A Brief History of the Alabama Horse Council

Written by Sara Lynn Bledsoe

In the fall of 1993 plans were underway for a large multi-breed charity horse show. I was the manager of this show. Being familiar with only my specific horse discipline as to the who, what, when, where and why for promotion of such an event, I contacted the State Department of Agriculture and Industries to obtain correct and concise information for research and development of the event. I already was aware of the greatly deteriorated state of Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery, which normally would have been my first choice for location of the event, and I had made the decision to utilize a large indoor arena with stables in Decatur. Garrett Coliseum had been the home facility for the Southern Championship Charity Horse Show, a large end-of-season event of many years duration that enjoyed a place of prominence in equine history and in the hearts of countless horsemen across the country. This show died in Montgomery and was moved east to Atlanta with the name now being owned by a statewide breed association that again has catapulted this show to a most prestigious event. Perhaps the same lack of interest and promotion created the circumstances that allowed for the simultaneous deterioration of both the show and facility in Montgomery. When I asked the Department of Agriculture and Industries for equine association addresses and contact names, they could supply not one single item, name, phone number – nothing to assist me in my endeavor – not even a pamphlet about a horse. The State Department of Agriculture and Industries could give me more information about blueberries and ostriches than they could give me about horses, a segment of agriculture whose aggregate impact on the state’s economy was annually more than $1.6 billion, as documented in 1989. Because horses are also the only agricultural product that involves Recreation and Tourism, another division of state government, I was dismayed that no information was available. I contacted the American Horse Council, Washington; DC to inquire about a state horse council and discovered that such an organization did not and had never existed.

At this time I again contacted the Agriculture Department and asked for an appointment with the Commissioner of Agriculture, and in February, 1994 I met with (former and now deceased) Commissioner of Agriculture, A.W. Todd. Mr. Todd was most courteous, kind and brief. We spoke of several mutual friends that were involved with my specific breed. Each of these prominent men had at some time served on the Garrett Coliseum Board. The intent of my meeting was to generate interest and secure assistance in the formation of a horse council for our state. I presented names of over 150 horse clubs, organizations and associations enjoying collective memberships in excess of 10,000 names to Mr. Todd. I soon realized that all my words and substantiating documentation did not excite him. I did discover in this meeting that some thousands of dollars had been appropriated by Mr. Todd through the Garrett Coliseum Board for research into the establishment of a horse council. It was unclear to what degree this monetary appropriation influenced Mr. Todd’s lack of enthusiasm toward a horse council. Within a very short time one of the two people reported to have received the money to organize a state horse council did contact me in an effort to purchase the list and documentation I had secured relating to the horsemen across the state. I declined the offer.

During the time frame of organizing the horse show in 1993 and meeting with Mr. Todd in February, 1994, I discussed the need for a horse council with Joe Spivey, owner of a breeding facility in Morris, Alabama. Because of his leadership and management qualities, he was significant in the reorganization and financial success of a breed registry, and this position dictated that he long had been aware of the need for a state horse council. He was the source for much of the documentation I presented to Mr. Todd. Joe Spivey had also assisted Auburn University with information pertinent to an equine industry economic impact study that was started in the late 1980’s. There was the answer – Auburn University!

Dr. J.T. (Tom) Vaughan was at that time Dean, College of Veterinary Medicine, Auburn University. Having known Dean Vaughan for some time, I was familiar with his countless credentials and the respect he commands in veterinary medicine, academics and with equine practitioners throughout the world. Joe Spivey and I asked for and received an appointment with Dean Vaughan.

When we sat down in his office Dr. Tom (Vaughan) had invited two members of the faculty of Auburn University; Dr. Joe Molnar, Professor, Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, and Dr. Cindy McCall, Associate Professor, Department of Animal and Dairy Science and Equine Specialist, Alabama Cooperative Extension System. To say that Joe Spivey and I were awe struck and totally impressed is definitely an understatement. We were sitting around a table with Dr. Vaughan, a significant individual in the veterinary world; Dr. Joseph Molnar, a professor whose concept of agricultural economics can be termed unequaled; and Dr. Cindy McCall, an animal scientist whose combination of equine experience, interest and motivation is possibly second to none. Joe Spivey and I outlined our interpretation of equine industry needs and the grass roots method that our experiences dictated should be utilized in the publicity and membership recruitment for the proposed association horse council. These educators readily defined industry problems and outlined procedures for the organizational goal. It was emphasized by each of them that the strength of the foundation determines the quality of the structure. Dr. Vaughan recalled an aborted attempt to organize a horse council within Alabama some ten years previous, citing reasons for the failure.

Dr. Molnar had researched and published studies addressing the economic impact of the equine industry in Alabama. As Cooperative Extension System Equine Specialist, Dr. McCall understands the needs of horse owners across the state. Dr. Vaughan’s life work as an equine practitioner and as an educator from both academic and administrative positions gives him incredible insight into every facet of the equine world. These three educators came to the table with the knowledge, experience and ability to guide the Alabama equine industry towards unification. Auburn University could answer the needs of this segment of agriculture. And the work began for organization.

Publicity was initiated. Information was mailed. The feedback results were extremely positive, and the organizational and first general membership meeting was held at Auburn on August 25, 1995.

By this time the State Department of Agriculture and Industries had a new Commissioner of Agriculture. Soon after assuming his duties, Commissioner Jack Thompson welcomed us to his office to discuss goals, expressing interest and a willingness to cooperate to identify the equine industry and related industries as a viable, contributing and important segment of Alabama agriculture. Department of Agriculture and Industries employees continue to participate in the membership of the Alabama Horse Council.

At the present time a dialogue is established with Commissioner Thompson concerning research and the publication of a directory for the equine industry and related industries. This is an important goal of the Horse Council that requires funding. Information is being collected to define a possible need for improvement in Alabama’s law concerning Coggins Testing for equine infectious anemia, an insect transmitted disease found in horses, for which no cure is available. The State Department of Agriculture and Industries is continuing to assist the Horse Council to better serve the equine industry and identify the needs of Alabama’s horsemen. Commissioner Jack Thompson’s interest in the equine industry in Alabama is evidenced by his continuing efforts for cooperation and communication.