Gridlock and partisanship were the defining characteristics of Washington, DC in 2013. The government shut down for the first time in 17 years and the first session of the 113th Congress has officially become the least productive Congress in modern history, passing only 58 bills. Despite these challenges the American Horse Council was able to achieve several successes and advance many horse industry priorities concerning equine health, welfare issues, and disaster assistance, in addition to a new initiative to get more people involved with horses.
Equine health has been and remains a major priority for the AHC. Contagious equine disease outbreaks have negatively impacted the horse industry in the past and remain a serious threat to all segments of the horse community. In a year that saw most federal agencies receiving cuts in funding, the AHC secured a $1.2 million dollar increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) equine health program. These funds will help ensure the USDA is able to respond effectively to contagious equine disease outbreaks.
The AHC also continued to advance the National Equine Health Plan (NEHP) to ensure the horse industry, as well as federal, state and local governments, is prepared for and able to respond efficiently to contagious equine disease outbreaks. The NEHP has several components including an education program, a bio-security plan and the establishment of the Equine Disease Communication Center.
Like previous years, several bills were introduced dealing with horses and welfare, and these issues will remain in the spotlight. The general public must be made aware that the industry is committed to the welfare of the horses upon which the entire industry depends. For this reason the elimination of "soring" in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Racking Horse industries and welfare issues in general are and will continue to be priorities for the horse industry.
In 2013, the AHC led industry support for the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act (H.R. 1518/S.1406) (PAST Act). The PAST Act would strengthen the Horse Protection Act (HPA) and prevent the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses, Spotted Saddle Horses, and Racking Horses. Soring is an abusive practice used by some horse trainers in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Racking Horse industries to cause pain in the horse's forelegs and produce an accentuated show gait for competition. Despite the existence of a federal ban on soring for over forty years, this cruel practice continues in some segments of the walking horse industry. The bill is targeted and would only impact these three breeds that have a history of soring.
The PAST Act is supported by most major national horse show organizations including the American Association of Equine Practitioners, U.S. Equestrian Federation, the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Paint Horse Association, the American Morgan Horse Association, the Pinto Horse Association of America, the Arabian Horse Association, the American Saddlebred Horse Association, the United Professional Horsemen's Association, the Appaloosa Horse Club and many state and local organizations.
As part of our efforts to advance the PAST Act, the AHC held a widely-attended Congressional briefing on the bill to educate Members of Congress and their staff on the bill and industry support for the bill. AHC President Jay Hickey also testified in support of the bill before the House Energy and Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade. The bill has broad bi-partisan support and currently has 257 co-sponsors in the House and 40 co-sponsors in the Senate.
The AHC also continued to gain support for its AHC Welfare Code of practice. The code of practice is a broad set of principles designed to establish good welfare procedures for organizations to follow to "Put the Horse First," and has been endorsed by 42 horse organizations.
Additionally, in 2013 the AHC launched a new national marketing initiative, called "TimeToRide," to increase interest in horse-related activities. The center piece of this effort is a new website and social media platform, TimeToRide.com. Through this initiative we hope to help more Americans find and participate in all types of horse-related activities.
This past year the Senate approved the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S. 744) a comprehensive immigration reform bill. This was an import step closer to the long-term goal of ensuring the horse industry has access to a stable legal work force. The Senate-passed bill would overhaul the U.S. immigration system and fix many of the immigration and guest worker issues facing the horse industry and all of American agricultural.
Lastly, working with USDA, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and Kentucky Governor Beshear, the AHC clarified that horse breeding farms are eligible for the USDA Emergency Conservation Program (ECP). This program provides emergency funding and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by drought, erosion, floods, hurricanes, heavy snow, ice and/or high wind or other natural disasters.
In 2014 the AHC will be continuing its work to pass immigration reform, an extension of three-year year depreciation for race horses, and the PAST Act. Implementing the NEHP and additional issues like addressing the trail maintenance backlog in our National Forests will be priorities as well. We will also be working to ensure that any legislation to legalize internet gambling does not affect interstate wagering under the Interstate Horseracing Act, and tax reform does not unfairly impact horse owners. New issues that impact the horse industry always come up and the AHC will be ready to take action on those if and when they do.
The AHC has worked daily on issues like these and all national issues that impact the horse community since 1969 and will continue to do so.