Ohio Creates Equine Advisory Task Force

A new advisory committee wants to improve the state of Ohio's horse industry.

Just days before Ohioans vote on whether to authorize a constitutional amendment allowing for a casino in southwestern Ohio, the state Department of Agriculture announced an 11-member Equine Industry Advisory Task Force charged with promoting and strengthening the state’s horse industry.

The advisory group was announced Oct. 31. It follows a September meeting of industry stakeholders.

Earlier this year, horse groups launched the Ohio Equine Industry Coalition, which is similar to the Kentucky Equine Education Project in Kentucky. The group is designed to raise the profile of the horse industry and tout its economic benefits.

In a release, the Ohio Department of Agriculture said Ohio has more than 307,000 horses that produce total economic impact of about $2.2 billion per year. More than 16,000 people are employed by the industry, the statistics show.

“This task force’s creation is an exciting event for the equine industry here in Ohio,” Robert Boggs, director of the agriculture department, said in a statement. “Our goal is to strengthen the industry and to renew Ohioans’ enthusiasm by bringing together representatives who can share diverse experiences and viewpoints.”

The horseracing industry in Ohio has been in decline for years. Racing dates have been cut, foal crops are down, and wagering continues to sag. Through Oct. 25, total handle at seven tracks in the state was down almost 12% from 2007, according to the Ohio State Racing Commission.

Ohio has three Thoroughbred tracks (Beulah Park, River Downs, and Thistledown) and four Standardbred tracks (Lebanon Raceway, Northfield Park, Raceway Park, and Scioto Downs). It also has more than 50 county fairs that offer limited pari-mutuel harness racing in the summer and early fall.

The controversial casino measure is of particular interest to the horse industry because no revenue from the facility would go to racing or breeding. In 2006, a statewide ballot measure calling for video lottery terminals at Ohio tracks failed to pass.

The proposed casino would be located near Wilmington, just off Interstate 71 north of Cincinnati, east of Dayton, and south of Columbus.

The OSRC Oct. 16 adopted a resolution opposing the casino measure, which is called Issue 6 on the ballot.

"The Ohio State Racing Commission is in favor of increased gaming in Ohio, however, we feel the racetracks are best prepared to implement this for the benefit of the horse industry," the resolution states. "Passage of Issue 6 would jeopardize the 8,200 direct jobs and 16,000 indirect jobs of the Ohio horseracing industry."

The new equine task force is scheduled to meet for the first time Nov. 6, two days after Election Day, in Reynoldsburg near Columbus. Members of the task force are Adam Ward, the Ohio Department of Agriculture legislative liaison who will serve as chairman; Willie Koester, chairman of the state racing commission (racing industry); Mike Gerard, a private horse owner (pleasure horse industry); Gary King of the Ohio Agri-business Association (feed and tack industry); Elizabeth Burick, a private horse owner (show horse industry); Dr. Tony Forshey, Ohio Department of Agriculture state veterinarian (veterinary field); Fred Arnold of the Ohio Fair Managers’ Association (Ohio county fairs with harness racing); and Dr. John Mossbarger of Midland Acres (equine breeders).

At-large members are Keith Stimpert of the Ohio Farm Bureau; Brock Schmaltz of Ohio Equine Industry Coalition; Tom Fries Jr. of the Ohio Standardbred Commission; and Denny Hales of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association.

Also this year, the OSRC issued a request for proposal for a study of the horseracing industry. The report is expected to address economic impact and challenges facing the industry, and offer solutions.