Growing the Horse Industry

This school assignment I recently stumbled upon from my Grade Two year could have almost been a time capsule letter to myself.

This school assignment I recently stumbled upon from my Grade Two year could have almost been a time capsule letter to myself.

After a visit to my mother’s this week, I stumbled upon something that absolutely stopped me in my tracks. My mom – a lady known for her inability to throw anything away that might have sentimental value – had kept the above paper assignment I had written in Grade Two. Of course, I didn’t remember the assignment and hadn’t thought a thing about it, until I found the paper.

What really surprised me about it all was the fact that I know I’ve wanted a life in horses and agriculture since I was a young girl – I just didn’t realize how long I’ve wanted that life.

Close-up

A close-up of my school assignment.

I grew up in town. Miles away from the opportunity of horses.

Now with a career in horses, I used to be afraid to admit that fact at times. Growing up my family couldn’t afford horses and obviously, we had no place to keep one. But for some reason, those circumstances made me hungrier and more determined to get to them. At age 13, my best friend gave me my first horse for Christmas and that’s when I felt like life really took off. Now after 15 solid years of “paying the bills” with an equine career, numerous personal accomplishments with them and the opportunity to raise my own children in the equine industry, I finally feel like I have achieved my childhood dream.

This brings me to an important point that really resonated with me upon attending the Horse Breeders & Owners Conference in Red Deer, Alberta this past weekend. Many industry updates were brought to my attention during the conference but one major shift in our world however, has left me reeling and losing sleep at night.

The Alberta horse industry is in decline.

And I’m not talking about one specific discipline, sport, association, breed nor group of people. Our entire sector is dropping in numbers every year. Just take a look at show entries, competition numbers, lost events or participation statistics in nearly every discipline over the course of the last year, if you want proof of my words.

At this year’s conference, my husband Clay was invited to sit in on the Panel Discussion that tackled the subject of “Strategies to Grow the Horse Industry.”

A tough issue to crack in 50 minutes.

However, after listening to all the valuable insight from the panelists (you can find more about them here), my brain started swirling with many other ideas. Since it appears to me that no one demographic or target group has really been identified as the area to focus our efforts on, my thoughts touch upon people of all ages and groups at this point. So if you’ve got a few minutes, here is my 9-Point Plan for growing the horse industry. And as always, if you have any positive feedback to add to the conversation, by all means drop me a comment below!

Our kids in a "Pony Tea Party." Photo by Natalie Jackman, www.have-dog.com

Our kids in a “Pony Tea Party.” Photo by Natalie Jackman, www.have-dog.com

1. Find ways to suggest and facilitate a safe horse introduction to children of preschool age. Plant the seed that might get a young child hooked for life. During Orientation Day, the teachers at our kids’ preschool learned that Clay and I are involved in horses. And before our children had even started going to preschool, the teachers asked us if we’d be interested in bringing a horse to the school for “Bring Your Pet to School Day.” We most certainly will be finding a way to accommodate that request when the time comes.

2. Horse Reading Programs. Check out panelist Gary Millar’s website here. This is absolutely brilliant! Other programs in North America too, have had great success for increasing literacy by bringing a group of school children to a barn and having them read to horses.

3. Elementary Enhancement Hours. In grades four through six, I loved Friday afternoons. School was let out early and the entire afternoon was devoted to enhancement programs that students were allowed to choose for themselves. Everything from cooking to sewing to fishing and horses were offered. You can probably guess what I chose.

I don’t know how public elementary school systems work anymore (I’m sure I will soon find out), but if the same kinds of options were offered to children these days, I think we’d have an entrance point into horses that society couldn’t ignore. My equine enhancement hours offered an entire semester of Friday afternoons devoted to the theory and discussion of horses. And the reward at the end of the curriculum was a chance to actually go out to our teacher’s barn and groom, lead and touch his horse. There absolutely was no better opportunity for kids who didn’t have horses, to get their feet wet, than that.

4. Better Promotion of the Family Health Aspects, Horses Offer. If society could understand how well horses serve to protect teens from becoming/being victims of bullying or depression, I truly believe more programs would start popping up in this vein. OR what about the fact that horses could potentially help to steer young kids away from drugs? If more households realized the power of a horse, they might view them as a priceless investment early on, instead of as a “hayburner” in the moment.

Secondly, families who ride together have common bonds, outside of blood connections. Some families go camping, some families take vacations. There’s nothing wrong with that! However, a family who enjoys horses together may realize more opportunities to spend time with one another – after work and school, on weekends and during the summer.

5. Get in the Lead Line Class! If you’re a grandparent or a parent with the opportunity to bring a little one to a horse show – do it! Provided the horse you have is a safe one and the child is wearing a properly fitted helmet, lead line classes are often the highlight of an event. And typically (if the experience is a good one), the child carried through a lead line class will be ecstatic for days afterwards.

6. Help Other Trainers/Professionals Grow Their Programs. My hubby has several alliances with trainers throughout Alberta, BC, Saskatchewan and the United States. He knows trainers who specialize in all disciplines and all levels of riders. If he has a customer who comes into our barn but is looking for something he can’t offer, Clay will give them as good of an honest recommendation that he can. Some of those other trainers out there will in turn, bring Clay to their facilities to conduct clinics, or recommend our stud, our prospects, etc. It often goes full circle but Clay must first be willing to help other professionals if we want to grow our industry.

7. Put the Horse Industry Into a Job/Career Fair, or Two. Lately I’ve really been pondering whether or not young people of college/university age seriously consider the horse industry to be a viable career choice. Do young people realize that being a farrier is a career option? Do they understand that you can make a living as a trainer? Do they even know that being a feedlot rider is a job?

8. Keep the Young University / College Age Kids In the Horse Industry. I’ll be honest – I’ve got nothing for you here. If anyone has advice for me in this category, I’m all ears. There is beauty in owning your own business and one that involves horses has so many perks. But it takes a TON of initiative, working through long low-paying hours and the unstoppable will to succeed.

9. A United Front. My hubby and I both think we need to offer more of a “United Front” as horse professionals, to promote our industry. This includes individuals of all disciplines. We may all ride in completely different worlds, but we all have the horse in common. And if we want to create a better future for our industry we need to come together. Now.

 

Comments

  1. Love this post…we have 2 preschool aged daughters (we breed QH) and i absolutely agree getting youth involved is where it’s at. Horse camps, lessons, donate a horse for a Lead line class that doesn’t have one, invite a class to your barn for show and tell. I truly believe kids need a passion (be it horses, sports etc.)

  2. I live in Southeastern MA, and I have been taking my grandson to riding lessons for the pat 8 years. He does barrel racing. The problem that needs to be addresed I feel is the lack of commercial interest as far as boys are concerned. Go to any store in this area and try to buy a toy designated for a boy. Even Breyer horses always have girl riders. It treated like a girly sport. If more attention was given to young boys and men riding it might help getting more people interested.

  3. Really nice timing. Wishing best of best

  4. Great article Jenn.I am both saddened and surprised to learn of the decline in the entire horse industry.
    Where I came from the biggest $$ was in horse racing at the track.However there were other competitions and even the Royal Winter Fair.
    I like your suggestions but I have nothing to suggest to attract teenagers and older to a career in the horse industry.
    My best to you all!

  5. Love this article Jenn! Well written. See you guys in April.

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