In 1993, the Great Southwest Equestrian Center in Katy closed. This was a blow to the horse industry in the greater Houston area, because it was the area's premier equestrian facility. There was really nothing available to take its place. Susie Blackwell, a farsighted and determined woman, got a group of club leaders together and tackled the problem. Out of this effort, the Greater Houston Horse Council was born. Today, it represents approximately forty member organizations and through them, roughly five thousand individuals. It is the only council in Texas recognized by the American Horse Council, although it is currently working to end this claim to uniqueness by aiding in the formation of sister horse councils in other areas of the state. Efforts to save the Great Southwest Equestrian Center were a success, by the way-it is alive and well today.
Shortly after the formation of the GHHC, Harris and surrounding counties experienced flooding on a large enough scale that, among other things, a number of horses perished. Even worse were the losses that occurred in south Florida when the last major hurricane struck. One doesn't have to reflect for long on the history of the Gulf Coast to realize that the same thing could happen here-that, in fact, it almost certainly will happen here, sooner or later. Concerns about these kinds of situations led the GHHC (in cooperation with the SPCA and the Harris County Emergency Management Agency) to develop the Equine Evacuation and Assistance (EVAC for short) Program. Its purpose is to develop methods of coming to the aid of horse owners in crisis situations.
The EVAC Committee broadened the scope of its activities, and in addition to preparing to respond to emergencies, developed programs to educate the horse-owning public about preparing for disasters, and about how to maintain a safe environment for horses. These included trailer safety and hauling clinics and barn/stable safety inspections.
And speaking of a safe environment for horses, Texas lagged behind the rest of the nation in protecting its horses from a costly, cruel disease-equine infectious anemia (EIA, swamp fever, or "Coggins"). Texas had the dubious distinction of reporting more horses infected with this incurable viral disease than any other state. Last year (1996), according to the USDA’s Dr. Tim Cordes, more than 50 % of all the cases reported in the United States were in Texas. Yes, 50 per cent. Our state has been slow to take action to control this problem. In 1976, Florida adopted regulations that were stricter than those that Texas has today. As a result, Florida has seen a dramatic decline in the number of cases reported. The GHHC supports stronger EIA regulations in Texas. This should surprise no one. After all, it was a series of EIA outbreaks during the 1960’s that provided much of the impetus for the formation of our parent organization, the American Horse Council.
Working with Texas A & M and Houston Community College, the GHHC has sponsored educational seminars and hopes to do so again in the future. The GHHC Horse Industry Job Bank was the brainchild of Nancy Flick. It provided an opportunity for those seeking horse-related employment to make themselves known to those needing their services.
December 2003 Update
The above article was written in 1997. Much has happened in the last five years.
The Great Southwest Equestrian Center is still there, although it is undergoing some changes presently.
The EVAC Committee has been inactive for some time now. Still, natural and man-made disasters are an every-present possibility. As Walt Burdsall is fond of saying, the question is not if, but when. So, there can never be an end to the story. With that in mind, we have been pleased to communicate with an organization called Noah’s Wish, headquartered in Placerville, CA. Noah’s Wish is a not-for-profit, 501c3 charitable organization dedicated to rescuing and sheltering animals during disasters.
Noah’s Wish has a volunteer in-field training session planned in Houston March 5, 6 & 7. We have made arrangements with Winning Ways Farm for it to be held there. Noah’s Wish has been active throughout the United States and Canada. Hopefully their broad base of support and extensive experience will make it possible to have an effective response in the event of hurricanes or other disasters in Texas. For more information about Noah’s Wish, go to their web site: http://www.noahswish.org .
During calendar year 1997, seven hundred fifty Texas horses tested positive for equine infectious anemia, out of 194,295 tested. Area 2, Southeast Texas (which includes Harris County) led the state with more than 250 reactors. During calendar year 2002, there were 107 positives out of 256,605 tested. This year, from January to October, there have been 62 positive reactors.
Since it is believed that there are approximately one million horses in Texas, it seems that we are only testing approximately 1/4 of the horse population in any given year. Hopefully, we are testing the most mobile portion of the population—the portion most likely to spread disease if they happen to be infected. The fact that we still find infected horses tells us there is an untested, undetected reservoir of infected horses. We are testing more horses, and finding fewer infected horses, but this is no time to let your guard down. Buying a horses? Don’t accept a Coggins test that’s 4 or 5 months old—get a fresh one at the time of sale. If you attend an event and they couldn’t care less about checking papers—load up and leave.
If you want information about EIA regulations, or other animal health-related matters, check the Texas Animal Health Commission Web Site at: http://www.tahc.state.tx.us .
The horse slaughter industry has been the subject of much debate recently, and the debate is far from over. The Greater Houston Horse Council does not support a federal ban on horse slaughter, as the slaughter industry does provide a service that is beneficial to some horse owners. We applaud the efforts of those who are seeking alternatives to slaughter. It would be nice if the slaughter industry faded away because horsemen did not produce surplus horses, did not produce poor quality horses, and could find good homes for all horses.
Promotion of the horse industry, preservation and development of places to use horses, education of the horse owner, disease control, emergency response, horse theft prevention, and animal welfare issues—the list of things that need attention and support continues to grow.
Next year promises to be full of changes. We hope you will join us and make the changes happen.
April 2007 Update
The last couple of years have been eventful.
When the Texas Horse Council was formed, the Greater Houston Horse Council initially planned to be a member organization. Eventually it was decided that the GHHC would pursue a separate course. GHHC is NOT affiliated with the Texas Horse Council. GHHC is a member of the American Horse Council.
The Evacuation Committee remains inactive, but we certainly have seen that there is a need for emergency preparedness—and unfortunately, we remain unprepared in so many ways. Hurricane Rita made this clear. Remember, as much grief as Rita caused the Houston area, it was a near miss—not a direct hit. We’re still waiting for the Big One.
The National Animal Information System (NAIS) has been a hot topic. We have tried to be an information source as things developed.
The topic of horse slaughter remains another hot topic. Throughout most of its history, the GHHC has opposed a ban on horse slaughter for human consumption. During the August, 2006 meeting, the members present voted by a 3 vote margin to support a ban on horse slaughter. Indeed, it appears that the slaughter industry is about to be eliminated in the United States. Exports of horses to Mexico have increased in recent months. It remains to be seen whether the U. S. Congress will vote to eliminate the export of horses for slaughter. And if they do vote to ban the export of horses for slaughter, it remains to be seen whether or not this will keep U. S. horses from ending up in Mexican slaughter plants.
The City of Houston recently passed a Draconian ordinance banning horseback riders from all esplanades, whether landscaped or not. Riders violating this ordinance may be fined $500. We have tried to negotiate a compromise—so far with little success. We continue to seek a solution.
Access to trails and open spaces continues to be a matter of great concern. In some areas, we are making progress. Harris County Precinct 4 is planning some great new recreational trails for equestrians. We look forward to watching that project evolve and will assist where we can.
Our state parks, on the other hand, are in trouble. They have been underfunded and it is showing. Equestrians are seeing reduced opportunities as hours are cut and facilities closed. We urge all equestrians—even those who are not trail riders—to support increase funding for our parks. Texas ranks 49th in money spent on parks. All Texans deserve better.
Update: 2014 - We will continue to try and inform our members about local, state and national issues that affect horse owners. We invite all horse people to join and participate so that we may have a greater voice in such matters. There is a great need for volunteers in all areas. Won’t you make 2014 the year you decided to get involved?