In 1971, a group of horsemen came together to found the Virginia Horse Council to act as a voice for all of Virginia horse people, regardless of breed or discipline. The initial directors of the Virginia Horse Council (VHC) included L. Clay Camp, Daniel V. Flynn, Mary P. Hare, Kenneth Moore, George A. Morrow, Herbert W. Stuart, and Merle Wood. Since then, the organization has grown to fulfill its mission “to serve as the umbrella organization of the Virginia equine community representing industry, breed and discipline organizations, horsemen, horsewomen and horses.

The Council serves to promote and protect the horse industry in Virginia by monitoring legislation at the local, state, and federal level that may affect horse owners and those involved in equine-related businesses. Currently, the Council is comprised of an all-volunteer Board of Directors who encompass a variety of facets within the horse industry, from breeding and training, to trail riding and agritourism.

Gene Stone and Ron Frank with Sue Alvis during the Legislative Reception

Gene Stone and Ron Frank with Sue Alvis during the Legislative Reception

Current President, Sue Alvis, states that “the VHC recognizes that Virginia has a unique equine history that should be preserved for our future generations. As horse ownership grows and we become a more urbanized society, along with that growth comes an increase in laws and regulations that impact our industry. If we are to be regulated as an industry, we want to have a hand in creating those regulations.”

In addition to meeting every quarter as a Board of Directors, the VHC holds various events throughout the year to fulfill its mission. Every new year kicks off with a legislative reception in January during the General Assembly Session.  Held in Old City Hall, Richmond and attended by VHC Board members as well as members of the Virginia House of Representatives and Senate, the reception provides the opportunity for personal interaction and discussion related to the industry and the VHC legislative policies.

The Council also holds its Annual Meeting and Educational seminar in the first quarter of every year. This Annual Meeting includes an educational seminar as well as presentations by professionals on topics such as land conservation, pasture management, horse health, and Virginia trails. Award presentations and networking with other members also takes place at this annual event. This past April the Annual Meeting was held in conjunction with the Virginia Horse Festival, where the VHC partnered with the Horse Festival and Virginia Tech to present a successful Horsemanship series.  Every May, VHC hosts the annual legislative trail ride held in various locations including Stratford Hall, state parks, and this past year, at Graves Mountain Lodge. This past May, the ride was held on what turned out to be a rainy weekend, but Alvis notes, “our legislators were troopers. They came out Saturday morning in rain ponchos and climbed on the horses and rode.”  Over 100 legislators have participated over the past 10 years in this 3 day, 2 night event that includes trail rides and family events. During this weekend, the VHC seeks to emphasize the importance of the horse industry in Virginia in a real time setting.

Achievements of the VHC include successful lobbying efforts around equine liability legislation, improved fence laws, equine welfare legislation, and the establishment of the  Virginia Horse Center. The VHC often partners with other members of the agricultural community and helps facilitate communication between members of the equine industry as well as state and federal agencies. Partners include the American Horse Council, Virginia Horse Industry Board, Virginia Farm Bureau, Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Equine Land Conservation Resource, and the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

One notable achievement of the VHC was the establishment of the Virginia Horse Industry Board in 1994 as the result of legislation and a statewide referendum. While created through the work of the VHC, the Virginia Horse Industry Board (VHIB) is a commodity board that operates through the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The Virginia Horse Industry Board is comprised of a 12 member board that includes the presidents of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, the Virginia Horse Council, the Virginia Horse Show Association, and the Virginia Quarter Horse Association, as well as appointments made by the governor from nominations made from the horse industry. The VHIB is currently funded by the feed checkoff program as well as monies from coggins testing.

The VHIB seeks to develop economic opportunities to promote and improve the horse industry in Virginia through grants awarded for education, marketing, agritourism, and veterinary studies and research. These grants are awarded during the annual grants meeting and are awarded based on need and viability of the proposed project. Those interested in learning more about the VHIB as well as information on applying for the grants can find more information at www.vhib.org. In addition to the grants program, the VHIB also administers the Virginia Bred Program which recognizes quality horse breeding in Virginia.

Congressman Dave Brat flanked by Senator  Emmett Hanger and Delegate Mark Keam during the Legislative Trail Ride.

Congressman Dave Brat flanked by Senator Emmett Hanger and Delegate Mark Keam during the Legislative Trail Ride.

Other working areas of the VHC include promoting the creation and protection of Virginia trails. Specifically, the trails committee works to promote trails and equestrian camping sites that include horse trailer parking and hook up for power and water as well as horse stalls for overnights. In April, the Virginia Horse Council worked with the Mechanicsville Riding Club to officially open a new trail to the Tye River Overlook at James River State Park. The new trail restored horse access to the view of the merging of the James and Tye Rivers and includes a mounting block and hitch rail at the top of the steps leading down to the overlook deck. Funding for the project came from both the Virginia Horse Council and the Mechanicsville Riding Club through the trail support fund that many people helped build up by sending in Southern States proofs of purchase.

The Virginia Horse Council has also dedicated time and effort to developing TheVirginiaHorse.com. This website is meant to act as a resource for easy access to data on the Virginia horse industry stakeholders, including a directory of service providers in all breeds and disciplines including horses, owners, farmers, breeders, trainers, veterinarians, farriers, associations, manufacturing, and so much more. This database, in addition to an ongoing economic impact study of the horse industry in Virginia, allows the horse industry greater representation throughout the commonwealth.

Other efforts of the VHC included the addition of Virginia horsemen and horsewomen in the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame to honor and recognize Virginians who have made significant contributions to the Commonwealth’s livestock industry and its people. Though founded in 2009, horsemen and horsewomen were not included in the Virginia Livestock Hall of Fame until 2013. The 2015 inductees included Dr. Olive Britt, DVM, who was Virginia’s first female veterinarian to specialize in equine medicine and pioneered work in the field and opened doors for other female veterinarians. Dr. Britt graduated from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine in 1959 and was the veterinarian for Meadow Farm in Doswell, VA, home of the legendary Secretariat. Additionally, Dr. Britt served as president of the North American Veterinary Conference from 1989 to 1990. Inductees for 2016 are expected to be announced later this year.

Education is a cornerstone of the Virginia Horse Council and they seek to educate Virginia’s horse industry stakeholders through the state 4-H horse program and statewide equine educational seminars as well as through the aforementioned annual meeting that includes an educational seminar. Furthermore, the Council seeks to give back to the community through the VHC Foundation, founded in 2013. The Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit charitable organization that accepts tax deductible donations to promote education in order to develop the next generation of Virginia horse industry leaders via college scholarships for youth pursuing careers in the horse industry. Currently, there are two scholarships in the works honoring past VHC directors, Gene Stone, who was a former President of the  Virginia Quarter Horse Association as well as actively involved in youth activities, and Ron Frank, former VHC President who chaired the legislative trail ride for many years.  The VHC is currently putting together criteria for the scholarships and at least one of them is expected to be awarded for the first time later this year.

The VHC is  always looking to expand membership. There are various ways to get involved in the VHC as a member. Membership is available in various levels from youth, individual, family membership, commercial/business/farm membership, equine group of association, and lifetime membership. Current President Sue Alvis notes that membership with the VHC “gives you an opportunity to have a voice in crafting and shaping the future of the industry.” She adds that the benefits of a state horse council are often intangible and are something that people often do not feel they need to be involved in, until a policy or law begins to directly affect them. But it is important for individuals from all facets of the Virginia horse industry become involved in the Council, to help shape their own future. In addition to opportunities to attend and volunteer at aforementioned events such as the Annual Meeting and educational seminars, there are also many opportunities to join working committees on the Council including communications, education, issues, legislative reception and trail ride, membership, sponsorship, youth and trails development.

Legislative Trail Ride 2015

Legislative Trail Ride 2015

Other events include historic trail rides through the Council’s History on Horseback series, started in 2008 to give members the opportunity to learn more about the history of our state all while doing what they love—riding! These rides are rare opportunities not typically available to the general public on historic properties including Ingleside Plantation, Stratford Hall Plantation, Belmead Plantation, Pocahontas State Park, and Carter’s Grove Plantation. The Council is currently in the works with a venue for an upcoming ride to be announced.

During the annual meeting in March 2016 -  David Lands presents Betty Brand of Farm Credit of the Virginias with and an Industry Service Award.

During the annual meeting in March 2016 – David Lands presents Betty Brand of Farm Credit of the Virginias with and an Industry Service Award.

Other membership benefits include the ability to purchase an in-excess insurance policy at a special rate. This personal excess liability insurance is meant to provide secondary, additional coverage for personal liability for bodily injury to any person or accidental damage to property or persons arising out of the use and/or ownership of a horse. Further, members have the ability to gain membership with the American Horse Council and various other special discounts and special advertising rates. Business memberships can also benefit from being listed on the business membership page as well as various sponsorship opportunities.  When members sign up, you receive a welcome packet that includes the VHC current newsletter, membership card, member benefits, and in-excess policy information. Alvis highly recommends individuals consider membership in the Virginia Horse Council as they seek to continue to represent all components of the horse industry in Virginia, “power exists in numbers and the VHC unites those of us who share an investment, a business interest or a love of horses.  The VHC ensures that our industry views are represented not only  to our state and federal legislative bodies but also to the general public.” For more information on the VHC, please visit their website at www.virginiahorsecouncil.org or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/virginiahorsecouncil.  They can also be reached at 888-HORSEVA (888-467-7382) or by email at info@virginiahorsecouncil.org.