Last month, stakeholders from Maryland’s horse industry gathered in Annapolis for the second straight year to meet and with lawmakers as part of Maryland Horse Industry Day during the 2016 General Assembly.

“We’re here for not only what we hope to achieve legislatively, but to also spread the good word about how horses … continue to be vital to our state’s well-being,” said Ross Peddicord, chair of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, during the event kickoff.

Data regarding the industry’s impact was liberally displayed and discussed during the kickoff meeting: a $1.6 billion industry; $78 million in tax revenue; more than 79,000 horses, valued at more than $714 million; 587,000 acres equating to 10% of Maryland’s land area; more than 28,000 jobs.

According to Maryland Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Jim Eichhorst, horses represent another positive segment of agriculture that not many of the state’s citizens think about.

“It’s the one linchpin we have between urban Maryland and rural Maryland, and that’s something we can’t have enough of as this state continues to develop and get more urbanized,” Eichhorst said.

Although the state racing industry went through a rough patch in recent history, “I can honestly say, in my 30 years of being involved in the business, I cannot be more optimistic than I am now for the future,” said Maryland Racing Commission Chair John McDaniel.

He credited the 10-year agreement among breeders, the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and racetracks with making a tangible difference. The agreement is now in its third year of existence.

“That’s the backbone of what is making racing and the horse industry, as it relates to the thoroughbred side at least, make a comeback,” McDaniel said. “But it’s only a component of the overall horse industry and, without (the other parts), racing would not succeed.”

Maryland International

Crickett Goodall, executive director of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association (MHBA), presented an overview of legislative issues of concern to the thoroughbred industry this year.

Among these is a bill sponsored by Del. Jay Walker (D-Dist. 26) that would fuse money from the Maryland Lottery’s marketing budget into a bonus for any Maryland bred horse that wins the Preakness or is eligible for any minor Preakness purses.

Called The Maryland International and Preakness Stakes Incentive Act of 2016 (HB 965), the bill would also support the establishment of a Maryland International thoroughbred race as a Grade 1 stakes race run on a turf track, effectively a revival of the defunct Washington, D.C. International Stakes.

“We fully support that bill,” Goodall said. “We’ve tried to work over the years with the Lottery on cooperative funding and have yet to be successful.”

She added that the MHBA opposes two bills aimed at preventing the Maryland Jockey Club from operating an Off Track Betting simulcast room at the Maryland State Fairgrounds, in Timonium.

On the perennial subject of Sunday hunting, which interferes with trail rides and other outdoor pursuits with horses, Maryland Horse Council member Steuart Pittman, Jr., said his organization has developed a potential compromise for firearms and muzzleloader seasons, spelled out in the so-called Sunday Morning bill (SB 1061).

“We’ve all hated spending all our time fighting the expansion of Sunday hunting,” he said. “It says Sunday hunting can be allowed if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) wants it, across the state in all counties until 10:30 a.m., and the rest of the community has [the time] after 10:30 a.m.”

New Study

During Maryland Horse Industry Day, industry partners announced that they have commissioned an economic study on the industry’s fiscal contributions to the state, the first of this scale since 2005.

Sage Policy Group, of Baltimore, will conduct the study and the results will be unveiled in conjunction with the Jim McKay Maryland Million Day in October this year.

Horse Industry Day participants also heard brief presentations on the importance of the horse industry to Maryland’s economy from Sen. J. B. Jennings (R-Dist. 7) and DNR Secretary Mark Belton. Del. Seth Howard (R-30B), sponsor of HB 660 to establish an annual Equestrian Day, described how the legislation would recognize Maryland’s time-honored equestrian and horse racing traditions. HB 660 would designate the final race of the Triple Crown as Equestrian Day in Maryland.

Hundreds of Marylanders from around the state and from every horse related field, including pony enthusiasts and veterinarians, came to the event to advocate for the industry and hold constituent meetings with more than 25 legislators.

“Although we all have our special disciplines, we are united in promoting the major benefits that horses provide to improve people’s lives and to enrich our state’s cultural and economic landscape,” Peddicord said.

Tim Ritvo, COO of The Stronach Group that owns Laurel Park and Pimlico Race Course, was among the day’s attendees, as was Maryland Jockey Club General Manager Sal Sinatra.

“A meeting like this is incredible,” said Ritvo, who said he was impressed at seeing the diversity of people who contribute to the industry come together as one voice. “It’s not just about being a successful business, it’s about being a good partner to the state. The economic impact, what it does in jobs creation, everything else it contributes to the horse is something we’re proud of, and I’m really glad to be part of this process.”