Two Futures

The first Kentucky Horse Council Equine Industry Summit was a success. There were more than 40 different equine organizations and breed associations which sent delegates, most of whom thanked the state horse council for getting them together on a common topic--equine welfare. (Actually, one person said that the Summit could be termed a success for the mere reason we got a Western pleasure trails group in the same room with the serious dressage people, and all of them were nodding their heads in the same direction!) Unfortunately, the organizers had identified more than 130 equine groups based in Kentucky, ranging from international organizations such as The Jockey Club (registry for Thoroughbreds) down to a several-member riding club. It is unfortunate because while the number of delegates who attended represented a great start toward working together, we horse people have to convince ourselves, and our fellow horse owners and enthusiasts, that unless we face certain issues together, our voices will not be heard and our wishes will not be followed.

It is important for us to be leaders--proactive, if you wish. There are changes coming that will affect the ways in which we use our horses. Some of these changes are as small as a local park not allowing horses on the grounds. Some of the larger ones will determine who can treat our horses (state practice acts regarding dentistry, chiropractic, acupuncture, etc.) and what we can do with them (racing 2-year-olds, housing, zoning, taxes). Legislators will tell you that no matter whether the issue is a state or federal one, numbers and industry-wide support are key to having your opinions heard.

The welfare we discussed at the Equine Summit ranged from our state's cruelty laws and punishments (or lack thereof), to federal concerns of transporting horses to slaughter. The latter was an active discussion brought home by several first-person stories of horses being saved from slaughter after being stolen, or nice horses rescued just because they were noticed by horse people.

Identification of horses was a concern. A very few states have required identification programs associated with testing for equine infectious anemia (EIA; which is why you have a Coggins test done on your horse). Louisiana was the first, and the state has deemed its program a success. Other states have or are going to follow Louisiana's lead. This not only allows identification and tracking of horses with EIA, but, to me, posts a big "No Trespassing" sign on the state's borders to horse thieves. If you know nearly every horse in the state has an electronic identification marker inserted into the ligament in its neck, then you also are going to know that trying to sell that horse without legal ownership papers will be difficult, if not impossible.

However, there are no laws at the present time that require the few federally licensed slaughter plants in this country to check for any type of identification, electronic or otherwise, before horses are slaughtered. How sad if you go to the trouble of having your horse micro-chipped, he gets lost or stolen, winds up at a slaughter house, then isn't identified as a companion animal or work animal before it is too late.

Working through your state horse councils, and the American Horse Council, is the only way to help make sure that horses which are slaughtered truly are horses with no other homes or hopes.

There was one voice in this group that advocated "animal rights" types of actions to combat supposed cruelty cases. This person was advised that not only were there severe legal ramifications of her actions, but that videotaping or photographing alleged cruelty cases and taking them to the local media might get a fellow horse person in trouble who had just rescued an animal!

There are legal ways to pursue someone who is legally cruel to a horse. But sometimes, people are left in situations where ignorance--not cruelty--is the cause, such as a spouse dying and the surviving person having no clue about taking care of a horse. Those people need equine friends to educate them, not prosecute them!

Local groups can make sure that these people, and those who have no equine background who get a "first pony or horse" for their kids or grandkids, are offered educational opportunities. Our horse council tries to put on a "New Horse Owners' Seminar" each year to help "wanna-be" horse owners or new owners know they are not in this alone! You don't have to be a horse council to do this; your own group can do the same thing for the local 4-H or FFA group, school, or community.

It's always amazing to me how many people are out there who would love to ride who haven't got a clue where to start. They don't know about leasing a horse, or time-sharing a horse, or even whom to call in the area for riding lessons in a discipline that would suit their wants and needs. Some people want the challenge of a gaited show animal or an event career, and some just want to be able to ride a horse at a state park with their kids without mounting from the wrong side!

We as horse people, and the groups with which we are associated, are the ones who not only can get people involved and active in equestrian events, but should be the leaders in making sure people are using horses in a humane manner. And the best way to do this is to work together.

After all, what we all have in common is the horse.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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