More than 200 representatives from horse organisations, government, and industry leaders attended the 45 annual meeting of the American Horse Council in Washington, DC, late last month.
AHC president Jay Hickey said it was the best attendance in years. “We think that is because of the importance of the issues facing all segments of the horse industry before Congress and the federal agencies. We also think the topic of this year’s National Issues Forum, ‘Where Have All the Horses Gone,’ attracted great interest.”
Probably the most-discussed legislation was the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act), which was before the AHC’s Animal Welfare Committee and Horse Show Committee, but brought up at several others too. “The AHC, along with all major breed registries and horse show organizations, supports the bill, which now has 296 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 57 cosponsors in the Senate. That position of support was reaffirmed at the meetings,” noted Hickey, “So we will redouble our efforts to get it passed. But even with that number of Congressional cosponsors, we still need more help from the horse community at large to get it over the finish line.”
Also under discussion was taxation. Several favorable tax provisions applicable to horses and assets used in the horse business expired or dropped in value at the end of 2013, Hickey said. This includes the Section 179 expense deduction, which went from $500,000 to $25,000; bonus depreciation, which went from 50% to zero; the ability to depreciate all race horses over three years, rather than over seven; and the higher limits for contributions of real property for conservation purposes by farmers and ranchers.
In addition to the reinstatement of three-year-depreciation for all race horses, the AHC Racing Committee also discussed efforts to have the Department of Treasury re-characterize the definition of a wager so that fewer wagers are subject to withholding.
In the equine health area, attendees received reports on the Equine Veterinary Mobility Act, which would allow veterinarians to transport medications deemed “controlled substances” to farms, tracks, shows, and events without fear of violating the Controlled Substances Act.
“This critical legislation has passed the Senate and should get to the House floor for a vote,” said Hickey. “If we can get it to the floor, it should pass and eliminate veterinarians’ concerns about the Drug Enforcement Agency finding a violation should vets take medications out of their offices to administer to horses.”
In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has proposed several changes to the import-export regulations. The Health and Regulatory Committee was updated by USDA staff on the latest rule change proposal that would eliminate Saudi Arabia from the list of countries with African Horse Sickness and make it easier for horses to be imported from that country.
As with any changes to the import rules, the industry wants to facilitate the international movement of horses, “but not at the expense of protecting the U.S. horse population,” said Hickey. “This meeting allowed the AHC Health and Regulatory Committee to discuss this proposal and prepare to submit comments to USDA by mid-August on the proposed rule change.”
Finally, the AHC’s Recreation Committee discussed the recent introduction of the National Forest System Trails Stewardship Act (H.R. 4886), which would direct the Forest Service to address the current trail maintenance backlog that is adversely affecting trail users, including equestrians. “The AHC, along with the Back Country Horsemen of America and the Wilderness Society, was significantly involved in the drafting and introduction of this bill. We are all for it,” Hickey said.
The AHC annual meeting also was an opportunity for the AHC’s Coalition of State Horse Councils to meet and discuss state issues and activities thoroughly. The AHC’s Van Ness Award, presented to an outstanding person associated with state councils, was presented to Paul Briney of Illinois at the luncheon on Tuesday.
Where Have All the Horses Gone?
The AHC’s National Issues Forum was held on the second day of the convention and heard three panels discuss “Where Have All the Horses Gone.” Tim Capps, Director, Equine Industry Program, University of Louisville, was the keynote speaker. Attendees heard representatives of racing, showing and other stakeholders explain in detail how the dramatic fall-off in registered horses affected them and what they were doing about it.
“Clearly, this is a critical issues for the future of the horse industry,” said Hickey. “But just as clearly the leaders of the industry are acutely aware of it and taking steps to reverse it.”
One effort is the AHC’s “Time To Ride” program and convention attendees heard an update on the “100 Day Horse Challenge” intended to attract 100,000 new people to an equine experience this summer. Various stables, events, and facilities will be competing for $100,000 in cash and other prizes. Patti Colbert of PCE Enterprises gave an update on the Challenge.
Dr. Nat White gave an update on the current status of the National Equine Health Plan and the formation of the Equine Disease Communication Center, which will be operational later this year and provide accurate and up-to-date information on disease outbreaks.
The AHC annual meeting was also an opportunity for the Unwanted Horse Coalition, which operates under the AHC, to meet. Members present reaffirmed their commitment to the UHC and its various ongoing educational programs.
The AHC’s convention also included the AHC’s Congressional Reception, which allowed industry people to visit informally with Members of Congress. The annual Congressional Ride-In took place all day Wednesday, June 25. The Ride-In brought horse people to Capitol Hill to meet with their elected representatives to discuss important issues affecting them.
“As always, the AHC’s annual meeting brings together the horse industry’s leaders, stakeholders, service providers and rank-and-file to discuss common federal issues of importance,” said Hickey.