THE NORTH CAROLINA HORSE INDUSTRY
by: Steven Lathrop
N.C.D.A. Horse Marketing Specialist
Horses are a way of life for thousands of people in North Carolina. There is virtually no area of the state where a horse farm is not within a few miles drive. All 100 counties have some type of horse activities. North Carolina has historically been a state with a vibrant horse industry and as other areas of agriculture have begun to decline the horse industry continues to expand in numbers and economic impact. In 1955 when the last USDA census was taken there were 61,000 head of horses in the state. By 1971 that number had climbed to 113,000. The horse industry has gone through great changes. The use of horses on farms for work has declined drastically but the use of horses for pleasure has grown even more. in 1998 the NC Cooperative Extension Service estimated 206,868 head of horses in the state. The 2009 General Assembly released the results of the Economic Impact study showing 306,000 horses and 53,000 horse owning house-holds. The Equine indusrty has an annual economic impact of $1.9 billion dollars in North Carolina.
In addition to large numbers of horses in N.C. the quality of the industry is very high. All major breeds are represented in the state and most can point to National and International Champions as well as high quality breeding stock. North Carolina annually exports horses to foreign countries.
But the horse business is not all business. There are over 25,000 4-H horse projects here and untold numbers of pleasure riders. North Carolina has the 2nd largest 4-H Program in the country and this program helps our youth grow into responsible adults of tomorrow.
Recently, there has been a great migration of horsemen to North Carolina from all over the U.S. Explanations have included the steady growth of horse numbers here, the state's hospitality, the number of major shows within easy driving distance (there are over 500 shows held in the state each year), the low cost of living, and climate.
In 1983, the James B. Hunt Horse Complex was completed in Raleigh and has been booked virtually every week since. Additionally, the Western North Carolina Agricultural Center in Asheville is heavily used by the horse industry throughout the year and now contains two indoor arenas and one covered arena. In 1997, the Senator Bob Martin Eastern North Carolina Agricultural Center was opened in Williamston. The Center contains a 150' x 300' main arena with 400 stalls and plans for additional stables and arenas. In 2007 the General Assembly approved the funding to expand and improve the Martin and Fletcher facilities. That construction is going on now (November, 2009).
There are many equine educational opportunities in North Carolina. North Carolina State University has an outstanding undergraduate program in Animal Science with an emphasis on equine studies. The University also has a large Equine Educational Center located off campus. In addition, the College of Veterinary Medicine at N.C.S.U. is heavily devoted to equine work. For the student interested in a two-year course of study, Martin Community College in Williamston, N.C. has an excellent equine program which includes a large teaching barn and indoor arena. St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, N.C. offers a four-year program in riding and equine studies.
In 1974, the North Carolina Horse Council formed and is an umbrella organization serving as the voice of the horse industry - individual owners, associations, clubs, trail riders, stables, academies, therapeutic groups, veterinarians, research groups, 4-H programs, educational facilities and equine related businesses. The NCHC seeks unity of all facets of the horse industry. The Council addresses and works to solve problems detrimental to the growth of its industry. It also works to keep the horse owner informed of pertinent laws and other equine related information.
The NCHC works to promote favorable legislation for the horse industry and to keep the horse owner informed of changes in laws that affect them. In addition, the council works to help develop and support laws which benefit horse owners in North Carolina. In 1997, the N.C.H.C. was responsible for having an Equine Liability Law passed by the General Assembly. The N.C.H.C. markets liability law signs (they are mandatory under the law) that are available by contacting the state office at 919-821-1030 or through the council's website at http://www.nchorsecouncil.com
The North Carolina State Fair Horse Show is one of the largest all-breed shows in the nation. An average of 2,400 head of horses have competed over the 18 day event during the last five years. The Duke's Children’s Classic Horse Show held every November has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Children’s Hospital at Duke University. World class jumpers compete every year during the Grand Prix Classic.
Many excellent horse related educational events are offered by North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service details can be found at http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/an_sci/extension/horse/hhmain.html . Individuals who aspire to be horse show judges can participate in the Open Horse Show Judges' Certification Clinic held in Raleigh every February. Other educational courses and clinics include the: NC Horse Council Training Clinic; Horse Breeding Management Short Course; Transported Cooled & Frozen Stallion Semen Short Course; Horse Health Care Short Course; Equine Facility Design Short Course; Foaling Management Short Course; Equine Judging Short Course; N.C. Youth Horse Leaders' Training Conference; Sport Horse Medicine Seminar; Equine Forage Management Short Course; Equine Nutrition Short Course; Horse Protection Officer's Short Course. These are advanced level courses with people attending from Texas, West Virginia, Virginia, and other parts of the United States. In addition to the state level courses, there are beginning and intermediate level courses offered by the Extension Service at many local county centers. A number of innovative, educational programs are provided to North Carolina horse owners through the use of trained equine paraprofessionals (REINS volunteers) and the use of interactive two-way television broadcasts through the MCNC network.
There are many critical issues facing the North Carolina horseman. They include loss of areas to ride, zoning laws limiting horse ownership, liability problems of riding stables, waste disposal in urban areas, competing for the recreational dollars (i.e. growth of industry), health problems, such as E.I.A. legislation, and maintaining funding for our existing equine facilities at North Carolina State University (also Veterinary School) and the North Carolina Horse Facilities. Much improvement is especially needed at the horse facility in Raleigh.
While the last 30 years have been growth years for the state's industry, the next 30, by all indications, should be just as successful due to the continued support and encouragement of government - both state and local - for the horse industry. North Carolina is committed to expansion of its attractive and financially stable industry, with its potential for attracting even more horse enthusiasts and activities.