The Aiken Standard: Guest column: Rural communities need S.C. Equine Advancement Act
South Carolina has a rich history deeply intertwined with its agrarian and equine heritage, as the equine industry has played a pivotal role in shaping the state’s identity. For generations, South Carolina has been a magnet for horse owners and enthusiasts alike, thanks to its favorable climate and soil conditions, which have made it an ideal location for horse training and rehabilitation.
However, in recent years, South Carolina’s equine industry has faced stiff competition from neighboring states, resulting in a decline that has had cascading effects on jobs and the economic impact within the broader agribusiness sector. Many neighboring states in the Southeast have stepped up their game, offering attractive incentives to the equine community and larger purses at horse events, while South Carolina’s horse industry has struggled to keep pace. This decline has been particularly pronounced in the more rural areas of the state.
This downward trajectory in South Carolina’s equine industry has set off a ripple effect, adversely affecting the agribusiness industry. As the demand for hay, land and other agricultural resources associated with the equine sector diminishes, the livelihoods of countless individuals and businesses within this ecosystem hang in the balance.
Recognizing the urgency of this issue, legislators acted in 2023 by introducing companion bills in both the House and Senate. These bills, collectively known as the South Carolina Equine Advancement Act, aim to rejuvenate South Carolina’s equine industry by permitting advance deposit wagering on equine events in South Carolina and across the country. The innovative legislation also establishes a grant program expressly designed to support the growth and development of the state’s equine community, ensuring that a portion of every wager is reinvested directly into the industry.
The positive impact of the S.C. Equine Advancement Act is far-reaching, benefiting not only professional and recreational horse sports but also the broader network of individuals and businesses that rely on the equine industry. This includes farriers, trainers, stable hands, farmers, tack and feed stores, training facilities, large animal veterinarians, high school and collegiate 4-H programs, prison-to-work initiatives, nonprofits and many other South Carolina-based horse service providers.
The consequences of the equine industry’s decline are especially stark in rural communities like Kingstree and Elloree, which once had bustling horse communities that provided jobs and good wages. These communities are now grappling with economic challenges, while other areas, such as Aiken and Myrtle Beach, benefit from greater opportunities for outside investment.
Without the influx of external investments or the ability to generate revenue from the historically profitable equine industry, rural communities in South Carolina will continue to struggle to attract and retain well-paying jobs for their residents, many of whom have deep roots in the Palmetto State.
This is why the S.C. Equine Advancement Act is so important. It offers an innovative solution that can kickstart economic growth in South Carolina’s agrarian communities by injecting much-needed revenue to reinvigorate rural economies across the state.
The urgency of the situation cannot be overstated. South Carolina is missing out on opportunities to bolster a key industry that sustains nearly 30,000 primarily rural jobs across the state. Meanwhile, our neighboring states are making significant strides in the world of equine sports and wagering. North Carolina, for instance, legalized sports betting, including horse wagering, in June of 2023, and the Georgia Legislature is actively pursuing gaming legislation as well.
These policy developments in neighboring states could further tip the scales against South Carolina’s already struggling equine industry.
As a passionate horse enthusiast and owner, I want South Carolina’s equine industry not only survive but thrive within the Palmetto State. If we fail to act now in helping our state’s horse ecosystem regain its competitive edge, the many benefits of what was once a vibrant horse economy and community here may continue to dwindle and, in the worst-case scenario, disappear altogether.
The time to act is now, to ensure that South Carolina’s rich equine heritage remains a source of pride, prosperity, and opportunity for generations to come.