Only Two Months Old, KEEP Raises $1M for Project

A grassroots educational endeavor launched only two months ago in Kentucky already has raised $1 million and is well on the way of meeting its goal of $1.5 million by the end of the year.

"It's obviously going exceptionally well," Kentucky Equine Education Project chairman and Airdrie Stud owner Brereton Jones said July 8. "We still have a long way to go, because it's a very ambitious undertaking to organize all 120 counties (in the state)."

KEEP's mission is to educate the public and legislators on the importance of the horse industry--every breed in the state--to the Kentucky economy. The organization expects to have a strong influence on the legislative process for the 2006 General Assembly session.

Jones met with the state Paint Horse Association July 7. On July 3, KEEP held a reception in conjunction with the debut of Quarter Horse racing at The Red Mile in Lexington and met with an enthusiastic response.

American Quarter Horse Association statistics for 2003 show 35,358 registered American Quarter Horses in Kentucky, along with 13,147 owners. The AQHA, in part because of membership numbers, is a powerful lobby in certain states and in Washington, D.C.

"There are more Quarter Horses in Kentucky than there are Thoroughbreds," Jones said. "That surprises people when you tell them that."

The two-day Quarter Horse meet drew more than 8,000 people, in part because of the novelty of it--it was the first such meet in Kentucky since 1992, and the first in Lexington. Still, people involved with Quarter Horses seem to have a knack of rallying the forces, and they turned out in large numbers.

"We must invest to have a license in the future, and we took a chance (on the Quarter Horse meet)," said Joe Costa, chief executive officer of The Red Mile. "If we all stick together, we can begin to dream."

Jones said KEEP already has volunteers to serve as team leaders in various counties in the state.

"People really understand the importance of this effort," Jones said. "It will take money, but it will take more than money. It's like a grassroots, statewide campaign for public office. People have to understand what you believe, and I'm convinced people will support the entire horse industry."

KEEP has no firm agenda right now with the exception of educating the public and lawmakers. However, during the July 3 reception, Jones said a priority would be pushing for tax parity on things such as feed and farm machinery during the 2006 legislative session.

Attempts to win approval for alternative gaming for the racing industry have failed during the last three General Assembly sessions. KEEP hasn't discussed racetrack gaming at any of its public meetings, and organizers have said such legislation is not the reason KEEP was formed. Education is the priority, they said.

"We're going to go from having one of the weakest lobbies in Frankfort to having the strongest lobby in Frankfort when they begin their session in 2006," Jones said.