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We ALL Need Horses – Part 1

 “Where in this wide world can man find nobility without pride, friendship without envy, or beauty without vanity? Here where grace is laced with muscle and strength by gentleness confined.” —Ronald Duncan

Since the beginning of man, any culture that found and tamed horses rode to the front of civilization.  They were faster, could move farther and had the muscle to farm the ground.  The horse was a necessity to life whether you lived in the city or country.  Over time, in civilian life, the automobile and train took the place of the horse.  In farming, the tractor and in the military, tanks and trucks.

Just within the last 50 years, our own mountain community had numerous horse breeding farms, boarding facilities, and horseback riding stables, horses in back yards were commonplace, boarding facilities were thriving with boarders, adults and youngsters eager to be with the horses.  When Troutdale in the Pines was in its hay day, horse races were held on Upper Bear Creek Road.

But there is so much more to horses than their utilitarian uses.  Their majesty, beauty, energy, raw reflection of our own energy, connection to the earth.  As Sharon Ralls Lemon states, “The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit and freedom.”  The truth is, the more technology we have and the more urbanized we become, the more critical it is to have horses woven into the fabric of our communities.  No other domestic animal can instantly transport anyone to the present and wash the rest away. 

As we would expect, the U.S. horse community as a whole has morphed and transformed over time.  Horse people understand the necessity of the horse and they are integrated into their lifestyles.  Although, not everyone understands the important of horses in our communities or economy. 

To understand the impact of the equine industry, the American Horse Council in conjunction with The Innovation Group conducted The 2017 Economic Impact Study of the U.S. Horse Industry.  The $122 billion equine industry is a growing segment of the U.S. economy, employing 1.74 million people,

Grazing horses at sunset, plateau Ukok, the junction of Russian, Mongolian and Chinese boarders

The study found that the care, business and recreation surrounding the 7.2 million horses in the country generated $79 billion in total salaries.  Additionally, around 80 million acres of land is reserved for horse-related activities.  In other words, the horse industry is doing well and has an important impact on our communities.

At the same time though, clubs and organizations are losing members, equine events struggle with volunteers and entries, boarding facilities are being sold or are strained by development and water issues, non-horse people are buying horse properties, trail riding struggles with parking and safety.  We are in a “disruption” of our local horse industry, but the disruption does not have to be a bad thing.  If looked at in the right way, a disruption can cause us to re-evaluate and re-organize our existing systems and transition them to succeed in the current climate.  If we want to keep our local horse facilities – public and private, trail access, and open fields adorned with horses, horse people need to respond to the current disruption and not just realize what we had once it’s gone. 

Having horses in our communities enhances the landscape.  When people come to visit the west, they expect to see broad expanses, blue skies, mountains and horses.  Farms and ranches that keep horses and cattle work to care for and steward the land and create a healthy ecosystem.  Those open spaces increase the value of the homes and communities around them.  Check out and join the Equine Land Conservation Resource (elcr.org) for resources regarding trails and horse community models throughout the U.S.

The economic study also found that 38 million, or 30.5%, of U.S. households contain a horse enthusiast, and 38 percent of participants are under the age of 18.  In a recent study in Colorado, 640,000 people that did not have a horse were interested in having an equine experience.  How do we get horses in front of the 30.5%?

It has been scientifically proven that horses help humans physically, mentally and emotionally.  Equine therapy has become a critical treatment and therapy for PTSD, learning disabilities, physically disabilities, emotional and social learning.  Urban and sub-urban communities must be able to be within reach of horses and horse facilities to utilize the benefits of the horse, not have them crowded out for more houses.

What is it going to take to keep the horse woven into the fabric of our communities?  It will take horse people committing to the horse community to keep it healthy.  Disciplines and riding interests need to be set aside, and horse people need to come together as one united community.  We have to see the big picture of the entire horse community that ultimately affects all of us.  We need to get involved, stay informed and show up.

Come back next month to explore solutions and ways to respond to the horse industry disruption and where we go from here.  Please email me at [email protected] to share your ideas.

Heather McWilliams © 2020

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