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Date: 01-21-2016

Floyd backs horse center proposal

The Floyd County Fiscal Court is backing a proposed solution for horses that have been abandoned in Eastern Kentucky.

During a Jan. 15 meeting, the fiscal court passed a resolution supporting the Appalachian Horse Center, an organization that plans to construct a facility in one of nine Eastern Kentucky counties.During a Jan. 15 meeting, the fiscal court passed a resolution supporting the Appalachian Horse Center, an organization that plans to construct a facility in one of nine Eastern Kentucky counties.

The group was incorporated through the Kentucky Secretary of State as a nonprofit organization called One Step Forward in 2008. In December 2015, it adopted the Appalachian Horse Center as its new assumed name.

Director Ginny Grulke, the former director of the Kentucky Horse Council, said the multi-faceted center will offer numerous opportunities that will improve the region’s economy through tourism and job creation, educate the public, help people who need therapeutic riding services and help horses that have been abandoned in Eastern Kentucky.

According to the resolution, the Appalachian Horse Center will offer therapeutic riding for physically-challenged adults and children and provide equine-based therapy for inmates, veterans and people undergoing drug abuse rehabilitation. The facility will also serve as a tourism attraction, a training center, and, among other things, a place that holds and offers assistance for the placement of abandoned horses.

Abandoned horses have been a problem in Eastern Kentucky for years, as horse owners took their horses to strip mine sites when they could no longer afford to care for them. Some groups have reported that thousands of abandoned horses roam former strip mine sites, and many of the horses face challenges in getting enough food during the winter months.

Grulke confirmed that some of Eastern Kentucky’s free-roaming horses are owned by people who have permission to allow their horse to graze on former strip mines. She talked about one Florida couple who came to a recent Knott County Trail Ride and stated they were excited about visiting their horse, which they left to roam without shelter when they moved away three years prior.

Grulke said the Appalachian Horse Center started with a discussion about how to help abandoned horses in need, and expanded when participants realized what a huge commodity free roaming horses are.

“Free ranging horses are really a unique thing in the United States,” she said. “The next closest thing to what we have in Eastern Kentucky are the mustangs out in the west, and people can’t get close to them.…We thought this could be a really great tourism attraction. People would love to drive around mountain roads and see horses.”

Noting tourists can’t drive up and interact with horses at large horse farms in other parts of the state, she said the Appalachian Horse Center would help Eastern Kentucky become the “hands-on part” of the state’s claim to fame as the Horse Capitol of the World.

Judge Executive Ben Hale and Magistrate John Goble talked about the problem created by abandoned horses, including dangers posed by horses that travel to public roadways in the winter to lick salt off the roads.

“It’s becoming a problem,” Hale said.

Goble said about 15 horses have been abandoned on property near his home and he was recently called to pick up a horse that was posing a danger on U.S. 23.

County Attorney Keith Bartley said dealing with the problem is more difficult because the county does not have facilities to house abandoned horses.

Appalachian Horse Center officials are considering two pieces of property where the facility could be located in Floyd County. Volunteer Debby Spencer, a Bowling Green resident who has volunteered with the group for years, said the organization is considering properties located near the Thunder Ridge Racing Complex and the airport on the Floyd-Johnson county line, as well as other properties in Breathitt, Harlan, Knott, Leslie, Letcher, Magoffin, Perry and Pike counties.

Spencer said the Appalachian Horse Center needs approximately 100 acres, and the site near Thunder Ridge included only 25 acres. She said her group is speaking with property owners near the horse racing complex to see if they would be willing to participate. She was not sure how many acres was available at the location near the airport.

She said the entire project will cost approximately $390,000, and the group is seeking a $250,000 grant from Shaping Our Appalachian Region to build the facility and a $10,000 grant from the Brushy Fork Institute to purchase paddocks, or gated enclosures for horses. Grulke said the cost of the project may decrease if property is found with a barn on site or if volunteers work to build a barn at the center. The group will also seek additional grant funding, she said.

Spencer said county judges in all nine counties being considered have submitted letters of support and resolutions like the one approved in Floyd County have and/or are expected to be passed in all counties, which should help the organization in grant-seeking process.

Spencer and Grulke said the facility would be funded through individual donations, grants, corporate sponsorships and fees charged for tourism and therapy services. The facility will have a gift shop, a cultural display depicting the historical role of horses in Kentucky’s economy and other services. Grulke also mentioned the possibility of partnering with a college to use the center as part of the training required for an equine management degree and the possibility of asking donors to “adopt” a horse, a program through which video cameras would allow live-streaming video feed of horses that are adopted.

When questioned during the meeting, Hale said the program won’t cost the county anything. It appears, however, that the county could incur some expenses if the facility is erected in Floyd County.

In introducing the resolution, Hale said the Appalachian Horse Center would act as “taker-up” of abandoned horses, but Spencer said the organization would not serve in that role.

“We won’t take up any horses,” Spencer said. “If the county judge takes one up or the animal control officer or an individual takes one up, they can bring them to us and we will feed it and get veterinarian care for it,” she said. “They will bring them to us. We won’t be in the business of taking up horses.”

A law enacted last year reduced the amount of time a person needs to hold a stray horse in order to claim ownership from 90 to 15 days.

As part of that law, the Kentucky Department of Agriculture established on online database where counties document stray horses as part of that 15-day holding period.

The law states that the county judge is required to enter into a contract with a licensed veterinarian who will photograph and document distinguishing features of the animal. The county will be required to submit that information to the state veterinarian and file the notice with the sheriff’s department to begin the 15-day hold time. The county may be reimbursed for costs associated with the veterinarian contract if an owner is found within 15 days. The law notes that the “taker up” shall be paid by the owner of the stray and, if none is found, the taker-up is the absolute owner at the end of 15 days.

When asked whether the county would be responsible for costs associated with care of the horses, Spencer said, “We’re hoping that won’t happen. We’re hoping to get grants and sponsorships and donations. We’re hoping that the county will see the value of it. It’s going to save them in the long run…but we’re not asking for anything right now. We’re just getting started and there may be enough sponsorship from feed stores and individuals to keep us going.”

Grulke said funds generated from tourism to the facility are expected to offset the center’s operational costs, and she noted that other programs, like the gift shop and insurance payments for therapeutic riding services, could help fund it in the long run.

“The county now has the legal responsibility to pick up any horse that is causing trouble,” Grulke said. “We as a nonprofit, don’t have that responsibility. We are depending on them to pick up the horses…There will be some charge to the county, but it will be less than it would be if they were paying to board them at a stable. Officially, they are responsible for the horses. 

At the end of 15 days, if nobody claims them, they’re responsible for figuring out what happens that to that horse, but we’re going to try to help them figure that out.”

She explained the group is building a network of people and rescue groups that will help in that process.

She said the center plans to hold 10 to 15 resident horses for the therapy program and up to 50 other horses that will be held until they are adopted by individuals or rescue groups.

Representatives of the Appalachian Horse Center have talked to 177 horse owners during “listening sessions” held in several counties, including one this week in Floyd County that attracted residents from both Floyd and Pike counties. Spencer said Pike County attendees requested an enclosed arena for horses — a project that would increase the cost of what is currently being planned in the multi-phase project.

Gulke and Spencer expect a decision about the center’s location will be made next month.


By Mary Meadows

Floyd County Chronicle

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