American Horse Council 1999

Horse enthusiasts attending the American Horse Council (AHC) meeting were presented with heady figures concerning the economic impact of the U.S. equine industry. They also heard sobering reports involving the importation of horses with contagious equine metritis (CEM) and diminishing government funding for equine research.

The meeting was held in Washington, D.C., so that delegates could spend time with congressional representatives. The AHC is the equine industry’s chief lobbying voice. As such, a healthy portion of the program was devoted to lobbying. A pamphlet entitled ‘The Horse Industry’s Guide to Grassroots Lobbying’ is available from the AHC office at 1700 K Street NW, Suite 300, Washington, D.C., 20006.

Presented to the AHC attendees were the results of the economic impact study sponsored by the American Horse Council Foundation. Study highlights include the following information:

  • There are 6.9 million horses in the United States.
  • There are 7.1 million Americans involved in the industry as horse owners, service providers, employees, and volunteers. Tens of millions more participate as spectators. That means one out of every 35 Americans is involved with horses. Participation is broken down this way: racing, 941,000; showing, 3,607,900; recreation, 4,346,100; and other, such as ranching and farming, 1,607,500.
  • ­ There are 1.9 million people who own horses.
  • ­ The horse industry directly produces goods and services valued at $25.3 billion annually.
  • ­ The horse industry pays $1.9 million in taxes to all levels of government.
  • ­ The median income of horse-owning families is around $60,000. Horse ownership is broad, with 38% of owners earning under $50,000 and 21% over $100,000.

Also, broken down further in the study was the impact of three specific types of horse ownership—racing, showing, and recreation.

  • Racing—Number of horses involved, 725,000. Number of participants, 941,000. Impact on U.S. economy, $34.03 billion. Total full time jobs, 472,800.
  • Showing—Number of horses, 1.9 million. Number of participants, 3.6 million. Impact on U.S. economy, $34.8 billion. Total full time jobs, 441,000.
  • Recreation—Number of horses, 2.9 million. Number of participants, 4.3 million. Impact on U.S. economy, $23.8 billion. Total full time jobs, 317,000.

Health Concerns

Issues involving contagious equine diseases were discussed during a day-long meeting of the Health and Regulatory Advisory Committee, chaired by Marvin Beeman, DVM, of Colorado.

Dr. Morley Cook, of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), told the committee that seven horses with CEM were imported in recent months. Five were stallions and two were mares, with five of the animals coming from Germany and two from The Netherlands. The horses, he said, had been certified by a German laboratory as being free of CEM. However, during routine testing while in quarantine in this country, the animals were found to be infected. He said the horses were allowed to remain in this country and were treated for the disease.

The committee members voted to send a letter to the USDA supporting its position that all proper procedures for testing of horses must be followed or the horses could be returned to the exporting country.

Presenting a report on equine influenza, equine infectious anemia, and vesicular stomatitis was Tim Cordes, DVM, of the USDA.

Equine Influenza—Many of the vaccines on the market have no validity. Research indicates that maternal antibodies usually effectively protect a foal for the first nine months of its life. This means many foals are being vaccinated too early.

Vesicular Stomatitis (VS)—The disease usually begins showing up in May. This year there have been 112 investigations involving potential cases of VS in the United States. A total of 56 investigations took place in Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. There were no new confirmed cases of VS.

Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA)—During the past summer, there was an unprecedented outbreak of EIA in North Dakota. A total of 811 horses were tested in the outbreak area, with 24 positive. Testing was ongoing at the time of the AHC session.

Nationwide, the number of horses tested for EIA passed the one-million mark for the first time. During fiscal year 1999, 1,606,079 horses in the United States were tested for EIA, with 972 positive and ordered destroyed. That computes to 0.06% of the horses tested being positive. The largest number of positives was in Texas, where 279 horses out of 181,423 tested were positive.

Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA)—Unveiled for the committee by Cordes and Peter Timoney, FRCVS, PhD, of the Gluck Equine Research Center in Kentucky, was a video on equine viral arteritis. The video and an accompanying pamphlet are available through the USDA at no cost.

EVA, the video and pamphlet explained, ‘is an infectious disease. While it typically is not life-threatening to otherwise healthy adult horses, EVA is of special concern to horse breeders because it can cause abortion in pregnant mares, death in young foals, and can render breeding stallions permanent carriers of the virus.’

During a presentation in the general session, Timoney said a new approach toward the disease is needed in the United States. At present, there is no U.S. requirement that horses or stallion semen imported into this country be tested for EVA. Needed in the U.S., panel members agreed, is mandatory testing of horses as well as a vaccination program.


Congress authorized spending for the Recreational Trails Program of $40 million in 1999 and $50 million annually in 2000-2003. AHC members should work through their state trail coordinator to determine how to get a fair share of the funds for equine recreational trails.

On the not-so-positive side, AHC told the delegates, is the decreasing amount of government funds allocated for equine disease research. The AHC is urging spending programs that include funding of $4.7 million to the Agriculture Research Service (ARS) for critical emerging infectious animal disease research; $67.9 million for the APHIS monitoring and surveillance program; $8.2 million for the general maintenance and continued modernization of the ARS foreign animal disease laboratory at Plum Island, N.Y.; $3.2 million as the APHIS funding portion for Plum Island; $3 million for continued modernization of the ARS National Animal Disease Center in Ames, Iowa; $2.3 million for research on agricultural genomes; and $627,000 for the National Animal Health Emergency Management System.

About the Author

Les Sellnow

Les Sellnow is a free-lance writer based near Riverton, Wyo. He specializes in articles on equine research, and operates a ranch where he raises horses and livestock. He has authored several fiction and non-fiction books, including Understanding Equine Lameness and Understanding The Young Horse, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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