The bipartisan Joint Subcommittee on Horse Farming, which meets periodically when the Kentucky General Assembly isn’t in session, has made strides in educating lawmakers on the importance and scope of Kentucky’s horse industry. And the challenges for the industry won't go away.
At a July 9 meeting, two equine organizations stated their goals and accomplishments before the subcommittee, after which members started dialogue about many of the controversial issues facing the industry.
Following a presentation by Jack Smith, chairman of the Kentucky Equine Education Project’s grassroots committee, Democratic Rep. Royce Adams brought up the reintroduction of a bill that would remove the sales tax from horse feed and other goods. Helping to repeal the sales tax has been KEEP’s goal for the last two years, but so far the bill has failed to pass.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to get it passed (in the last session) because of the budget crisis,” said Adams, who noted he plans to make a presentation on the bill’s importance sometime in October or November. “I felt it if we keep it as close to the session as possible, it would have the most meaning. We have strong hope that we can get that passed, and it would have a strong effect on all the horse people in our state.”
Democratic Rep. Susan Westrom, who co-chairs the subcommittee, asked how KEEP funds itself and manages to support many equine-related groups across the state. Smith said most of KEEP’s funds come from outside contributions, as well as the proceeds from two stallion season auctions it has held over the last few years.
“We’re not going to go to the Thoroughbred people (for contributions) as much as we did in the past, though,” Smith said. “We need to come up with some other things. We probably need to work more on corporate donations.”
Westrom also asked Smith for his opinion on the situation at Ellis Park, which was nearly shut down this summer because of a dispute with horsemen over advance deposit wagering revenue. Owner Ron Geary worked out a deal with the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association that gives the horsemen’s group a greater share of ADW revenue.
“For the people in that part of the state, (Ellis Park) is very important,” Smith said. “It’s a big employment factor and a big entertainment factor. It’s good for developing horses in that area, but from what I can see (the deal with the HBPA) is just a Band-Aid that has been put on it for the current time.
“The division of that money has to be looked at again. In my view, the horsemen are not getting a fair shake out of it, and if they don’t get it now, I don’t know when they’re going to get it. I think we need to make one decision on this, live with it, go forward, and start promoting our business. We need to stop the infighting and side on something.”
Barry Robinette, president of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Farm Managers’ Club, also gave a presentation of specific ways his organization has aided the industry, such as supporting the Kentucky Equine Management Internship Program. Another topic of discussion was immigration.
“We have to have that labor source,” said Devant Latham, a past president of the club and the owner of a farm near Versailles, Ky. “Approximately 60%-65% of my staff is Hispanic. We set up living conditions for them—we’re very particular about how we hire them—they are legal. We offer them incentives, and they’re a great workforce. I think I’d be closing the doors if I lost all the Hispanics.”
Westrom also brought up the issue of Kentucky farm managers having to compete with other states that are able to offer bigger purses because of casino-style gambling.
“Kentucky is where you want to be with the horses, but you find a lot of farm owners are setting up operations in these other states because the lure of the extra money is so great,” said David Hagar, another past president of the club and owner of Idle Hour Farm near Paris, Ky. “They’re willing to either uproot here and move, or divide their farms. It’s a shame because we should be at the forefront of that.”
Latham said Pennsylvania could be Kentucky’s biggest competitor; Pennsylvania-bred maiden special weight events at Presque Isle Downs near Erie race for $50,000 purses. Virtually in the opposite situation as Kentucky, Pennsylvania has a very small foal crop, with high purses and breeders’ awards that are funneled to a smaller number of people.