Lexington, Ky., April 30, 2008 -- At the Kentucky International Equine Summit April 28-29 Olympic gold medalist equestrian David O'Connor urged the disparate elements of America's horse industry to work in concert to improve promotion of the sport.
He said that the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games gives America's horse community a unique opportunity to reach a large segment of the public. The games are to be held in September in Lexington, Ky.
O'Connor said that people in horse sports suffer from a "silo mentality" in which they compartmentalize their participation and don't see themselves as part of the overall horse industry. He said that horse organizations must unify to create a promotional resource.
He drew a parallel between horse sports and track and field events. It's difficult to promote javelin throwing, O'Connor pointed out, unless it's packaged as part of the overall sport of track and field. Horse people should think of their participation as being part of the overall sport instead of just their individual discipline, he stressed.
Speaking as president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF), O'Connor said that the USEF's "On The Road" outreach program has been successful in increasing the presence of horse sports around the United States.
One event that knows its market and what works is the All-American Quarter Horse Congress, held annually in Columbus, Ohio. Recognized as the biggest equine expo in the United States, last year it attracted over 650,000 paid spectators and exhibitors over a many-day span.
Denny Hales, executive vice president of the Ohio Quarter Horse Association, said, "The goal of the Congress is to be the mutual fund of the stock market--we do a lot of different things to appeal to lots of different people. There is evolution and constant change in this industry, and we need to embrace that rather than resist it."
Another equine event that has its niche is the Little Brown Jug, held every September at the fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio. Known as the biggest party in harness racing, Director of Marketing Phil Terry said the Jug survives on its history and tradition.
"Everyone in the town of Delaware shares ownership of the event," he said. "I wish everyone had the crowds we do, and that's in spite of everything we do going against current culture."
Unlike most American racetracks, the backstretch and barns at the Jug are open to the public, where people can interact with the horsemen and horses, Terry said.
Another important issue raised during the Summit was solutions to pedigree concentrations. Discussions from a panel of experts included the overabundance of the same bloodlines as a cause for concern for many horse breeders; however measures can be taken to reduce the negative outcomes.
Ken Jackson, co-owner of Kentuckiana Farms in Lexington, said the United States Trotting Association has imposed limits on the number of mares that can be bred to a single stallion. Beginning in 2009, new trotting stallions can be bred to no more than 140 mares per breeding year. Violators will be fined at least $25,000.
In addition to the mandated limit, Jackson said more stallion lines must be incorporated into future generations. One method of achieving this result is to bring Standardbred stallions from other parts of the world to North America for breeding purposes.
Importation of new bloodlines was popularized decades ago in the Thoroughbred breed and has since resulted in globalization of the pedigrees in those horses raised primarily for racing.
Dan Kenny, a Thoroughbred bloodstock agent based in Lexington, noted the breed can no longer categorize its pedigrees by country.
"We no longer have an American mare or an American stallion," he said. "We have one Thoroughbred world. Time will tell if we have too much concentration."
Unlike other equine breeding industries, artificial insemination is not allowed for Thoroughbreds. Artificial insemination is popular for a variety of reasons, according to Laura Wipf, owner of Royal Vista Ranches, a full-service Quarter Horse facility in Wayne, Okla.
"The stallions and mares do not have to relocate for breeding," she said, which reduces overhead costs and minimizes risk of illness and injury.
She also cited convenience, international opportunities and ability to produce horses from previously-frozen semen of deceased stallions.
Gary Carpenter, executive director of American Quarter Horse Foundation, said modern breeders have the best opportunity to produce good horses because of liberal rules, large information data bases and expanding technology.
Larry Thornton, a Quarter Horse pedigree consultant, said he is frequently asked about close inbreeding, a technique he said results in a very good or a very bad outcome because it can expose undesirable genes that tend to be recessive. For best results, he recommended using a large group with no hidden defects and not putting undesirable horses back into the gene pool.
For more information about the Kentucky International Equine Summit, visit www.kyequinesummit.com.