Key Kentucky Legislative Panel to Hear Horse Industry

The Kentucky equine industry, for the first time, will be the focus of a September meeting of the state General Assembly's Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, legislators announced July 14.

The meeting will mark a major step forward for the horse industry, which is attempting to educate the public and lawmakers on its importance to the Kentucky economy in the face of competition from other states that are bolstering their horse breeding and racing programs.

Sen. Damon Thayer, who co-chairs the Subcommittee on Horse Farming, said about 45 of the state's 138 legislators sit on the agriculture committee. He indicated it would be a great opportunity for the horse industry to tell its story.

The subcommittee met July 14 in Frankfort for the first time this year. It heard a presentation from the Kentucky Equine Education Project, whose mission is to coordinate educational efforts in all 120 counties with a goal of having a major influence on the state legislature in 2006.

"We believe there is power in numbers," said Claria Horn-Shadwick, executive director of KEEP. "This is a race Kentucky cannot afford to lose."

Horn-Shadwick outlined the horse industry's economic and historical impact, threats from other states, and the goals of the organization, which recently cleared the $1-million mark in funding. Lawmakers on the subcommittee seemed receptive to KEEP.

Rep. Tom McKee said emphasizing all horses and breeds--not just those that race in the state--is extremely important. He said he visited a Quarter Horse competition at a fair in Pendleton County and was amazed at the number of horses and participants.

"We're talking about the winner of the Kentucky Derby, but also the 16-year-old competing on a Quarter Horse at his county fair," McKee said.

KEEP is charged with uniting all breeds in the state. It plans to pursue legislative initiatives that are common to all members, Horn-Shadwick said.

The subcommittee meeting featured brief discussion about breed development programs in other states such as New York. There was no mention of seeking legislation for alternative gaming, and in fact KEEP has said it wasn't formed for that purpose.

Still, it remains to be seen what initiatives aside from tax parity the organization will pursue. Legislators noted the state gets about $30 million in taxes each year from the horse industry, and budget problems make it difficult to give up revenue.

"If we had good economic times in the state, it would certainly be easier," Rep. Royce Adams said of approving tax relief for the industry.

"We're looking at an alarming trend," Rep. Susan Westrom, who co-chairs the subcommittee, said of the horse industry. "This is a very frightening time for our industry."

Rep. Don Pasley suggested the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee take up horse industry-related issues because the industry is a major contributor to the state economy. "It's important for people to know we're in a fight for our life," he said.

KEEP has appointed two members to its board of directors. Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association president Susan Bunning, and Dan Kenny, a bloodstock agent, are now members of the board.