May 5, 1999 | By: Haven Miller

Thoroughbred horse farms, a cherished symbol of central Kentucky's famed Bluegrass Region, are caught in a land squeeze. As urban development has expanded outward during the last 30 years, horse farms have been forced to shift outward as well -- away from the rich soils so important to raising equine champions.

According to UK's graduating class of fifth-year landscape architects, current trends in urban growth threaten the survival of central Kentucky's thoroughbred industry.

"If we continue to put more and more agricultural lands into the urban service areas, that's going to have an impact on the horse farms," said Jeff Rosiak, landscape architecture student. "With development in its current state, we may someday lose the equine industry."

Rosiak and other members of the fifth-year class conducted a major study of the impact of growth and development on the equine industry. Using existing data from various agencies, the students determined likely growth patterns for the seven-county Bluegrass region (Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Jessamine, Madison, Scott, and Woodford). By overlaying an inventory of critical resources with projected development, the students identified zones that are crucial to the future of both general agriculture and the horse industry.

"Using soils, slope, and other data we identified a core area - we call it the Equine Resource Area - that we need to preserve for the future of the thoroughbred industry," said student Greg Heck, project member. "The hardest part of doing this is going to be changing the community's ideas on how development should take place. We have to make people aware of how important this resource is to the region."

One of the study's findings shows that commercial development doesn't always require the loss of agricultural land.

"There are a number of abandoned, industrial-type areas in the cities that are not being properly utilized," said Rosiak. "We also found there's room for development in the urban service area that's not currently being encouraged."

"We're not saying we shouldn't have development -- you can't have a viable economy without development," said Heck. "But we're saying the equine industry is a huge benefit to central Kentucky, both financially and culturally, and we have to take steps to preserve it."

The students recommend creation of a special planning body to protect the Equine Resource Area. They suggest the method most likely to succeed in preserving agricultural lands is the purchase of development rights (PDR program) from land owners. Lands within areas designated as highest risk should receive highest priority or possible dollar value for inclusion in a protected agricultural zone. New development centers also are encouraged.

The study, which received funding from the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, is the major project of the year for the graduating fifth year landscape architecture students. Although the study's main purpose is educational, it also will serve as a resource for planners and equine industry leaders.

"We've got several ideas on how to use this information," said David Switzer, executive director of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association. "Not only is the project a great learning experience for students, but it shows we are a growing industry. In fact, the study shows we have more thoroughbred horse farms in central Kentucky today than we had 30 years ago."

"I think a lot of the students didn't really understand how the equine industry operated when they began this project, but they've done a marvelous job," said Horst Schach, UK professor of landscape architecture. "The idea of a major project like this is to wrap up everything the students have learned from planning to design, tie it all together in a big picture, and help them leave school on a high note."

Contact: 

Writer: Haven Miller (606) 257-3784

Source: Horst Schach (606) 257-3485