A few years ago, when an eventer fell off during her cross-country round, the EMTs rushed over and asked her the standard questions: “Do you know what your name is? How about the date? Who’s the president?
To the third question she promptly answered, “Mike Huber,” the president of the U.S. Combined Training Association at that time.
Everyone had a good laugh then, but as the 2004 presidential campaign draws to a close, it’s a good time to remember that while David O’Connor may be the president of the U.S. Equestrian Federation, he has little influence over the U.S. government and the political issues that directly and indirectly affect horse owners.
Since the race between President George Bush and Sen. John Kerry was a dead heat with three weeks to go, it seemed a useful and entertaining exercise to size them up according to how they might benefit horse owners around the country. While the rest of the country is focused on issues of national security, the muddle in Iraq, and job loss, horse owners might be tempted to ask, “Which candidate is promising clean hay and fresh grain? A cross-country course in every park?”
Seriously, though, while the candidates are certainly not addressing equestrian concerns specifically, their positions on a number of issues will affect riders. And, no matter whom you like for president, it never hurts to examine their policies in a different light.
After all, George W. Bush, a Texan and ardent supporter of the National Rifle Association, is unlikely to support a ban on foxhunting, unlike his British Labour Party counterpart, Tony Blair.
Foxhunting aside, during his tenure as President, Bush has directly influenced a number of policies and legislation that affect horse people.
One important piece of legislation is the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act, signed into law on May 28, 2003. This bill was intended to prompt job growth and investment. People who run an equestrian business may be able to write off up to $100,000 of the cost of the horses and other farm assets purchased and placed in service in 2003 through 2005. The bill also increases the first-year ‘bonus’ depreciation allowed to 50 percent of the cost of the horses and other eligible property.
It’s All About Access
Another effort by the President that may help horse owners is his administration’s attempt to rescind President Clinton’s Roadless Initiative.
Just before Clinton left office, he signed an act that prevented roads from being built or maintained on almost 60 million acres of national forest. While this protects the forest, it also limits access, making it more difficult to ride through these forests, although hiking is permitted.
The Bush administration would like to turn the responsibility for keeping national forest “roadless” over to the states, making it more flexible.
But there is a drawback to opening the forests. More roads may equal more development, making the forests a less inviting place for riders.
Protecting and preserving the environment is an important plank in Kerry’s platform. His website (www.johnkerry.com) explains, “Kerry has fought to clean up toxic waste sites, to keep our air and water clean, and to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other pristine wilderness areas. Recently, the League of Conservation Voters called Senator Kerry an environmental champion.’ “
In fact Kerry met his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, at an Earth Day rally in 1990.
A good record on the environment doesn’t neces-sarily mean a horse-friendly president, though. “The trouble is access to public lands,” admitted Kandee Haertel, executive director for the Backcountry Horsemen of America.
She noted that there are environmentalists and there are conservationists, and the former can be a bit on the extreme side. Fortunately, Kerry’s platform seems to focus more on cleaning up the environment and preserving wilderness, rather than preventing its use.
But President Bush isn’t ignoring the environment. His plan for the next four years includes reducing power-plant emissions of poisonous gasses by 70 percent and dedicating $40 billion to restore wetlands and improve streams near working farms and ranches.
And when they’re not creating cleaner drinking water for our horses and friendlier parks to ride in, both presidential candidates are working to lower the cost of gasoline.
After all, who can afford to go to horse shows these days when it takes a second mortgage to fill up your truck’s gas tank?
President Bush has provided funding to develop hydrogen technologies and wants to offer tax credits for purchasing hybrid vehicles, while improving the fuel economy of all automobiles.
Sen. Kerry also intends to provide tax assistance and incentives to develop fuel-efficient vehicles. He’s also adamant about freeing the United States from dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
“The Kerry-Edwards plan will increase energy conservation and create clean, renewable sources of energy that no terrorist can sabotage and no foreign government can seize. Their plan will also save billions by cutting waste and pork-barrel spending in Washington,” states his website.
It’s The Economy, Stupid
Even with reduced energy costs and a cleaner environment, owning and showing horses is always going to be an expensive undertaking. Although no one would argue that running a horse business is the way to make an easy million, there’s no reason to starve while you’re doing it. An improved economy can only be a good thing for those who make their living by selling, training or boarding horses. Not to mention that better, higher-paying jobs allow more people to comfortably afford a horse for pleasure.
Kerry wants to help small businesses.
He proposes to expand loans and equity to even the smallest businesses, “micro-enterprises” with five or fewer employees.
He also wants to provide loans for all small businesses and to simplify the tax code.
“America’s small businesses are drowning in tax paperwork,” his website explains. “The Kerry-Edwards plan will reduce this burden by simplifying tax filing for small businesses, including allowing the IRS and state agencies to combine–on one form–both State and Federal employment tax returns.”
Kerry’s plan also offers incentives for domestic job growth. He wants to close loopholes in international tax law that encourage outsourcing and provide credits and tax breaks for companies that invest at home. He even promises to provide a new-jobs tax credit to employers who create new positions.
Tax credits and tax relief are issues that President Bush believes in strongly too. In 2002 he signed a Farm Bill that provided $4 billion in tax relief for American farmers. Now he’s pushing to make the repeal of the so-called “Death Tax” permanent, a tax that can make inheriting a family farm a prohibitively expensive proposition.
Bush intends to make the tax code simpler for all taxpayers and to continue his tax cuts to promote savings and investment. “President Bush will provide $500 million for Jobs for the 21st Century,” explains his website (www.georgewbush.com), “which will help educate and train high-skilled American
workers in schools and community colleges.”
The Other Choice
And if the promises of Bush and Kerry leave you feeling unconvinced, there is another option: Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate who just won’t quit. Although his chances of election are once again miniscule, this anti-war candidate has an impeccable record on the environment, land preservation and agriculture.
Nader was also a player in the battle over a Walt Disney theme park slated to be built in Haymarket, Va., which would have increased traffic and overrun the traditionally rural, horsey area. In 1994 Nader spoke out at a rally against the theme park to 2,500 people in Washington D.C., including representatives of 55 organizations from 15 states. A few weeks later, Disney executives scuttled their plans.
Despite their prejudice, even horse people understand that national security is probably more important than reducing the cost of shavings or providing tax breaks for parents with multiple children on the show circuit. But, according to a study conducted by the American Horse Council, the horse industry has a total impact of $112.1 billion on the U.S. gross domestic product. There are 1.4 million full-time horse-related jobs, and the industry pays $1.9 billion in taxes.
Since 7.1 million Americans are involved in the horse industry and 6.9 million horses live in this country, it means the concerns of horse owners should play some part in national policy. We should remember that on Election Day.