The new Racing and Breeding Caucus met Thursday afternoon in Washington, D.C., for what the horse industry hopes was the first of many meetings that will raise the awareness level of legislators. About 20 people were present at the one-hour meeting.
National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner Tim Smith called it an "educational, non-partisan, multi-year, multi-meeting process, the benefits from which will stick with the industry for years." The NTRA, along with the American Horse Council, has stepped up its presence on Capitol Hill.
Rep. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky and Rep. Karen Thurman of Florida chair the caucus, the idea for which was developed in the past year.
Smith said industry officials such as him are guests at meetings of the caucus, though they are asked to speak on various issues. At Thursday's meeting, Smith, AHC president Jay Hickey, and Don Treadway of the American Quarter Horse Association gave brief presentations.
Fletcher has been active in pushing for federal aid for owners and breeders impacted by mare reproductive loss syndrome. He told the Associated Press said he intends to make sure Congress realizes the horse industry is an agricultural industry.
Caucus members discussed tax, environmental, immigration, and health issues that impact the horse industry. Smith said the meeting was more educational in nature.
"The most successful caucuses blend educational information with some things that are enjoyable for the members," said Smith, who has a background in politics. "The ones that are successful don't really have a legislative agenda. It's more so that members of Congress with common interests have a chance to talk about them."
Some legislators participated in a backstretch tour at Churchill Downs the week of the Kentucky Derby, and told racing industry officials they'd like to participate in similar tours in the future. The week of the Breeders' Cup is a possibility, Smith said.