by Fran JurgaIllinois horse owners polled in a statewide referendum Oct. 7 approved an innovative new program that establishes a tax on horse feed products to benefit equine research and education in the state. Sponsored by the Horseman's Council of Illinois (HCI), the referendum that would set the five-cent optional tax passed by a small margin. Proceeds from the taxation would be pooled into an equine education account to fund the improvement of research and education services for the benefit of horse owners--and horses--in Illinois.The newly created Illinois Equine Research and Promotion Act will be steered by an advisory board that will review funding proposals. Half of the board members will be selected according to geographic location, while the other half will represent a cross-section of the equine industry in the state. Thoroughbred racing, Standardbred racing, show horses, pleasure horses, and work horses will each have a representative; one additional representative will come from the horse feed industry.According to the wording of the act, all funds collected from the sale of horse feed, hay, and supplements must be used directly for programs related to horses.The actual "tax" amounts to five cents per 50-pound bag of feed. Act proponents estimate that the average horse owner would pay less than $2 per year to support the new programs. Horse owners who do not wish to support the program can opt for an exemption.Illinois is home to an estimated 200,000 horses owned by 77,000 individuals. The combined proceeds from the tax on horse feed could raise as much as $400,000 per year for funding education and research programs in the state."We envision a grant program that will not be limited to racing and the universities, but will help handicapped riders in local programs, 4-H, extension, and FFA equine youth programs at the local level," said Frank Bowman, president of the HCI, after the provision passed.Information about the new programs can be found online at http://www.horsemenscouncil.org/.