A varied group of equine enthusiasts gathered at Fasig-Tipton for the spring session of the Kentucky Equine Networking Association (KENA). Presented by the Equine Law Group of Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, the evening was intended to educate equine professionals, horse owners and recreational riders on the issue of land loss in the Kentucky's horse country.
The stellar set of panelists included Holley Groshek, Executive Director of the Equine Land Conservation Resource (ELCR); Susan Speckert, Executive Director of the Fayette Alliance; Ashley Greathouse of Bluegrass Land Conservancy; and Roy Cornett, currently serving as the Treasurer for the Back Country Horsemen of America (BCHA).
Groshek, who represents a nationwide organization, spoke of the creation of the ELCR to "sound the alarm" about land loss to equestrians. As most horseback riders are now aware that land loss is an issue, the focus of the organization has shifted to a more-local level and partnership with local entities also seeking to preserve land. "We're losing 6,000 acres of land a day to development," Groshek said. Much of the land that is being developed is being developed poorly, she noted.
The concern over "urban sprawl" was reiterated by Susan Speckert of the Fayette Alliance, a land-use advocacy organization in Fayette County, Kentucky, that is not a focused solely on equines. "People understand what makes our community [of Lexington] great," Speckert said. In addition to the active, engaged community members, the history and heritage of agriculture are what make Lexington, Lexington. The Fayette Alliance strives to preserve farmland and promote innovative development—which means limiting urban sprawl.
Kentucky has what is deemed "prime farmland soils and soils of statewide importance" in its Bluegrass Region. The farmland that makes the area renowned for its Thoroughbred racehorses is what Speckert dubs the "factory floor." This economic engine drives 1 out of 9 jobs in Fayette County and brings in $2.4 billion each year. Speckert reiterated that the Fayette Alliance is not against growth, but it does advocate for smart growth strategies that minimize sprawl.
Ashley Greathouse of the Bluegrass Land Conservancy detailed options available to landowners in the Bluegrass Region wishing to permanently protect their land from development. Designed to protect both land and heritage, the Conservancy focuses on protecting lands that are used as habitat, that are historic, and those that are used for equine and cattle farms in the region. The organization also focuses on preserving fresh water.
Roy Cornett, an active member of the Back Country Horsemen of America, spoke of the need for riders to have access to public lands on which they can ride. He feels that partnership is the key to keeping lands open and rideable, whether that is partnering with other organizations that use the land (like hikers and bikers) or partnering with those tasked with caring for the land.
"This was one of the most diverse crowds KENA has had to date," said Kentucky Horse Council Executive Director Katy Ross. "The depth of the topics covered was impressive, informing the audience on everything from the amount of money farmland brings to the table in the Kentucky economy to how land owners can protect their lands from development. It's refreshing to see this vast and varied group of people focus on working together to help solve issues that ultimately affect us all."
Each of the panelists spoke of the need for equestrians to be active in their local communities; for them to have a unified voice to ensure that land is preserved from urban sprawl; and for them to be educated about the issues that face them as equine enthusiasts.
The next KENA meeting will take place on August 15 at Fasig-Tipton.
The Kentucky Horse Council is a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated, through education and leadership, to the protection and development of the Kentucky equine community. The Kentucky Horse Council provides educational programs and information, outreach and communication to Kentucky horse owners and enthusiasts, equine professional networking opportunities, trail riding advocacy, health and welfare programs, and personal liability insurance and other membership benefits. The specialty Kentucky Horse Council license plate, featuring a foal lying in the grass, provides the primary source of revenue for KHC programs.