AHC’s National Issues Forum Provides Different Perspectives

The American Horse Council (AHC) National Issues Forum, sponsored by Luitpold Animal Health, on June 12th provided a wealth of information and ideas from different perspectives on how we can grow the industry and continue to work together. Attendees were treated to insights ranging from cutting-edge research to help our equine athletes, to how we can encourage the next generation to get involved, as well as how tradition, continuity, and innovation can work together for the benefit of the industry in moving forward.

The Morning Session kicked off with keynote speaker Roger Dow of the U.S. Travel Association who spoke about several initiatives the travel industry has undertaken the past few years to increase tourism and travel within and to the United States. For example, a Visa Waiver Program that allows residents of allied countries to be pre-screened before entry and are given visa-free travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days. Most notably though, was the creation of a Global Meetings Industry Day that showcases the impact that business meetings, conferences, conventions, incentive travel, trade shows and exhibitions have on people, business and communities.

“Staying focused, finding things you can work on together, and speaking with one voice are critical to ensuring the success and longevity of any industry,” Mr. Dow closed with.

Allyn Mann of Luitpold Animal Health served as the moderator for the Research Panel, where he started things off by asking what the industry is doing to advance our technologies and help our horses stay healthy. Research Panel participants Dr. Wendy Wood of Colorado State University, Dr. Nat White of the AAEP Foundation, Dr. Paul Haefner of Horses & Humans Research Foundation, Dr. Tom Lenz for AQHA and Mr. Edward Bowen of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation all talked about the importance of research and how it impacts our relationships with our equines.

“The industry is very diverse and we believe starting to grow again,” said Dr. Wood. “Focusing on the motivational quality that horses give us could be helpful in continuing to grow. They give us immediate feedback on what we are doing right or wrong.”

“We need to begin to focus on the gaps in the industry in a way that moves the needle forward,” said Dr. Haefner. “Additionally, we need to take a hard look at what exactly is it about a horse that makes people feel like they don’t need to go talk to a therapist because they were just able to go to the barn and spend time with their horse?”

Dr. Lenz spoke about AQHA’s involvement with research and how they encourage the submission of research projects related to the health, welfare and utility of the horse and of importance to the horse owner and the horse industry. Additionally, he touched on getting the next generation involved in research with the creation of the Young Investigator Award

“Since 1994 the AAEP Foundation has awarded more than $4 million to support education, outreach and equine research,” said Dr. White. “Research is part of what we do as horse owners, and we owe that to the horse.”

“The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has made incredible strides on advancements in laminitis,” said Mr. Bowen. “We can all agree on the importance of research, and how it is necessary to help horses of all breeds lead better lives.”

“We need to determine the priorities of what we want to fund, and get a group together that meets each year to discuss research funding and the projects that are currently being funded,” said Dr. Lenz. “We have to remember that victories are not achieved by just one person.”

The Youth Panel proved to be one of the attendee favorites, which was moderated by Julie Broadway, AHC President, and Danette McGuire, American Youth Horse Council Executive Director. Panel participants included Sedate Kohler of the U.S. Pony Club, Flora ElmColone of the Arabian Horse Youth Association, Justin Irvine of the Harness Horse Youth Foundation, and Brock Murphy of the American Quarter Horse Youth Association.

“To keep youth involved in the equine industry we need to maximize public exposure to horses. So many kids think of horses as a novelty, and for people living in cities, access is extremely limited,” said Ms. ElmColone. “That being said, I think it is vital to keep the carriage horses in cities such as New York City for example. For many youth, that is the first time they ever see horses, and that small encounter is enough to spark their interest and make them want to get involved.”

“One thing that is unique about the U.S. Pony Club is that you actually do not need a horse to participate,” said Ms. Kohler. “We have created the USPC Riding Centers program to make the sport and horses available to youth who would not traditionally have been able to participate due to not owning a horse or pony, or not having consistent access to a mount.”  

“I was born into a racing family, so naturally my involvement with the industry was a ‘no-brainer’,” said Mr. Irvine. “Harness camp, in particular, was a big attraction for myself and other youth, as not only do you learn about daily care for your equine, but the camp itself is an opportunity to expose anyone to harness racing. A grassroots love of horses stems from the industry becoming inclusive.”

 “I attended the AHC’s National Issues Forum for the first time a couple of years ago, and it really sparked by interest,” said Mr. Murphy. “Outreach for the industry is a priority, with a focus on inclusivity. Youth are the future, and early engagement equals long involvement.”

The Afternoon Session started off with an overview of the upcoming Economic Impact Study by Tom Zitt of The Innovation Group, who gave some insights to attendees on the creation of the study, as well as the goals of the update of the study. “The purpose of the Study is to provide an up-to-date assessment of the costs, benefits and economic impacts of the horse industry in the U.S,” said Mr. Zitt. “We have seen some growth in certain sectors of the industry, and want to see how this translates in other sectors as well. We know that everyone is eagerly anticipating the results, and we are hoping to have the National Study report finalized by September.”

Mark Bellissimo of Equestrian Sport Productions LLC spoke next on the importance of growing the equestrian sport and the economic impact of the World Equestrian Games. “You don’t necessarily have to be a competitor or a lifelong horseman to be captivated by a horse.  The connection between horse and human is powerful. My goal is to spread that magic to a far broader population,” said Mr. Bellissimo. “There are ways to preserve the tradition of this sport and have it work alongside continuity and innovation. You have to be disruptive sometimes in order to achieve your ultimate goals, which are growing this sport and making it accessible and attractive to the general public.”

Finally, AHC President Julie Broadway wrapped up the Issues Forum with a presentation detailing the AHC’s new Strategic Plan and mission statement. “With the political climate the way it is in Washington, we felt it was important for AHC staff and Board Members to sit down and prioritize the initiatives and outcomes for the AHC in the next three years,” said Ms. Broadway. “Additionally, we’ve narrowed down our mission statement to fully encompass what the AHC does for our industry here in the U.S.” To view the strategic plan, along with the 2016 Annual Report, please click here.

“Overall, we felt that the National Issues Forum was a great success,” said Ms. Broadway. “Seeing different perspectives and ideas come together in one room and discuss ways to improve and advance the equine industry is quite something.”

The AHC welcomes any suggestions for topics for the 2018 National Issues Forum- please email info@horsecouncil.org with your ideas or suggestions! The 2018 Annual Meeting & National Issues Forum will run June 10-13, 2018 and be held at the Capital Hilton here in Washington, DC.