Spotlight Equine: Community Leadership Development and Land Use

When Lori Garkovich, PhD, professor in the Community Leadership Development Department, joined the faculty in the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, she said she was astounded by the lack of involvement the university had with the local horse industry. Now, some 34 years later, she believes UK has improved in that area, particularly in extension.

Garkovich wears many hats at UK, one of which is extension specialist for the Community and Leadership Development Program. In this context she advises Kentucky counties and organizations on strategic planning, economic development, community planning, and other issues.

According to Garkovich, one of the biggest issues in modern Kentucky is land use and management. There are some communities in Kentucky that don't have planning and zoning committees, and with urbanization spreading across the state, many of them are at a loss for how to address proposed changes to the use of land in their area.

The issue affects more people than just those who can purchase or build on certain areas of land. According to Garkovich, the landscape of a county has an effect on those living in it.

"The visual landscape really shapes how people who live there think of themselves and how others think of them," said Garkovich.

In addition to a community's identity, the use of its land can impact its attraction to visitors. The vineyards in California are a good example, she said. While California’s tourism and agriculture are not synonymous, one would falter without the other. Vineyards would take an economic hit without the revenue provided by visitors and the ability to brand their product. And without the vineyards and farmland, fewer people would come to the region and spend money at other businesses.

Garkovich said a large part of her job is to get communities to see the value in sustaining their agricultural land base and to understand the economic necessity of what they have.

Just as vineyards in California help define the state's agriculture and tourism industries, horses are Kentucky's signature agricultural industry.

Garkovich's next goal is to develop a multi-use, horse-friendly trail system in Kentucky. Other states have trails built for hikers, bikers, and horseback riders. Some communities, such as Highland Township in Michigan, have gone a step further to make their trails receptive to riders. The Detroit suburb not only has a 12-mile network of trails running through the adjacent national park, but a business plan to install hitching posts and watering areas downtown. Highland Township's stated purpose is land conservancy with a horsey twist.

As an extension specialist, Garkovich said Highland Township is a model to create something similar in Kentucky.

"When people visit us, they want to ride a horse in horse country," she said. "If other states can do this, why can't we?"

For more information about the Community and Leadership Development Program, visit

Natalie Voss is a UK equine communications intern and recent graduate in equine science and management.

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