by Kimberly K. Egan and Corinne M. Pouliquen (first published in the October 2021 Equiery)
We have been busy as bees here at MHC, winding down our summer study projects for the Government Relations Committee and preparing for the 2022 session of the General Assembly. Our task forces did yeomen’s work, and we were able to present three new policy positions for a vote by the Board of Directors at the August 19 Quarterly Meeting.
Before we get to the policy positions, however, let’s talk about the fact that for the second year in a row, Governor Hogan has declared October to be Maryland Horse Month. As Governor Hogan explained last year, “Maryland has historically led the nation in creating and growing innovative equestrian-related programs, from forming the first sporting organization in the colonies, the Maryland Jockey Club in 1743, to hosting the Maryland 5 Star, one of only seven events of this kind in the world,” said Governor Hogan. “Maryland Horse Month will showcase the depth and breadth of the industry’s impact on our history, heritage, and culture.”
This year’s Horse Month will be special, not only because we have the inaugural Maryland 5 Star at Fair Hill, and not only because the Capitol Challenge is back after its COVID-year hiatus in Ohio, and not only because the Jim McKay Maryland Million is welcoming spectators back to Laurel Park, but also because–the Mustangs are coming!
Mustangs Are Coming to Maryland
Mustang enthusiasts Hannah Catalino and Lisanne Fear are riding 5,000 miles through 12 states with 4 Mustangs in one year, starting in late September in Lewes, Delaware. The goal of their cross-country Mustang Ride is to get 5,000 of the 53,000 Mustangs that are currently in holding pens adopted. The ride is being filmed as a documentary by the EQUUS Film Festival.
The Mustang Ride will arrive in Maryland on October 2, when it reaches the Celebration of the Horse event at Tuckahoe Equestrian Center in Queen Anne County. After Tuckahoe, the Mustang Ride will go to the Washington D.C. area and ride through Rock Creek Park before moving on to the C & O Canal.
Marylanders are welcome to join Catalino and Lisanne on their ride through the state. Ann Hanlin from Street, who staged a Mustang Challenge Show last month in Harford County, will be with them. Please come on out and participate–we’d love as many cameos of Maryland horse people in the documentary as possible. Contact Lisa Diersen at firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
Other Horse Month activities include the ribbon cutting for the new Show Arena at the Baltimore County Agricultural Center on October 8, the National Jousting Association’s National Tournament in Brunswick on October 9, Canter for the Cause at Pimlico on October 10, and the Military and Mounted Police Showcase at Fair Hill on October 16.
You can find a complete list of October horse events on equiery.com.
MHC Board Adopts Three New Policy Positions
MHC’s Board of Directors establishes the policy positions upon which our legislative and regulatory work is based. This is an important role; indeed, it is the crux of our work as the trade association for the Maryland horse industry. The policy positions that the Board of Directors establish influence the Maryland General Assembly, state regulatory agencies, and local and municipal governments. You can find the current list of MHC policy positions here: https://www.mdhorsecouncil.org/about-us/governance/policies-positions.
At the August 19 meeting, the Board of Directors approved three new policy positions.
1. Access to Trails:
As we wrote in last month’s letter, the Government Relations Committee convened a task force this summer to consider issues related to the shared use of public land. More Marylanders visited our public parks during 2020 than at any time in the past, in large part because the COVID-19 pandemic limited indoor recreational activities. The Department of Natural Resources reported that in 2020, more than 2 million Marylanders visited over 75 parks. Park rangers closed parks 292 times in 2020, triple the number of times parks closed due to over-capacity in 2019. In addition, the General Assembly created The State Park Investment Commission to study park capacity and to ensure that public lands remain accessible to all. The commission will be chaired by former Governor Parris Glendenning.
MHC is committed to ensuring that these capacity and accessibility concerns do not jeopardize access to our existing equestrian trails. As a result, the Executive Committee asked the Board of Directors to approve the following policy – which the Board did by unanimous vote:
The Maryland Horse Council supports legislation to require that farmers who lease public land must leave and maintain a 20-foot border around their crops to permit unobstructed access to trail heads, to encourage environmental best practices, and to allow first responders to reach people in need of assistance.
Now that the Board has approved this policy, our Government Relations Committee will begin drafting proposed legislation to introduce in the 2022 General Assembly. We have secured a potential Senate sponsor for the bill, and we will be working over the next few weeks to secure similar sponsorship in the House.
We have also reached out to non-equestrian trail users who might share our concerns, and who might support our efforts on the shared use of public land. Our outreach letter appears in the October print edition, and we encourage everyone to share it as widely as possible. We will post an electronic version on both The Equiery and Maryland Horse Council websites.
2. Equine-Assisted Therapy for Veterans:
In 2019, the Maryland General Assembly added “therapy horses” to the list of veterans’ services that are reimbursable under the Service Animal Program. The current law limits eligibility to Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship (PATH) Premier Accredited Centers (PAC), or programs that have Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) certified professionals on staff.
Our members felt that these eligibility requirements were too restrictive, and that they effectively excluded deserving programs.
Earlier this summer, MHC created a task force to figure out how to expand the number of therapeutic riding facilities that qualify for veterans’ services reimbursement funds. The task force concluded that the current law is not well-suited to the specific needs of the Maryland veterans’ community, and it decided that a new eligibility protocol that took the best practices of PATH and EAGALA and modified them specifically for veterans was a better approach.
As a result, the Executive Committee asked the Board of Directors to approve the following policy – which the Board did by unanimous vote:
The Maryland Horse Council believes that equine-assisted therapy programs can provide invaluable services to eligible veterans, and that the Maryland Veterans Affairs Animal Services Program should be given legislative latitude to provide funds to as many qualified equine-assisted therapy programs as possible. As a result, the Maryland Horse Council supports replacing the current eligibility requirements with a Maryland-specific eligibility protocol designed to meet the specific needs of Maryland veterans.
Now that the Board has approved this policy, our Government Relations Committee will open discussions with the Maryland Veterans Administration to design a Maryland-specific eligibility protocol.
3. Helmet Law for Minors:
As we reported in last month’s letter, Del. Mary A. Lehman (D – Anne Arundel & Prince George’s) asked us if we would support legislation that would require minors to wear helmets when riding on public land. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that horseback riding resulted in 11.7 percent of all traumatic brain injuries in recreational sports from 2001 to 2005, the highest of any athletic activity. According to the Equestrian Medical Safety Association, head injuries account for an estimated 60 percent of the deaths resulting from equestrian accidents. In addition, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that helmets can reduce head and brain injuries by 85 percent.
See American Association of Neurological Surgeons, Sports-Related Head Injury, available at https://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Sports-related-Head-Injury.
The Executive Committee surveyed MHC members about their views on a helmet law for minors. We asked: “Do you think Maryland law should mandate that minors wear ASTM-approved helmets when mounted and riding on public land?” Eighty-seven percent of our respondents said “yes,” and 13% percent said “no.” Of those who voted “no,” the reasons were that such a law would be difficult to enforce, and that whether a child should wear a helmet should be a parental choice, not a legal requirement.
Because the majority of survey respondents supported such a law, the Executive Committee asked the Board to approve the following policy – which it did by unanimous vote:
The Maryland Horse Council supports legislation to require minors to wear ASTM/SEI-approved helmets when riding on public land.
Now that the Board has approved the helmet law policy, our Government Relations Committee will work with Del. Mary A. Lehman (D – Anne Arundel and Prince George’s) on draft legislation.
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The fact that our summer study projects are winding down does not mean our work on these issues will stop. Our work on public land will shift to our standing Trails & Greenways Committee, and our work on therapy horses for veterans will shift to our standing Equine-Assisted Therapy Committee.
Any member is welcome to participate in either committee. Just email Kim (email@example.com) or Corinne (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let us know. If you are not a member but would like to participate in our policy making on trails and equine-assisted therapy, please join now at https://www.mdhorsecouncil.org/membership/mhc-membership-options.