HORSE INDUSTRY PRESS CLIPPINGS

The following article appeared today in the Charlottesville Daily Progress and the Richmond Times Dispatch.
Horses are $1.2 billion industry in Virginia

By Brian McNeill – Media General News Service

While the number of farms in Virginia decreased between 1997 and 2007, the number of farms with horses climbed to 13,520 from 10,972, helping to stave off what would have been a far greater loss of Virginia’s farmland.

The trend is among the key findings of a new study on the economic impact of the state’s horse industry conducted by the University of Virginia’s Center for Economic and Policy Studies at the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

“Based on National Agricultural Statistics Service data, horse ownership has been increasing,” economist Terance Rephann, the study’s author, said. “We show that attendance at horse events and the number and variety of shows and competitions has increased, as well. However, the parimutuel racing component has been hard hit in recent years.”

The state’s horse industry has an annual economic impact of $1.2 billion and accounted for 16,091 jobs in 2010, according to the study.

The equine industry generated about $65.3 million in state and local taxes in 2010, with $37.5 million heading into the state’s coffers and $27.8 million going to localities.

Horse owners in Virginia spend about $873 million each year on horse-related expenditures, including feed, bedding, boarding, training, tack, capital improvements and labor. With an estimated 215,000 horses in the state, these expenses come to an average of $4,060 per horse.

There were just shy of 1,200 horse shows and events in Virginia in 2010, generating roughly $25 million in revenue. The estimated attendance of Virginia’s horse shows and competitions in 2010 was 934,000, with nearly 46 percent of attendees drawn from the event’s locality, 40 percent from elsewhere in Virginia and 14 percent from other states.

“The horse industry brings a lot of tourists into the state,” said Elaine Lidholm of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. “It can be anything from a 4-H pony club to a major international event at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington.”

Not all aspects of Virginia’s equine industry, however, are galloping along at a breakneck pace.

“Honestly, business is not so good,” said Diana Dodge, a show horse breeder and owner of Nokomis Farm in Montpelier Station in Orange County, where the equine industry employed 268 and generated $511,381 in tax revenue last year.

Over the last seven or eight years, she said, horse buyers have often chosen to purchase horses from Europe, where a superior registration system generally details horses’ lineage better than in the U.S.

“It’s made it tougher for all of us breeding horses,” she said. “We don’t have a very good system in this country.”

As Rephann noted, the state’s horse racing and betting industry is also struggling.

Virginia’s racing industry saw significant growth until 2007, when it took a sharp downturn in attendance and wagering because of competitive pressures and lower consumer spending amidst the recession, according to the report.

Attendance at Colonial Downs during the thoroughbred and harness seasons was 74,000 in 2010, with 9.9 percent of attendees residing locally, 79.5 percent coming from elsewhere in Virginia and 10.6 percent from outside the state.

Plus, attendance at the eight off-track betting operations where data were available was about 325,000, with 32.6 percent of attendees living in the same locality as the facility’s location, 45.3 percent coming from elsewhere in Virginia and 22.1 percent from out of state.

Growth in the horse industry’s other two key sectors — horse farm operations and horse shows and competitions — led to an overall increase in the state’s horse population since 2001-02, according to the report.

Overall, Virginia ranks as the 12th state in number of horses, according to estimates made for the American Horse Council, as of 2005. Texas, California and Florida were the top three, respectively.

In addition to the study’s key statistical findings, Rephann said, the report underscores the agricultural transformation of Virginia and the role played by horses.

“Many farms that were formerly used exclusively for livestock and crops are now being used to keep horses,” he said. “In lots of instances, the farmland is coming under urbanization pressures as residents migrate out to exurban areas and the farmland is being used increasingly for recreational purposes.”

The Weldon Cooper study was commissioned by the Virginia Horse Industry Board for $61,630.