Nearly a decade after the Great Recession began in December 2007 and economically decimated the equine industry, some researchers claim it is poised for a rebound. Still, some in the industry argue that the economic outlook is not as rosy as it might appear.
Between 2007 and 2016, some owners grappled with high financial costs associated with keeping their horses fed and cared for. As a result, some horses were relinquished to rescues, others were seized in criminal proceedings, and still more were sold. Horse show participation diminished and horse keeping consumable purchase plummeted.
A report recently published by the market research firm Packaged Facts suggests the U.S. equine products and services market registered a negative overall growth rate (-2.7%) between 2012 and 2016. Horse registrations in major breed associations fell to 140,000 in 2013 from a high of 328,000 in 2002, the report said.
However, the report indicates that at the industry’s economy appears to be leveling off. The report says the American Horse Publications’ 2015 Equine Industry Survey showed that 70.6% of respondents own or manage the same number of horses they did in 2014, while 88.6% expected to own or manage the same number or more in 2016.
Even so, Tawnee Preisner, founder of the Horse Plus Humane Society, which has facilities in California, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, doesn’t believe the report’s findings jibe with reality, at least in the short term.
Since the beginning of 2017, Horse Plus has hosted a series of “One-Day Open Door Shelters,” which allow owners to surrender animals without cost and provide no-cost euthanasia and disposal serves. To date, hundreds of horses have gone through the events, she said, “so, I don’t see that there are fewer horses in need of rescue.”
Jennifer Williams, PhD, president of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, in College Station, Texas, agrees.
“I hope the horse industry is rebounding,” she said, “but we are busier than we’ve been in years.”
Meanwhile, Arabian horse breeder and trainer Jill Girardi-Thomas thinks there’s reason to be optimistic. She said that at a pair of recent Arabian horse events, one animal sold for $1.6 million while another mare fetched $45,000.
She credits improvement in the overall economy with the uptick in the industry’s high-end market, and she expects the rest of the industry to catch up.
“People in the high-end equine industry felt confident enough to shop, but I haven’t seen it trickle down to the lower end of the industry,” Girardi-Thomas added.
Even so, some at that level of the industry are seeing some light at the end of the economic tunnel.
“We are getting somewhat higher adoption fees than we did for the last few years, and 2016 was the best year we’ve had financially (partly because) our fundraisers did better than they’ve done in the past,” Williams said. “That could be because the economy is picking up, and hopefully 2017 will be even better.”