A broad range of speakers from the federal government and the horse industry addressed the American Horse Council's National Issues Forum in Washington, D.C., on June 16. The theme of the forum was "Protecting and Promoting the Horse." This year's forum, sponsored by Luitpold, drew a crowd of about 175 and was held in conjunction with the AHC's annual convention, which ran from June 14 to 17 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill. "We were very pleased with the crowd and the presentations," said AHC president Jay Hickey, "particularly the afternoon sessions which were very upbeat and highlighted the efforts of six organizations working hard to attract people, particularly youth, to the horse experience and keep them involved."
USDA and the Horse Industry
Representatives from the Department of Agriculture led off the morning program. Most were from the Department's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), which may have the most day-to-day contact with the horse industry of any department in the federal government.
"The horse community may not understand how USDA and the industry interact on a daily basis" said Hickey. "The forum provided an opportunity for attendees to hear from the front line of the Department's team protecting the health of our horses and the economic viability of the industry. We are very pleased that the Department chose to send eight speakers to the forum, and we are grateful that they shared their time and expertise with our attendees throughout the convention, particularly now when the agency is so busy battling an unprecedented disease outbreak of avian influenza."
Gary Woodward, Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, APHIS, opened the forum. Woodward explained how the Department and the equine industry interact in a wide variety of ways, ranging from protecting horses from the importation of diseases, detecting and addressing disease outbreaks, collecting national information and statistics, enforcing federal programs for the welfare of horses, and providing grants and support to industry-led projects that support or protects the nation's equine population.
Woodward announced a financial commitment from the USDA to the industry's Equine Disease Communication Center, the importance of which was discussed throughout the AHC convention at committee meetings and general sessions. The communication center is an initiative of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the American Horse Council to develop a national hub of information for equine disease reporting, similar to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which alerts and educates the country about human diseases and outbreaks. "We very much appreciate this contribution. It signifies federal recognition of how important the Equine Disease Communication Center is to the industry and the role the horse community plays in preventing infectious diseases," said Dr. Nat White, who has been leading the effort to get the communication center up-and-running.
Dr. Alecia Naugle, Director of the Sheep, Goat, Cervid and Equine Health Center for Veterinary Services (VS), APHIS, recounted the importance of horses in her life and to the country, and introduced the staff accompanying her.
Dr. Rory O. Carolan, the Equine Health Team Leader for Surveillance, Preparedness & Response Services for VS-APHIS, is often the first person contacted by industry for help. Dr. Carolan provided an overview of the Equine Health Team, its mission, its cooperating partners and the diseases of concern in the United States. He explained the Department's responsibility to regulate the industry, conduct investigations and enforce federal requirements involving illegal importation or exportation of horses, illegal production or distribution of veterinary biologics, enforcement of the Commercial Transportation of Equines to Slaughter Act, and the process for veterinarians to become USDA-accredited.
Dr. Josie Traub-Dargatz, Professor of Equine Medicine at Colorado State University and Equine Commodity Specialist for APHIS, spoke about the Center for Epidemiology and Animal Health (CEAH), the NAHMS Equine 2015 Study, which is underway, as well as a review of an Equine Herpesvirus Case Control Study. She mentioned the development of a National List of Reportable Animal Diseases (NLRAD), active monitoring of equine laboratory submissions to anticipate disease outbreaks, and current and potential distribution of the Cayenne Tick in the U.S. Traub-Dargatz noted that portions of the NAHMS study could be delayed by the Department's emergency response to the extensive outbreak of "bird-flu."
Dr. Joyce Bowling-Heyward, the National Director of Import-Export Animals Staff at USDA, APHIS, VS updated attendees on NIES current activities. She noted that NIES has now approved three new private equine quarantine facilities, and there is a potential for more. Bowling-Heyward said that APHIS was standardizing import processes to make it easier for shippers to request services and for APHIS to track needs and assign personnel. She hopes this will make the import process easier and more efficient.
Dr. Ellen Buck, the Equine Import Specialist for the USDA, APHIS, VS, explained the roles and responsibilities of the NIES in equine import and export, regionalization evaluation services for policy development, as well as special planning and coordination for American-hosted international equine events. Buck noted that NIES is working closely with the World Organization for Animal Health and other major trading partners on proposed protocols for the import of a subpopulation of "High-Health, High Performance" horses that compete at the top level of equestrian sports, including showing and racing, to make their international movement easier. Institution of such a program will require changes to current federal regulations, but "the program is moving forward. But as with everything," Buck said, "the devil is in the details."
Dr. Rachel Cezar, of APHIS' Animal Care Horse Protection Program, spoke about the actions being taken to enforce the Horse Protection Act. She described soring, the equipment and chemicals used for soring, as well as the industry enforcement and federal oversight provided by the USDA under the Horse Protection Act. Cezar also mentioned the USDA Office of Inspector General Audit from 2010 and the status of the changes proposed in that audit.
Chris Messer, with the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, wrapped up the USDA's presentations with a description of NASS and the process for the upcoming 2017 "Ag Census." She provided an example of the form for equine census information and elaborated on how individuals can access information from previous census results. Messer also mentioned the change in the upcoming census from previous ones in the reporting of animals sold and offered to "work with the industry" on the 2017 census.
Unwanted Horse Coalition Celebrates 10 Years of Action
Following the extensive presentation by USDA, there was a special recognition of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which operates under the umbrella of the AHC, and is celebrating its 10th anniversary. A video on the UHC was presented. It can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESzlr9EBaZg.
Dr. Doug Corey, the chairman of the UHC, discussed the events that led to the formation of the UHDC in 2005, its current activities, and future plans. Dagmar Caramello, director of the UHC, also explained the educational programs and initiatives of the UHC, particularly its Operation Gelding program which has assisted in castrating over 1,100 stallions over the last few years at clinics in 33 states.
The UHC presented an award to Dr. Kent Carter, president of the Association of Equine Practitioners, for the AAEP's foresight in organizing the UHC and their continuing support.
Van Ness Award
The AHC also presented the Van Ness Award to Yvette Anderson-Rollins of Springville, Indiana, during the annual meeting at a special luncheon. The Van Ness Award is presented annually to an individual who has shown leadership and service to the horse community in his or her state.
"Ms. Anderson-Rollins has dedicated her life to creating, maintaining and promoting land and trail usage both in Indiana and nationwide," said Hickey in presenting the award to her. "She is a true educator in conservation, planning, and government affairs, and has worked tirelessly to open lines of communication, keep them open, ensure concerns are heard, and answers found to major problems."
In accepting the award, Anderson-Rollins said, "I am truly honored to have been chosen as the recipient of the Marjorie Van Ness award. When I look at all those who have received this award before me and their great accomplishments, and the knowledge they have shared, I am overwhelmed by their dedication to the betterment of the horse. There are so many people who deserve to be recognized with the Van Ness Award. I would like to thank all of them for their hard work and volunteerism ensuring future generations an opportunity to enjoy the horse."
Going to College--Equine Programs for College Students
The afternoon sessions involved two panels of industry representatives. The first, "Going to College," focused on opportunities to keep kids involved in equestrian activities during their years in college when many could easily leave the industry. The second panel, "Promoting the Equine Experience," provided an update on several new and unique efforts to promote horses to the public.
The "Going to College" panel was comprised of Meghan Boenig, President of the National Collegiate Equestrian Association (NCEA) and head coach of the University of Georgia Equestrian Team; Patte Zumbrun from the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA), and Cindy Schonholtz from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
"The NCEA is dedicated to providing collegiate opportunities for female equestrian student-athletes," Boenig mentioned, "and currently there are over 800 female athletes taking advantage of these opportunities." Boenig also stressed the importance of the fans, especially interaction with younger fans. "Touching youth and connecting them to horses and horse events is vital to molding a bright future for the sport," she said.
Patte Zumbrun noted that "the IHSA was founded on the principle that any college student should be able to participate in a horse show, regardless of his or her financial status or riding level. The emphasis is on learning, sportsmanship, and fun. Of course, competition plays a role but the students' enthusiasm and team spirit are the major factors," she said.
Zumbrun also discussed how the IHSA has provided a second career for many horses. She pointed out the various scholarship opportunities that are offered to the student athletes, as well as career opportunities within their partnerships with both the U.S. Equestrian Federation and U.S. Hunter Jumper Association.
Schonholtz also spoke about the importance of the PRCA's Youth Outreach programs, which includes PRCA Rodeo Camps and Youth Rodeo Sponsorships. Of particular note was that the Youth Rodeo Sponsorships aren't solely focused on the rodeo itself; this sponsorship includes education beyond the arena and offers classroom sessions to set up rodeo athletes for long term success out of the arena. "Educated and well trained athletes coming up through the ranks will create longevity for professional rodeo," noted Schonholtz.
Promoting the Equine Experience
The final panel focused on "Promoting the Equine Experience."
"We think these three programs are unique in how they are attempting to attract new people to the equine experience. We are very pleased to have our three speakers today," said Hickey in introducing the panel. Members of the panel included Price H. Bell, Jr. of Horse Country Inc., Ross Peddicord of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, and Patti Colbert of "Time to Ride," the AHC's marketing initiative to introduce newcomers to the horse.
Horse Country, Inc. was founded as a way to connect the general public to the sport of Thoroughbred racing through farm tours and other horse-related experiences in Kentucky. Its kickoff will be in conjunction with the running of the Breeders' Cup in October at Keeneland Race Track. "We hope this can be our piece of the fan development puzzle; to share the story of the horse--from birth, to racing, and back to breeding," said Bell. "By offering authentic, unique, coordinated experiences we will share with the public the history and stories of these amazing athletes who inspire us every day."
Peddicord spoke about the Maryland Horse Industry Discovery Project, launched in the last two years. "The goal of the Maryland Horse Discovery Project is to develop a statewide network of neighborhood equine education centers at existing stables," said Peddicord, "and to invite people of all ages to learn about horses and horsemanship in a welcoming and knowledgeable setting." The project has initiated several new programs in Maryland, such as Horse Pals Affinity Group, Horse Discovery Centers, the Maryland Horse Chase and the development of horse curriculum in Maryland public schools, and Horse Land at the Maryland State Fair, to attract and engage the public in ways that haven't been done in the past for the state of Maryland.
Finally, Colbert of Time to Ride gave an update on the program and the new initiatives it is undertaking this year to attract newcomers. She updated attendees on the 2015 Time to Ride Challenge. Colbert reported that the 2015 Time to Ride Challenge was underway. Nearly 1,000 stables, facilities, or businesses, termed "hosts," have signed up from 49 states to compete for $100,000 in cash and prizes in three categories, small, medium, and large. To date 4,112 newcomers have had a first-time horse experience through the Challenge at 206 events already held, Colbert noted. Hosts will be holding events through September.
"By focusing on word of mouth and the media, we can continue to target and engage our primary audience of moms and their children," said Colbert. "Through programs such as National Meet a Horse Day, Mom Round-Up, Time to Ride Stories, and the Time to Ride Challenge, we are hoping to connect more newcomers than ever."
Both panels were well received and highlighted much of the positive work being done in the industry to keep youth involved and attract newcomers to the horse industry.
That evening, Congressman John Yarmuth of Louisville, Kentucky, was awarded the American Horse Council's 2015 Rolapp Award for his outstanding service to the horse industry. The award was presented at a Congressional Reception on Capitol Hill before leaders of the horse industry and other Members of Congress.
In presenting the award, Hickey said that, "this year's winner is most deserving. The horse industry very much appreciates Yarmuth's support, hard work, and tenacity on issues such as clarification of the onerous withholding tax on wagering winnings, immigration, and the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST), all of which are important to the industry. We are pleased to honor him."
In accepting the award, Yarmuth stated, "It's an honor to receive this award, especially when the Sport of Kings has the world riveted by the thrill of a Triple Crown winner. As a Kentuckian, I'm proud to be recognized for representing the interests of an industry that drives billions of dollars in economic impact and generates tens of thousands of jobs for our Commonwealth. I thank the American Horse Council for presenting me with this year's Rolapp Award, and for their tireless dedication on behalf of the horse industry."
The AHC's the Congressional Ride-In occurred on Wednesday, June 17, and involved convention attendees meeting with their Senators and Representatives to discuss legislative and regulatory issues of importance.
In addition, AHC committees and the Unwanted Horse Coalition met on Monday, June 15, during the AHC's annual meeting.
The AHC Board of Trustees also met and elected Dr. Jerry Black, chairman, and Jim Gagliano, vice-chairman. "Both Dr. Black and Jim Gagliano have been AHC Trustees for some time. They know the issues the AHC must deal with, have broad experience in various sectors of the horse industry, and will step right into their new roles," said Hickey. "We are fortunate to have them."