the Registry Report.

"We must work to expand the use of the American Saddlebred," said Molland. "We are the stewards of the breed and there are some glimmers of hope out there. One thing we need to look at is China is developing its first ever horse industry and we need to be on the ground floor of that."

Molland also noted that there would be an "amnesty period" for registering older horses. For the months of May and June any older horse may be registered for the same fee that a new foal is registered.

The Members Luncheon followed the meeting and the highlight of that luncheon was USEF’s CEO John Long giving a presentation on WEG. The video presentation was tremendous and the American Saddlebred received rave reviews for its part in this worldwide celebration of the horse.

Saturday night’s Gala and Auction brought a close to the 2011 Saddlebred Summit and Youth Conference. Great music dinner music set the tone for nice night. Following dinner a successful auction headed by Bill Whitley raised funds for youth activities. Bill Carrington handled the auctioneer duties and Tuffy Owens assisted him. Carrington also was the evening’s emcee for a star-studded list of awards and reception speeches.

It was a nice way to close out 2010 and look forward to the year at hand. There are a few hills to climb and lots of work to be done, but with the input and work of the masses good things can be accomplished.

"I was very pleased with the Convention, especially the action items that came from the committees and from the Board of Directors of both ASHA and the Registry, said Judy Werner in closing. " It was evident that everyone is looking forward, and while we honor our tradition, we are embracing new programs that will promote the American Saddlebred as a show horse, a horse that competes outside of the American Saddlebred show ring, and a family horse. As these new programs roll out in the near future I believe we will see a renewed excitement among those already involved the breed and we will have an opportunity to attract new owners and fans of our wonderful horse. Pretty exciting!"

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