The American Horse Council 2022 Annual Meeting and National Issues forum took place Sunday June 5 through Wednesday June 8 at the historic Omni Shoreham hotel in Washington D.C.

The United Horse Coalition provided a panel discussion with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (The Right Horse Initiative), Global Foundation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), Standardbred Transition Alliance, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Thoroughbred Charities of America & Equus Foundation. These organizations are devoted to either rehoming, developing standards for programs or providing grant funding. It was very interesting hearing from all the panelists on their approaches. Many collaborate on helping “clients” who meet industry standards of excellence by rewarding with grant funding. While each organization may be aligned in purpose and mission, they may split on end-of-life options and certain avenues of second career options. The general scope was common welfare and implementing industry standards. It was a very informative session and there is a video recording available to review: UHC 2022 Meeting and Panel Discussion Recording – YouTube

The Equine Welfare Committee played a pre-recorded video from Dr. Kris Hiney at Oklahoma State about a “new” evaluation tool for horse happiness. We have established measurements and criteria for physical health and wellbeing but there is new interest in developing mental & emotional wellbeing assessments for horses. The aim is to better understand body language responses to situations or job duties. This seems to be a “hot topic” for animal activists, but the takeaway was that we as an industry need to give it a look, and consideration, and to be aware of perceptions or we may lose our “social license to operate”, like the greyhound racing has seen. It’s no longer socially acceptable to use greyhounds in sport. Dr. Lenz indicated support for consideration of this new “perspective”.

The Equine Health and Regulatory Committee was opened by Cliff Williamson from American Horse Council noting that the World Organization for Animal Health has recently undergone a “brand” update and the acronym is “WOAH”, leading to some chuckles around the room. There is ongoing review of language recommendations for rabies vaccine edits in the GAP guidelines by AVMA and AAEP. A speaker from AAEP suggested adding horses to the recommendations listed under Pets/Companion Animals, where it reads, “Dogs, Cats & Ferrets should receive annual rabies vaccination”. Concern was voiced for the unintended inference that horses are now classified as pets & companion animals and suggested that maybe there should be the addition of “as well as livestock, such as equine” or similar language to keep horses recognized as livestock.

The Recreation Trails & Land Use Committee welcomed Jess Turner from the Outdoor Recreational Roundtable as guest speaker. The issue of e-bikes on non-motorized trails was discussed mainly to bring some in the room up to speed (pun intended) which is being addressed by Back Country Horseman of America. Also discussed was the concern of non-equestrian users of the horse camping areas in our parks, which reached a climax during Covid with the increase in outdoor recreation. Back Country Horsemen of America has created an incident report form and is encouraging all equestrian camping and trail users to log any incidents or issues with either e-bikes or equestrian campground access, so they may build evidence for management of these issues. Though the incident report was created for the e-bike issue, the camping issue is acceptable to log on the same report platform.

The Horse Show & Competition Committee presented discussion around proposed amateur rule changes. USEF has already drafted rule change recommendations raising the dollar amount that bumps someone out of amateur and into professional status realizing that people are making more money these days but that doesn’t necessarily make them professionals in their field. There is concern about a lack of entry level lessons. Some providing entry level lessons could be bumped out of amateur show status if they are making a little money giving these “up down” lessons. There is a shortage of affordable introductory opportunities, for early ages (6 to 10-year-olds) entry or for bringing older people into the industry as first-time experiences. AQHA and APHA are currently in discussions about rule changes too. USEF is the model right now and the goal is to find somewhat of an alignment across the associations, so it doesn’t get too confusing when exhibitors are engaged in multiple associations. There is some opposition to the change by professional trainers, looking at this as “competition” to their business, but that should not be the result as it should serve to broaden their incoming market opportunities after someone else gets these people started. Christy Landwehr of Certified Horseman’s Association was very enthused and suggested a standard be set on the entry level lesson providers to “encourage” them to all get certified, making a more uniform or quality result that feeds into the professional programs. USEF has created a “mentorship” of professional trainers permitting amateurs to train under their auspices.

The Racing Advisory Committee welcomed Lisa Lazarus, CEO of the Horse Racing Integrity & Safety Act (HISA) which is a new national standard for racetrack safety implemented upon Thoroughbred racing industry first and will be in effect following the Belmont Stakes race (June 11). On July 1st Thoroughbreds will be the first breed to be subject, but likely others will be “forced” to follow suit. Rules include standards for jockey safety, use of a crop, racetrack accreditation and training & veterinary open records. In essence it involves a second separate set of officials (somewhat duplication of efforts) during the race, increasing expenses, and requires fee assessments for authorization. Opponents are concerned over the cost/fees forced on breeders and racing groups to implement this making it harder to “pay up” to participate. Time will reveal if this is helpful or a hindrance. The Jockey Club is in full support of this to weed out “bad apples” and hopefully help with the optics of racing, you know… that “social license” concern.

Outside of the Committee Meeting updates, the American Horse Council Board of Trustees met for a brief recap of their Strategic Planning outcomes.

A review of the Annual Meeting and National Issues forum can be heard here: