For the past couple of years, my full-time job has been in the Quarter Horse racing industry. To be a magazine editor, you have to immerse yourself in the industry on which you are reporting, getting down to the nitty gritty. During those years, my role in the Western performance horse industry was relegated to that of casual observer, rather than active participant.
That all changed when I came to Quarter Horse News. My interest in Quarter Horse racing now takes a backseat to the Western disciplines of cutting, reining and reined cow horse. My primary goal over the past month has been to bone up on what has taken place in the last few years with regards to those industries.
By far, the most interesting developments have been those surrounding association executive directors. On Aug. 27, 2012, the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) announced the resignation of Executive Director Dan Wall, after more than 10 years. NRHA President Beth Himes cited “personal reasons” for Wall’s departure, leaving many speculating whether Wall’s resignation had anything to do with the January 2012 investigation that resulted in the removal of the then NRHA President and one Executive Committee member, despite the fact that Wall was absolved of any wrongdoing.
But by far, the most interesting and soap opera-worthy story has been that of the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) and their on-going search for an Executive Director. On Feb. 1, 2012, Jeff Hooper announced his resignation after 11 ½ years. On June 1, 2012, the NCHA hired Alan Steen. Before 90 days had even passed – on August 21, 2012 – Steen was gone.
Since then, there has been a barrage of negativity directed at the NCHA, mostly surrounding Steen’s allegations regarding the Texas Major Events Trust Fund (METF). According to Steen, the NCHA purposely overstated contestant and entry numbers, awarded employee bonuses based on METF funding results, purposely destroyed data and neglected to report $250,000 in excess funding. Steen’s allegation of corruption shed a negative light on the NCHA that was effectively extinguished when, on Feb. 22, the City of Fort Worth cleared the NCHA of any intentional wrongdoing. The entire NCHA press release and two-page letter from the City of Fort Worth’s Auditor Darlene J. Allen can be accessed online at www.quarterhorsenews.com.
As I researched the situation, what amazed me the most was how easily people accepted Steen’s allegations as truth without knowing the facts. The number of people who jumped on the bandwagon to loudly bash the NCHA is staggering. Having worked there for five years, I can tell you I don’t agree with everything the NCHA does. But I do believe the NCHA tries to act for the betterment of cutting and has done an excellent job at it, for the most part.
But, the damage has been done. Many people will ignore the fact that the City of Fort Worth has cleared the NCHA’s name and continue to question the NCHA’s motives, actions and accountability. That is a sad fact, indeed.
One of the most interesting things I came across in my research was a letter written by NCHA Hall of Famer Bill Riddle to all NCHA Directors. I recently spoke to Bill, and got permission to reprint part of that letter here. Whether you are a Director or member of the NCHA, or the NRHA for that matter, Bill brings up some valid points. He writes:
“I have been in this Association a long time (more than 30 years). The NCHA has been my living and my family and the Association has been my family’s family; I care deeply about the NCHA and the opportunities that it can provide for dozens of young trainers, their families, and for the Amateurs and Non-Professionals who will benefit from their work in the future…but we must all take on the responsibility of taking care of this Association.
“I am calling upon all the Directors who, like me, have spent the most productive years of their life attempting to grow NCHA into a robust equine organization, and especially on the younger Directors who stand to benefit the most – and, potentially lose the most – to accept the challenges of caring for this Association. Let’s start a conversation with all NCHA members, with the goal of preserving what has proven to work and what is good about NCHA.
“These last five years, a barrage of criticism toward our Association carried out in blogs and the social media, might cause one to conclude that nothing is ‘right’ about NCHA.
“There are a lot of things that are ‘RIGHT’ with the NCHA – with US.
“My appeal is straightforward. It is to those of you who truly want to sustain that which is right and good about this Association…while dealing with our problems in a constructive way. I think we all have a vested interest in a healthy NCHA. How we as members and Directors conduct ourselves as we attempt to work with the elected leaders of the Association in addressing both real and perceived problems will have significant and lasting consequences on how far we can go as an association.
“I am pleading for all of us to take a deep breath and a step back. We must focus on those things and the public persona which will make it possible for others (such as the State of Texas) to assist us in reaching higher goals. Our image must be restored so that others will want to join us as friends, customers and competitors.
“I do not want us to become so focused on negatives or conduct ourselves in such a manner – most especially in public or for public media – that we become willing to destroy the Association in order to “have our way” on a particular issue. Governing and leading require mutual respect and accommodation by everyone. Let’s not destroy the very thing – the Association – that we want to improve.
“Consider the severity of the consequences of allowing our Association to be destroyed by those who have little stake in the outcome. The continuous public barrage of criticism on the NCHA public image will very soon take away 40 years of growth. It will not be better when the purses are smaller, when the number of horses in training is fewer, when the value of our horses is lower, when our international participation is gone, when people stop breeding and caring for broodmares. If we allow our Association to be severely crippled by those who wish us harm or who have any agenda other than the greater good, it will not likely return to its present position in the lifetime of anyone reading this letter.
“Please join me in this conversation to find reasonable solutions while participating in a reasonable tone with mutual respect for members, directors and executive committee members alike.”
Well said, Bill, well said.