Kentucky equine-industry participants and supporters got the chance to emphasize the important impact horses have on the state and local economies during visits with state legislators on Wednesday’s KEEP Day in Frankfort organized by the Kentucky Equine Education Project.
Several dozen stake-holders in Kentucky’s $4 billion horse industry told an array of lawmakers their individual stories and advocated for state sales tax exemption for feed, equipment and supplies, equal to that provided to other livestock.
Edmonton County’s Linda Starnes, a team leader in KEEP’s state-wide grassroots network who owns, trains and shows Tennessee Walking Horses, said the Kentucky Breeders’ Incentive Fund (KBIF) is a tribute to all breeds in the state working together to enhance the overall horse industry. The KBIF, whose creation was spear-headed by KEEP working with legislators, provides funding for non-racing breeds and is largely financed by sales tax on Thoroughbred stud fees. This month, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission released $940,000 from the KBIF to non-race breeds, bringing the total distributed since the fund’s 2005 inception to $10.8 million.
“If it wasn’t for the horse-racing industry, we wouldn’t have the Breeders’ Incentive Fund program,” Starnes said. “And if we didn’t have the Breeders’ Incentive Fund Program, this kind of horse-showing wouldn’t be happening; it would be gone.”
Sen. Robin Webb of Grayson County, a member of the executive committee of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association, said the KBIF is attracting horses from non-racing breeds to Kentucky, resulting in a huge surge in competitions.
“It helps infuse money into our local economies, maintains facilities and provides opportunity to show and utilize your horses and equines of all kinds,” Webb said. “… The numbers don’t tell the tale of the impact. You can’t look at that ledger book and make a valid assessment of the impact, because it’s so far greater than that.”
Said Rep. James Kay of Versailles: “We absolutely benefit from the horse industry every day in ways that people don’t always understand. We need to do a better job articulating that, and showing the economic driver that the industry is for our people.”
Agreed Rep. Adam Koenig, whose district includes Turfway Park: “There are so many jobs associated with horses, horse racing. People like green space and open space. It adds to the economy in so many ways through direct and indirect jobs. Obviously it’s our signature industry – in large part our identity.”
Rep. Kelly Flood of Lexington said KEEP has done a good job focusing on the economic benefits of the industry.
“That’s what it’s about, if you don’t have horses in your district,” she said of the legislature. “Not everybody has the bourbon industry in their district. But the bourbon industry is good for the whole commonwealth. You have to do the same thing with all our signature industries.”
Eric Hamelback, chief executive officer of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association, told Sen. Reggie Thomas of Lexington that, “What Kentucky does is viewed by every other racing state there is…. This state is the measure of what every other state tries to get to. Very important for us.”
“It was a great day in the capitol for Kentucky’s horse industry,” said Joe Clabes, KEEP executive director. “Our members were able to visit with some longtime friends and also get acquainted with some of the new legislators. These interactions with our members are critical to helping legislators understand the beneficial role horses have in our state. KEEP will continue to create opportunities for our grassroots horse folks to develop relationships with elected officials. It will be a year-around effort, not just during the legislative session.”
The Kentucky Equine Education Project is a not-for-profit grassroots organization created in 2004 to preserve, promote and protect Kentucky’s signature horse industry. Support for KEEP’s activity comes directly from the horse industry and horse industry supporters. To learn more about how you can become a member or make a contribution, please visit www.horseswork.com.