Call to Order and Roll Call
The1st meeting of the Subcommittee on Horse Farming of the Interim Joint Committee on Agriculture was held on Wednesday, October 12, 2011, at 10:00 AM, in Room 129 of the Capitol Annex. Senator Damon Thayer, Chair, called the meeting to order, and the secretary called the roll.
Members:Senator Damon Thayer, Co-Chair; Representative Susan Westrom, Co-Chair; Senators Dennis Parrett, Joey Pendleton, and Robin L. Webb; Representatives Royce W. Adams, Sara Beth Gregory, Tom McKee, Michael Meredith, Fred Nesler, David Osborne, Tom Riner, Rita Smart, and Wilson Stone.
Guests: Mr. Michael Blowen, Old Friends; Dr. Jim Smith, DVM, Kentucky Equine Humane Center; Ms. Susanna Thomas, Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center.
Equine Health Report
After calling the meeting to order, Senator Thayer, the presiding chair, turned the meeting over to Co-chair Westrom, who asked subcommittee members to introduce themselves. Co-chair Thayer explained the jurisdictional responsibilities of the subcommittee and how subcommittee meetings are scheduled.
Co-chair Thayer asked Mr. Rusty Ford, Equine Program Manager, Office of State Veterinarian, to speak to the subcommittee on two topics: an overview of the prevalent equine diseases and outbreaks affecting the horse industry in Kentucky; and a progress report on the Equine Health and Welfare Council, created by the 2010 General Assembly.
Mr. Ford briefed the subcommittee on the mission and regulatory responsibilities of the Office of State Veterinarian. Mr. Ford indicated there are no pressing diseases affecting horses in the state at this time. He turned to some of the equine diseases dealt with in recent years such as equine piroplasmosis, equine infectious anemia, and the equine herpes virus.
Mr. Ford gave an update on the Equine Health and Welfare Council. The council has assisted the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission in its effort to establish standards for on-farm livestock and poultry care. The council is looking into a system of voluntary certification of equine rescue and retirement operations, and is working to develop a series of regional centers to care for unwanted, abused, or neglected horses. An investigation regarding domiciling horses at Department of Corrections facilities is taking place. The equine program established at Blackburn Correctional Facility in Lexington-Fayette County is a “good model.”
Responding to Senator Webb, who asked about sightings of horses roaming freely in parts of eastern Kentucky, Mr. Ford indicated there has not been evidence of disease among the horses. He said it would be difficult to gather and test the animals.
Mr. Ford described in more detail conversations he had with the Justice Cabinet about keeping horses on prison grounds. He indicated that allowing prisoners the opportunity to care for horses would give them some useful job skills.
Responding to Representative Osborne, Mr. Ford said his office had discontinued equine piroplasmosis testing because there is no evidence of the disease among Thoroughbreds, based on thousands samples tested.
In a response to Representative Adams’s, Mr. Ford explained the circumstances leading to the euthanization of 10 horses on a farm in Pendleton County. The farm owner had been taking in horses as part of a rescue program, but also found himself with some horses that had been abandoned by others on his premises. According to Mr. Ford, he and other investigators and veterinarians assessed the horses and found that 10 could not be saved.
The department did not pay for the euthanization, but had personnel expenses involved, according to his testimony. In further testimony, Mr. Ford said the department receives calls from people who think that horses are being uncared for, when there are actually no problems with the animals.
Representative Adams related that he has had numerous calls about possible horse abuse during his years in the General Assembly. According to Mr. Ford, the Kentucky Horse Council offers training to law officials and others on dealing with horse abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
Representative McKee said he had been made aware of the situation involving the horses in Pendleton County. He said resolution of that situation was a good example of a system that works.
Equine Rescue Facilities Report
Three people--Ms. Susanna Thomas, Director, Maker’s Mark Secretariat Center, a division of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation; Dr. Jim Smith, DVM, President, Kentucky Equine Humane Center; Mr. Michael Blowen, President of the Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement and rescue facility--testified about horse rescue, rehabilitation, and adoption facilities. The Maker’s Mark facility mainly takes in Thoroughbreds, trains them for other equine activities, and puts them into an adoption program. The Kentucky Equine Humane Center (KyEHC) acts as a shelter and clearinghouse for all types of unwanted horses--regardless of breed--and places them into adoption, if appropriate. Old Friends is a retirement and rescue facility for Thoroughbreds.
The speakers introduced themselves and spent a few minutes giving details about their facilities, which differ but also have many similarities. Throughout the testimony, each speaker talked about the need for funds and support from the public.
Responding to Co-chair Thayer, Ms. Thomas discussed efforts to raise funds and donations, such as hay. The retraining and adoption that takes place at her facility creates a synergy that has economic and cultural benefits.
Dr. Smith explained to Representative Adams the KyEHC’s process for taking in and evaluating horses. There is a veterinarian committee whose members evaluate whether horses should be rehabilitated or euthanized. He detailed the steps required for a person to adopt a horse. The adoption process involves follow-up visits to assure an adoption is going smoothly.
Ms. Thomas discussed what is required in the Thoroughbred retraining process. Another mission of the facility is educating people about the value of Thoroughbreds. The facility has an intern training program. Ms. Thomas commented on two DVDs that were played during the meeting.
Dr. Smith noted that the KyEHC is the largest equine rescue facility in the Commonwealth. The center, located on 72 acres in Jessamine County, has a capacity of 50-55 horses and has four full-time paid staff members. The facility has accepted 675 horses since 2007. It has placed 305 in adoptive “homes.”
KyEHC accepts any horse, regardless of breed. Some have physical and behavioral challenges, the said. Fit horses are evaluated for training or re-training.
Dr. Smith also discussed some of the contributing factors that have led to the need for the services that the KyEHC offers, such as the dismal economy, previous summer droughts, and the unavailability of a slaughter facility in the U.S.
Mr. Blowen told the committee that the organization is only “scratching the surface” when it comes to dealing with unwanted horses. He discussed the educational aspect of Old Friends.
After allowing the subcommittee to view a DVD of a CBS News profile of the facility, Mr. Blowen discussed the “economics” aspect. He noted the need of generating funds to carry out the mission.
He said that Old Friends does not receive funding from the Thoroughbred race tracks in Kentucky. Earlier in the meeting, Co-chair Thayer told the subcommittee that the three rescue facilities do not receive public funds.
Representative Smart expressed the hope that the speakers’ message can be circulated further.
Documents distributed during the subcommittee meeting are available with meeting materials in the LRC Library.
The meeting adjourned at approximately 12:15 p.m.