Across the Table: Ohio’s equine industry

I have said it before and I will say it again — Ohio Farm Bureau is only as strong as our membership. That philosophy has proven true through the many challenges that Ohio agriculture has faced over the last century. Adding to our organization’s strength are our partnerships with those who are like-minded in ways to keep our industry robust and share goals to continue our relevance to our members and to Ohio’s overall economy.

Ohio’s $2.8 billion equine industry is very reliant on continuous racing schedules at tracks across the state and spectators to fill the stands along the final stretch. That sector was hit extremely hard by the unforeseen obstacles of 2020. Racing went completely dark from mid-March to mid-May and at that time it was unclear if there would be any opportunities at Ohio’s county and independent fair tracks.

Like many of us did over the past 12 months, our partners the Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association, which works on behalf of standardbred racing owners, trainers, drivers, breeders and associated industry members, and the Ohio Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents owners and trainers who race at Ohio’s three thoroughbred tracks, found ways to make it work.

Overall Ohio’s fairs were negatively impacted last year, however, the standardbred industry came through in a big way for our county and independent fairs. With the ability to race at 66 of our county and independent fairs, a remarkable $5.7 million was provided to Ohio’s fair system in 2020, including $12,000 per racing fair to be used as each fair saw fit.

As for the fans, just like a completely empty football arena or a baseball stadium filled with cardboard cutouts, horse racing simply wasn’t the same without its spectators, but thousands still watched these amazing athletes perform digitally. In total, 81 fair dates and five Saturday night races were live-streamed, reaching almost a million people during the June to October fair season. Horse racing fans tuned in to the live broadcasts from 31 states and 13 countries around the world.

Aside from the resilience to see ways around the toughest challenges our members have ever faced, our organizations are connected in a number of other ways. The solid relationship between Ohio Farm Bureau, OHHA and OHBPA have resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars in support to promote the standardbred and thoroughbred racing industries to Farm Bureau members, fund youth and career programs led by the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation as well as offer annual scholarships for incoming college freshmen pursuing agriculture-related majors.

Through partnerships like these, our organizations will remain out front, no matter how long the race, putting our members and everyone involved in Ohio agriculture in the winner’s circle.