Now that we have insured the integrity of the Feed Fund by passing legislation that allows the Maryland Horse Industry Board to retain the fees it receives from inspecting and licensing stables (prior to April 13, 2010, those fees went into the general fund, along with your tax dollars, and then the MHIB had to submit a budget specifically requesting those funds back...thus MHIB was in danger of legislators deciding to keep the stable fees for themselves, which would put MHIB in the untenable position of having to use Feed Funding to underwrite stable inspections), MHIB can get back to the business of using the Feed Fund for which it was intended: to fund projects to promote and grow the Maryland horse industry.
This past winter, The Equiery conducted a survey to find out just what you, our readers, wanted done with your money (i.e. the Feed Fund), and you said some interesting things!
The Equiery's survey measured two things: the number of people who expressed any interest in any of the projects ("Tiers"), and then if they expressed interest, how they ranked that interest ("Rankings").
Top Tier Projects
Generating the most interest (although not necessarily placing as the "number one" pick) were initiatives to develop a Maryland Horse Park AND to provide micro-grants for 4-H clubs, pony clubs and therapeutic riding. Following quite closely were grants to fund lab equipment for infectious and contagious diseases.
Second Tier Projects
Next in interest came an economic impact study, micro-grants to already established state owned horse parks, funding for the universities and broad promotional efforts to get more people interested in horses (either riding them or attending events as spectators).
Bottom Tier Projects
An equine census and a Mid-Atlantic Import/Export & Testing/Research Facility generated the least amount of interest.
Top Ranked Projects
Not only was it a top tier project, it was the top ranked project: further development of a Maryland Horse Park.
Interestingly, for those who expressed any interest at all in a census, it was a strong interest, ranking the census their top priority. So, while overall it generated the least amount of interest, for those who are interested, they are really interested, making the census the second highest ranked project.
Even though grants to existing state owned parks (such as Rosaryville and Fair Hill) was a second tier project, it was the third highest ranked project, behind a state horse park (1st Tier) and census (3rd Tier).
Quite a few respondents complained that they did not like the fact that they were forced to prioritize; we can certainly empathize, as it is hard to choose between so many worthy and lofty goals.
In Your Own Words
Survey participants provided specific comments about the types of projects on which they believed the Feed Fund should be spent – or other general priorities for the horse industry.
Do Something About the Unwanted Horse!
At least one third of our respondents were primarily concerned with the plight of the unwanted horse, funding for rescues, figuring out ways to reschool and reuse horses, and coping with the increased need for euthanasia. While the comments were not always specific in how they thought Feed Fund monies could be used to help, respondents were emphatic about the need.
"Assist in setting up affordable equine euthanasia and grants for equine rescues."
"Funding for abandoned horses and horse rescue farms."
"Funding for rescue groups."
"The Feed Fund should do what the name implies, help feed horses...rescues need help feeding unwanted and abused horses...private farms struggling in this economy...any kind of help we can give in this difficult economy to feed horses." (The Equiery believes that this particular respondent may not understand that the name of the fund refers to its source, not its purpose; for every ton of feed sold in Maryland, $6 goes into the Feed Fund; for the average horse owner buying feed by the bag and not the ton, this is about 15 cents per bag of feed sold.)
"Create an accreditation program for horse rescues. If accredited facility, support feeding/housing/medical care for these animals in their care. If not accredited, promote how to improve their current facility – not shut down – improvement – we need them."
"1-Fund low cost euthanasia and disposal program 2-Open a cruelty free slaughterhouse in Maryland with strict transport laws."
"Need for euthanasia and humane disposal of our horses this will be beneficial for all even from the health standpoint of the areas involved. Right now we are at the mercy of one private company."
"Providing support for legitimate horse rescues."
"Support of horse rescue and anti-cruelty efforts."
"Help fund the horse rescue organizations such as Days End Horse Rescue. For example, Days End only currently can take horses that are impounded from Animal Control.
The horses that come in from referral from Animal Control come from dire circumstances. Organizations such as Days End also offer invaluable educational and informational circumstances to any member in the general public."
"Funding to help take care of unwanted horses in the state of MD. There are too many horses now just being thrown away and abandoned."
"Funding for unwanted horses and horses that need help. If funding could be used for these horses to be reschooled at various riding academies, they could serve a purpose for teaching equestrian students, maybe used for showing or spectator events and possibly be sold. If the riding academies have some sort of funding to help them maintain the horses I'm sure they would be willing to help. If these riding schools then would interconnect with one another and have horse shows then this program could be combined with promotional efforts to get more people interested in horses and maybe encouraging newcomers to sponsor a horse if they are unable to take the step of actual ownership. Some of the horses may well be usable in therapeutic riding and 4H etc., for people financially unable to own horses but have a desire to be involved."
"Provide programs to deter backyard breeders, provide funds for equine welfare and equine welfare programs, improve equine safety in equine sports."
"Money should be put toward discouraging unnecessary breeding, encouraging responsible horse care and stopping the shipment of any Maryland horses to slaughter!"
"Establish an equine welfare fund for temporarily unemployed owners and for less expensive euthanasia clinics for those with decrepit horses they cannot afford to keep (along the lines of Kentucky's & California's initiatives, respectively)."
"We need to use the money to feed and care for horses that have been abused or rescued. We need to set aside money to care for these horses so that we don't wind up wondering how to deal with this issue when it comes up. We need to take action and provide support to these animals."
Fund Efforts for Trails & To Preserve Lands
Rivaling our passion about the unwanted horse and horse rescues, is our passion for trails and lands. Interestingly, a goodly number of people seem to resent private land...or more specifically, resent not being able to ride on someone else's private land, and so they would like to see funding spent on figuring out ways to allow the public on private land. The Equiery is not quite so sure about that, and we venture to guess that these same people would not really want joggers cutting across their own backyards.
"Grants to Wildlife Management Areas (like Idylwild WMA on the Eastern Shore) to add signage or reduce erosion for riding safety on trails."
"Development of Equestrian Trails as State and County Planning Future Development Depts plan housing and open space development." "Fund the acquiring and building of more public equestrian trails. Maintain, and increase the number of trails within already established parks and riding venues."
"Grants supporting additional horse trails."
"Making more trails that lead to public parks and land available. Many times it is hard to acces trails from horseback if you must cross private or other non public land to reach parks etc."
"Grants for new trails; grants for trail improvements to existing trails."
"Land and trail preservation for equine use in MD."
"Program to support landowners' efforts to maintain pasture land, access to riding across private lands, etc."
"State fund to repair equestrian trails in State Parks for horses using no millings or macadam. Trails are being shut down, not replaced or all-purpose trails are being made with footing inappropriate for horses unless they walk."
"Land preservation for equestrian use: trails, camping, foxhunting, eventing."
"A better handle and coordination of efforts of everyone who trail rides."
Spend Money To Help Enforce Laws
"Use the money to prosecute illegal boarding facilities."
"Funds to enforce animal WELFARE (NOT animal rights) and anti-cruelty laws already on the books."
"I have concerns that therapeutic riding programs are not all they appear; many seem to be using the programs as a cover for other things."
Help the Average Horse Owner!
"Feed bank to provide emergency assistance of feed and hay to individuals in economic need to prevent cases of neglect/starvation."
"Calvert County deemed our 16-stall barn and connecting indoor arena a commercial building even though we are in the Agriculture Preservation Program. Our taxes jumped from less than $1000/year to $4500/year overnight. I would like an investigation of the taxes levied on farm buildings."
"Consider subsidizing the cost of lowering tolls for noncommercial horse trailers; tolls add an extra tier of tax for private horse trailers."
Build It, And They Will Come
Plenty of Maryland equestrians believe in investing in infrastructure for the industry in order to grow it, and there were quite a few creative ideas.
"We need a horse park. Millions of dollars are going to other states each year because they have nice horse facilities and Maryland doesn't. It would draw more people into Maryland and boost our economy in many sectors. More money needs to come into Maryland, not leave Maryland. Not to mention the convenience and increased activities for equestrians in our state."
"Or PG Equestrian Center, to expand the number of stalls and arenas so that larger events can come back to Maryland instead of all going to VA, PA and NJ."
"#1-New state agriculture fair grounds in the country; Timonium is too tight."
"Establishing regional manure composting sites where finished products would be packaged and sold as an alternative to chemical fertilizers. Proceeds could be returned to the MDHIB for use in other projects. This would also help "save the bay" if public education is included."
"We need a decent show facility in upper county MD!!!!!!!!!!"
"Funding for the Equine Medical Center at Leesburg."
"Maryland should have a high-end equine veterinary hospital. I shouldn't have to trailer my horse to PA or VA to get top level diagnostic and surgical care for medical or lameness issues. I don't know how this could be brought about; usually one needs a veterinary program at a university to get such a facility funded, I think. But if we are serious about promoting equine business in the state, this seems like a no brainer to me."
Racing & Our Love/Hate Relationship
"Anything we can do to save the backbone of the Maryland horse industry: Breeding and racing TB's would be my first priority. Scheme to further compensate breeding operations for not selling to developers? More purse incentives like the MD Million? Save Pimlico! Adds up to SLOTS at the track where they belong."
"Promotional efforts to re-generate interest in MD racing."
"Horse industry needs strong public and State support. Racing highest profile, and will get nowhere until it cleans up its act – drugs, breakdowns, early-age racing, slaughter, etc."
"I particularly support the economic impact study IF it's going to be honest and transparent about the relative economic weight of racing vs. non racing equine business in the state. I think racing overstates its importance, and that riding horses for recreation and sport is a bigger piece of the equine industry's revenue stream than is acknowledged."
"Getting those slot machines in to the tracks in Maryland!" "Whatever is done with the money, it should not be used to support horse racing and breeding. I want no part in paying a tax that will be used to prop up the racing industry, or to create more injured/lame/backyard bred horses that good Samaritans will then rescue and support for the rest of their lives. If that is the case, I'd rather buy out of state. The money should be used to help horses, first and foremost."
Quite a number of respondents believe that the funds should be used to help support or develop existing or new small businesses within the horse industry.
"Support small family-owned and operated equestrian facilites."
"Effective marketing could produce funds to do many of the other options. Business development assistance for the equestrian industry is a huge need."
"Micro-grants to breed associations existing in MD (such as MD State Quarter Horse Association, Free State Appaloosa Association, etc.) to help promote the various breeds within the State of MD."
"What about funds to help offset the cost of insurance for the people who still operate cross-country courses in the state? The liability is high and I am sure assistance would be appreciated."
"Grants for individual farms for facility upgrades, land preservation (no funding exists for this anymore now) or equine-specific grants for lesson programs, show venues etc. Or a state-funded advertising venue for equine related services available to the general public."
"Development of horse-trailer "taxi service" for all those who wish to compete, use the states resources but do not have the independent resources to purchase, insure, store, and drive horse hauling equipment."
"Micro-grants as stimulus funds for small-business horse breeders to help hire farm workers."
"We need more large animal vets! – How about large animal veterinary scholarship...LARGE animal ONLY!! A lot of students get into vet school, then switch to small animal, leaving an ever larger gap of lack of available vets for horse owners."
Is the Feed Fund Taxation Without Representation?
"I think that it is unethical to tax feed. I don't believe the MHIB should NOT exist. We are already taxed enough in this state, from income tax to property tax; we don't need another tax. I believe all industry should be privately owned and survive on its own merits. I don't believe in grants and subsidies."
"Give me my money back. This is the biggest waste of my money – just another excuse to line someone's pocket. Taxation without representation. Gee, didn't we have a revolution over that?"
"This is a back door tax on horse owners and caretakers."
"I would like the money to come back to the people. It's the horses that are eating the feed so it should go back to the people that buy it."
The Equiery found the above comments interesting – and disheartening. The Equiery has tried to illustrate the following about "the Feed Fund."
1) The Feed Fund is a voluntary; buyers of feed can "opt out" by submitting a refund request; imagine if we could opt out of our income taxes! So, those who are opposed to it – for whatever reason – can get their money back.
2) The Feed Fund was designed by horsemen so that the horse owners and small horse businesses could pool their resources in order to support their own large scale initiatives, without asking for grants or handouts from others, without asking for a chunk of the general tax revenue.
3) The equestrian community created the Feed Fund, not some faceless bureaucrat. The Feed Fund program has a "sunset" date, and horse people who either oppose the fund in principal or don't like how MHIB spends the monies collected can request that the program not be renewed. Individuals can be heard on this issue, either by joining the Maryland Horse Council and actively voicing their opinion, or by sending a letter to their representative when the time comes to consider renewing the program. Unlike income tax, the Feed Fund program only has a certain "shelf life," and then it will have to be reauthorized by the Maryland General Assembly.
And Last But Not Least: "I'm Just Sayin'..."
And to conclude, we present the following comments...sometimes apropos of nothing except the writer's intense feelings on a horse related subject. The Equiery is happy to provide the forum!
"I think with these economic times, the money should be used for grants to help feed horses due to job loss, etc. All of the other things, the survey and economic impact, have already been done. We DON'T NEED a HORSE PARK in today's economy. Instead lets get people jobs outside of the horse world so that they can afford to have horses again."
"Contributions to groups working on EXPANDING riding trails and NEW locations for horse activities separate from the Horse Park efforts."
"Help local clubs that already have arenas and grounds that would be cheaper to rent or hold horse events. Big state-run facilities are always to expensive to rent for events. Sometimes just keeping things simple is better in tough times."
"You don't do economic impact [studies] in a down economy. Unless you have something very specific to do with the results of a census, it is a waste of time and money unless you have a great deal of discretionary funds."