American Horse Council President Addresses Recreation Issues

American Horse Council (AHC) President Jay Hickey spoke to the International Livestock Congress in Houston, Texas on February 25 on future national issues that might impact the recreational segment of the horse industry. The address was part of the ILC's Equine Program entitled "Saddle Up America."

Hickey pointed out that according to the Economic Impact Study of the Horse Industry in the United States, done by Barents Group of Washington, D.C., "the recreational segment of the horse industry involves 3 million horses and 4.3 participants. It has an economic impact of $28.3 billion and supports 173,800 jobs."

"Perhaps the most important issue facing equine recreation will be access to lands, both public and private. The industry must work with federal, state and local authorities to ensure that trails remain open. Federal and state funding for the construction, repair and maintenance of trails will be critical," Hickey said. "The AHC is actively involved in the continued funding of the National Recreational Trails Trust Fund to ensure the maintenance and development of trails. The Forest Service's Roadless Initiative and their proposal regarding drafting management plans for the use of Forest Service lands will be important. Finally, zoning laws could adversely impact private and public stables and the ability of people to be close to their horses."

"Competition for individuals' leisure time and money," will clearly be a challenge in the future," Hickey noted. "Marketing efforts, such as the Horse Industry Alliance's 'Saddle Up America' program, to publicize the horse and recreation it provides will be important in that effort. The 'baby boomers,' who are approaching retirement or semi-retirement, are in good shape physically and financially and they will be a ready market for horse sports, particularly recreational riding."

Equine diseases, including emerging ones such as West Nile Virus or old ones like Contagious Equine Metritis or Vesicular Stomatitis, could have a dramatic effect not only on the health of horses but on their interstate and international movement. Hickey noted "that more than half the people who own horses transport them to another area for enjoyment. Obviously, state restrictions on the movement of horses, imposed because of health concerns, could affect our ability to enjoy our horses to their fullest. For this reason we must ensure that our import requirements continue to be strong and well-enforced by the Department of Agriculture and that research is undertaken on emerging diseases."

"Another challenge could come from animal welfare, and more particular animal rights, organizations," said Hickey. "Horse owners are inherently concerned about the welfare of their horses. We must explain that to the general public to be sure they understand how we use our horses."

"Finally, each segment of the industry - racing, showing, recreation—must appreciate and support the other. They are intertwined. We must act together when it is important to our future," Hickey concluded.

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