The 45th annual meeting of the American Horse Council took place in Washington, DC, in late June. It drew nearly 200 attendees, including industry leaders from 50 organizations, members of Congress and staff, and federal regulatory agency staff.

"We had our best attendance in quite a few years," said AHC President Jay Hickey. "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."

The first day of the AHC's annual meeting is an opportunity for all of the AHC's advisory committees to meet face-to-face and discuss federal issues affecting all segments of the horse industry. Those include the animal welfare committee, health and regulatory, horse show, racing, and recreation committees. The AHC's Coalition of State Horse Councils also meets, as does the Unwanted Horse Coalition.

Probably the most-discussed legislation was the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (PAST Act), which was before the AHC's Animal Welfare and Horse Show committees but brought up at several others too, Hickey said.

"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," he said. "That position of support was reaffirmed at the meetings. 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."

Several favorable tax provisions applicable to horses and assets used in the horse business expired or dropped in value at the end of 2013. 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 racehorses over three years, rather than over seven; and the higher limits for contributions of real property for conservation purposes by farmers and ranchers.

"Legislation to extend all these provisions is being considered by Congress and the AHC supports such extensions. We are hopeful any extensions will be retroactive to January 1, 2014," said Hickey.

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. Current federal bills to legalize and regulate, or simply prohibit, Internet wagering were reviewed. The AHC was directed to ensure that if any legislation is considered in Congress it protects what the racing industry is now offering under the Interstate Horseracing Act.

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 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," said Hickey. "We are all for it."

The AHC annual meeting also was an opportunity for the AHC Coalition of State Horse Councils to meet and discuss state issues and activities thoroughly. The AHC Van Ness Award, presented to an outstanding person associated with state councils, was presented to Paul Briney of Illinois at the luncheon on Tuesday.

The AHC 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 of the 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 updated all 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 (UHC), 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 to renew old friendships, make new ones, and discuss industry concerns.

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.

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