Grulke: Industry must strengthen bond between young people, horses

by | 01.28.2013 | 12:08pm

Ginny Grulke is executive director of the Kentucky Horse Council

It goes without saying that fewer and fewer children are exposed to farms and large animals.  America has become suburbanized.  However, horses have an advantage over other farm animals and farm activities because of the special bond that forms between human and horse.  And the fact that horses can be a sport, a hobby, and a lifelong interest.

People do not understand the attraction of horses unless they are given safe, unintimidating opportunities to experience that special feeling.  The special feeling occurs through touch and through looking into the eyes of a horse that trusts you.

If the equine industry does not create formal, well-thought-out plans to provide these experiences to young people, they will not have them, and they will not understand the strong attraction to horses.

The experiences we are talking about have to go beyond a “zoo” experience where they just look at pretty horses.  They need to touch, pet, groom, and be in the direct presence of gentle horses.  

The experience also cannot be a single day of fun.  It needs to be a string of experiences that allows them to learn the language, understand the various ways in which you can be with horses, and shows them the affordable path to get started.  

The Kentucky Horse Council is an educational organization as well as an organization that promotes and protects the horse industry.  In developing events and experiences for young, non-horse-owning people, we are following both of our missions.  We are educating the general public about horses and the horse industry, and we are protecting the industry by leading new participants into it.

This must be a full-industry effort.  Everyone must pitch in, because developing the love of the horse can lead young people to jobs and investments in many different sectors:  Racing (ownership, fans), breeding (farm management or owners of mares and stallions), riding (competitive shows or trails), or just keeping a retired horse around for stress relief and companionship.

This Saturday's Kentucky Round-Up at the Kentucky Horse Park is the first step in a long path.  The Kentucky Round-Up is designed to introduce kids and their parents to the wonder of horses.  Families will be able to participate in close-up activities with gentle horses including petting, grooming, handling minis, watching horses' feet being trimmed, etc.  Other activities for kids include learning to draw a horse, a jump course, a barrel race, roping, reading about horses, and an equine art contest.

Parents learn about the benefits of horse involvement through a series of classes covering character development, healthy lifestyles, safety, youth groups, and more.  The day also includes over 60 vendors and exhibitors, and demonstrations every half hour in the arena of some of the most exciting horse sports:  racing, reining, barrel racing, mounted shooting, drill teams, vaulting, etc.  Advanced horsemen classes include topics appropriate for those who have owned horses for a while.

Following the daytime activities, the KHC members' award banquet will be held, featuring First Lady Jane Beshear and Agriculture Commissioner Jamie Comer as speakers.  The evening features a concert by country music artist John Michael Montgomery.

We hope, with industry support, to follow up this year's event with a series of mini-events which will be free to anyone who attended Round-Up.  These follow-up activities include educational visits to rescues, horse shows, breeding farms, and training facilities.

By allowing the kids – and their parents – to slowly understand the nature of our industry, its great variety and diversity, and the diversity of people working in the industry, from the farm worker to the very rich farm owner, they will learn that they too can participate.  They also will learn that there is a wealth of resources to help them as they get their feet wet.

Kentucky Round-Up is what the horse industry needs right now.  We are now approaching two generations away from the farm.  If we don't act now, even the memory of rural life with horses will be gone (it currently is often held by grandparents).  This is the right time and place to be starting, and we welcome all industry supporters to join the cause.

Kentucky Round-Up
February 2, 2013
9:00 – 4:00 Daytime horse activities
5:00  KHC Members Awards Banquet
7:00 John Michael Montgomery concert
Alltech Arena, Kentucky Horse Park
Tickets are $10 in advance/$15 at the door for daytime
$25 for concert which includes daytime pass ($35 floor seat)
For details, visit www.kentuckyroundup.com

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