On June 12 attendees of the American Horse Council’s (AHC) 2018 National Issues Forum, sponsored by Luitpold Animal Health, gathered to learn more about the theme of “Let’s Capitalize On It!”

With a variety of speakers from different trades, attendees gained insight on how the horse industry can learn from other industries, utilize data that has been collected about our own industry, and capitalize on opportunities to grow and expand interests in horses.

The morning started with Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office (one of only seven offices in the nation that provides a central point of contact, advocacy, and resources at the state level for the diverse constituents, businesses, and communities that rely on the continued health of the outdoor recreation industry). He spoke about how the recreation industry has innovated to get people to experience the outdoors, and how the equine industry can draw on those innovations to introduce people to horses.

“When you drive innovations, you cultivate healthy outdoor lifestyles,” said Benitez. “When you conserve public lands and waters, you spark sustainable economic development for the outdoor recreation industry.

“If you really challenge yourself, you can truly change your world,” he said.

Next, the “Survey Says” panel featured Charlotte Hansen, of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA); Jody McDaniel, of the USDA National Agricultural Statistical service (NASS); and Tom Zitt, of The Innovation Group. The panelists examined the various equine-related studies that each organization has undertaken and the differences between them.

“There has been confusion with the differences between AVMA’s Pet Study, USDA NASS equine census, and the AHC’s Economic Impact Study,” said AHC President Julie Broadway. “This panel was helpful in showcasing the differences in the data that each collects, and how we can continue to use the data from each to seek new opportunities to advance the industry.”

Closing out the morning session, the “Building the Youth Pipeline” panel featured Katie Blodgett, of the Professional Golfers’ Association’s “First Tee” program; Ivan Levin, of Outdoor Nation; and Rachel Piacenza of Take Me Fishing. A consistent theme throughout the discussion was that participants are aging out of their respective industry areas, and their organizations are coming up with new and exciting ways to target the younger generation.

“Of course, each industry has their own unique challenges,” said Broadway. “This panel was helpful to show attendees that the horse industry is not the only industry creating new initiatives to reach out and get newcomers involved. It was also great to see how some organizations are integrating leadership development into their programs, and finding ways to make newcomers first experience fun and memorable so they keep coming back.”

Kicking off the afternoon session, Dan Ashe, CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), discussed animal welfare and conservation issues that zoos and aquariums face.

“Throughout my career at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, including nearly six as director, I had the opportunity to work closely with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, as well as AZA-accredited facilities, on numerous occasions,” said Ashe. “As we move deeper into the 21st century, we face a complicated conservation landscape and effective conservation will demand broader and stronger partnerships.

“The AZA community collectively brings more people face-to-face with wild animals in a way that no other organizations can match,” he continued. “Connecting that many people to wildlife and nature provides a powerful opportunity for us to engage them in efforts to save endangered wildlife and wild habitats around the globe.”

Like the equine industry, AZA-accredited facilities play influential roles in their communities by creating jobs, stimulating economic activity, and serving as an environment for families to enjoy a day with nature.

Next, attendees watched a presentation from the Man O’ War Project, a program works to develop and test equine assisted treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Founded by Earle I. Mack, the program uses retired Thoroughbred racehorses to work with the veterans.

“PTSD is the signature disorder among returning veterans,” said Prudence Fisher, PhD, a Columbia University researcher involved with the project. “Up to 30% of veterans suffer from PTSD, including many veterans from previous eras who remain symptomatic. Because of this, they have an increased suicide rate—approximately 20 veterans a day commit suicide.”

The Man O’ War Project is also putting concrete data behind the treatment—veterans undergo MRI scans to compare brain regions before and after working with the horses.

Meanwhile, a racehorse aftercare panel featured Erin Crady, of Thoroughbred Charities of America; Kristin Werner Leshney, of The Jockey Club; and Russell Williams of United States Trotting Association. The panelists spoke on the different initiatives their respective organizations are doing to help horses both in need of second careers and in the rescue pipeline.

Finally, a Congressional panel of Laurie Flanagan, from the H-2B Coalition, and Stephanie Gadbois, from the House Judiciary Committee, briefly discussed the status of the H-2B program as well as the Agricultural Guest Worker Act, introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte.

After the afternoon session, attendees participated in breakout discussion sessions on issues such as disaster preparedness and response, SafeSport, immigration and visa challenges, import and export, and industry data and trends.

The Congressional reception closed out the National Issues Forum. The event was widely attended by both meeting attendees, as well as several Congressional members, including Congressional Horse Caucus co-chairs Representatives Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY).