“Invest in the state,” legislators told its horse breeders, “and the state will invest in you.”
So the horse breeders invested. They bought property. They built fences. They built barns. They hired employees. They bought hay and grain. They bought vehicles. They bought veterinary services.
Those are just some of the investments you make when you’re breeding horses. But now it seems as if the state of Indiana may want to back down from its part of the bargain. As we all know, the state is proposing a substantial cut in the amount of money from slots revenues that goes into purses.
That sent shock waves not only through Hoosier horsemen, but throughout the Standardbred world. In recent years, Indiana has become an oasis of opportunity amid a desert of despair in Midwest harness racing. Indiana was the place to breed and race. Maybe the streets weren’t paved with gold, but the winner’s circles at Indiana tracks sure seemed to be paved with gold.
Eastern horse breeders who perhaps thought of Indiana as just another Midwest state filled with fields of corn and beans now looked upon Indiana as a place where they wanted to do business. They spent money on Indiana stallions and at Indiana horse farms, starting the economic engines of the equine industry.
Now it seems as if the state is about to say to its farmers who breed and raise horses: “Gentlemen, stop your engines.”
Farmers know the value of a buck and they know that a budget must be balanced, but a program that has enjoyed so much success and engendered so much investment in Indiana doesn’t seem like the place to cut. Only legislators, however, can make that call.
Over the past few years, I’ve watched the Indiana miracle with great pride. I went to the Indiana State Fair to see Grand Circuit harness racing for the first time in 1962, and went back many years thereafter. I’ve been to many county fairs in the Hoosier State, from Corydon to Converse and places in between. In fact, I met Indiana legislator and racing official Richard “Pete” Beck at the Converse fairgrounds 41 years ago. Seems like only yesterday.
Indiana has always produced great horses and great horsemen, but for decades it lagged behind other Midwestern states in its purses. That’s why the best horses and horsemen had to leave the state to practice their profession.
That’s all changed in recent years, as the best Hoosier horsemen are now “back home in Indiana” and many others are trying to get a foothold there, too. Indiana once was the poor country cousin of harness racing in the American Midwest, overshadowed by the success of racing in Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan.
In recent years, however, the surrounding states have languished while Indiana has blossomed. The state has a racing commission that takes rules and regulation seriously and two modern tracks. It seemed on the verge of bigger and better things before the proposed cutback hit like a punch to the solar plexus.
Horse breeders are like other people who work in America’s agricultural communities. They face uncertainty every day. They cannot control the weather. Disease often strikes despite a farmer’s best efforts. I’ve often thought the lyrics of a Jerry Jeff Walker song describe a farmer’s plight so perfectly.
"You trust the moon to move the mighty ocean. You trust the sun to shine upon the land. You take the little that you know, and you do the best you can, and you leave the rest to the quiet faith of man."
Indiana’s horse breeders trust the moon and the sun, and they had faith in the state government that offered them reasons for investment. I hope that their faith is justified. A horse breeding program that was going full-speed ahead may slip into reverse gear.
Will the state’s most beloved song remain “Back Home In Indiana” or will it become “Backwards In Indiana”?
Editor's Note: The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.