Kentucky runs through my blood more deeply than any other state in the nation.
My family hails from Central Kentucky (though mom moved just over the border into Cincinnati to marry my dad, and raised my brother and I there), on a farm where my grandma and grandpa raised tobacco and provided endless opportunities for my brother and I to while away long weekends on rolling hillsides every summer. All of us are Wildcats by birth, and UK Blue runs deep in our blood, no matter where we are now dispersed (New York, Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, etc.). Kentucky is the birthplace of my equine obsession, the site of most of my equestrian training and the origin of some of my fondest horsey memories. I rode my first horse ever in Kentucky at the ripe age of 5, at a trail barn near Mammoth Cave. Trips through the Bluegrass region of Lexington and its surrounding territories still invoke powerful sensory recall of all my horse crazy days as a young girl. My retired 29-year-old Quarter Horse still calls the state his home, and will do so until the day when we finally say goodbye to him forever.
Thus, the newest economic figures to come out of Kentucky this week are perhaps some of the most disturbing that I have read in a long time. They aren't concerned with joblessness or real estate, but with agriculture, and they are reflective of the profound impact this country's recession has had on its equine nexus. Apparently Kentucky's horse economy, once the bedrock of its livestock agriculture, has been supplanted in economic potency by its poultry farming, potentially leading to the Bluegrass state being unable to maintain its storied status as the horse capital of the world. The state whose horsey heritage is proudly proclaimed even on its license plate insignia, and which provides a home to the heart of the Thoroughbred breeding industry, the headquarters of the American Saddlebred breed, and the Kentucky Horse Park, now stands in danger of losing its stead as the heart of American horse culture.
It's of course in large part due to the buffeting the state's economy has taken during the recession, with auction prices for Throughbreds and other breeds markedly lower this year, and stud fees scaled back as less breeding takes place. It's also a result of many of the hefty incentive programs being orchestrated for breeding in other states, such as Pennsylvania. But if KY loses its horsey state of mind, it will be an irreplaceable loss not just to the state but to the entire legacy of the equine industry. Kentucky IS horses, it's that simple.
Former Gov. Brereton Jones, now owner of Airdrie Stud, summed it up thusly: "You can go anyplace around the world and tell people you're from Kentucky, and the first thing they want to talk about is the Kentucky Derby and the Thoroughbred industry...We risk losing that if everybody refuses to pay attention."