SALEM, Ohio – Ohio horse enthusiasts refuse to be left behind as they watch other states ride away with equine checkoffs and marketing programs.
Through the grassroots level, more than a dozen northeastern Ohio horsemen banded together to help state Rep. Timothy Grendell from Chesterland in Geauga County draft and introduce legislation that would create such a program for Ohioans.
Grendell is expected to introduce the legislation this week. He was unavailable for comment for further details on the legislation.
Not new. The idea of an equine checkoff in Ohio isn’t a new one.
State Rep. Anthony Core introduced similar legislation in June 2001. However, that legislation, brought up too late in the regular session, died in a House committee.
Other states including Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, Florida, Colorado, Michigan and Pennsylvania have implemented similar marketing programs.
Most recently, horse owners in Illinois voted through referendum to collect a nickel per bag of feed sold in the state for their own checkoff program.
Aims. Through a checkoff, horsemen in the state would be given “better opportunities to market horses and equine products to Ohioans,” said Diane Jones, a Geauga County horse owner.
Currently, buyers and sellers are going across state lines for breeding, selling and other services, she said, and that’s hurting the industry.
“There’s not enough unity within the professional ranks. It’s easier for us to market to buyers in other states,” said Jones, who, with her husband, Tom, owns 10 horses.
“We’ve sold more horses out of state, and there’s something wrong with that.”
Are we farmers? “This promotion and marketing program would give the impetus to market Ohio equine and designate equine as agricultural,” said Susan Prokop, a Geauga County horsewoman and chair of the Northeast Counties Equine Advisory Council for the Ohio Farm Bureau.
“We’re losing a lot in the economy because horses aren’t promoted like cattle or milk is,” she said.
And, according to Prokop, horsemen feel a certain stigma because their industry – horses used for work, for pleasure, and for racing – isn’t viewed as ‘livestock’ or agriculture.
“We don’t have horses for fiber or meat. But we’re out there buying feed, forages, supplies. We own equipment.
“We feel a lot of the sameness as other farmers. We deal with controlling organic matter, water conservation,” she said.
Prokop, who owns 13 Haflingers and Welsh ponies, supports the creation of a checkoff for a bigger reason, one that goes beyond her own farm.
“If we lose this equine economy in the state of Ohio, many others will go with it,” she said.
How would it help? An equine checkoff could benefit all aspects of Ohio’s equine industry, the Joneses said.
With such a large percentage of horse owners owning their animals purely for the recreation of it, there’s a gap emerging.
“We really need to create awareness of equine activities, to promote trails and riding centers. Recreational riders are the backbone of this,” Diane Jones said.
“But sometimes people who buy horses don’t know what to do with them,” she said.
“This whole industry could die out if something isn’t done,” Tom Jones said.
Down the road. According to Prokop, if the legislation passes, the advisory council would conduct a census to get a better idea of how many horses are in Ohio today.
The most recent statistics by the American Horse Council, from 1997, estimated Ohio’s horse population at 192,000, according to David White, director of commodity relations for the Farm Bureau.
Those statistics also said the biggest segment of Ohio’s horse economy – 68,000 horses – was owned simply for recreation. The equine industry adds $776 million to the state each year, White said.
“Horses may be the highest-rated segment of animal agriculture in Ohio,” he said.
“There are more horses here now than there were when we needed them for horsepower and to get to and from town.”
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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