Thursday, April 2, 2009

Equine Summit in Aiken

After commissioning  a study that showed that the Aiken equestrian community contributes over 71 million dollars a year to the local economy, the Aiken Chamber of Commerce knows that horses are an economic force. The Chamber wants horse people to start exercising their political clout, too. To this end, they asked Samantha Charles, who is a member of the Chamber board, chair of the Chamber’s Equine Steering Committee and the publisher of Sidelines magazine,  to organize a meeting of horse people from various disciplines. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the current state of the industry, and to discuss ways that things can be improved in the future.

The meeting, which took place February 24 at the Aiken Chamber headquarters on Richland Avenue, included 20 representatives from the horse community, as well as several members of the Chamber who were not involved in the horse industry.  Liz Stewart, a facilitator, divided the people into three sub groups, each of which was asked to brainstorm about a particular question. One group was asked to identify factors that can help keep the horse industry healthy. The second group was asked to identify what barriers there might be to strengthening the industry, while the third came up with examples from other communities that might be useful in ensuring  that the Aiken community as a whole continues to support the horse community. Afterwards, each subgroup presented its ideas. 

In the second part of the meeting, the subgroups discussed the pros and cons of pursuing the idea of building a large, state-supported horse park in Aiken.  Finally, the discussion turned to the possibility of organizing an Equine Summit for the fourth quarter of 2009.  The idea for the Equine Summit, tentatively entitled “Horses – Past, Present and Future,” is in an embryonic stage. In the coming months, another meeting (or two) at the Chamber will clarify what the summit will be about, who will be invited, and even whether there will be a summit at all. 

In the first two parts of the meeting, the various groups came up with several interesting ideas, and there were a number of differing opinions about the hottest topic of the day, the potential horse park. Proponents of a horse park would like to see one built somewhere close to Route 20, perhaps along Route 1. They see a horse park as an economic boon that would ensure the survival of the equestrian industry in Aiken. Those who spoke against a horse park said, essentially, that Aiken itself is a horse park, and that we don’t need to encourage the horse industry in Aiken to grow any larger than it already is.  

“Aiken’s horse industry already contributes 71 million dollars to the economy,” said Tom Uskup, who was there as one of the representatives of the polo community. “How much more do we need? How much is enough?”

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