Chester County Ag Notes: Our Equine Industry

---photo via Pennsylvanian Equestrian.

Drive anywhere in Chester County and you will see horses grazing in pastures. It is widely acknowledged that the equine industry plays a major role in the economy and culture of Chester County. Horses contribute to the quality of life not only for the many horse owners but also for those who participate in local and national events from the huge Devon Horse Show to local competitions.                                    

Some of the largest and most influential thoroughbred breeders and several internationally renowned Olympic and international riders are based here. Yet most of the horse owners have only a couple of horses and enjoy riding locally and participating in local equestrian events.                                                                   

A further article will indicate some of the stellar breeders and horse event riders who are based in Chester County, so this article will provide an overview of our flourishing and valuable equine industry.                                                                          

 The topography, soil and well distributed (normally!) rainfall provide the perfect environment for horses and equestrian activities most of the year. The gentle contours of the land and good grazing are exemplified in the old King Ranch area in the center of the county. Many of the leading stables are in Unionville and further west around Cochranville. Over the years much of this land has been preserved so that equine activities can continue to exist. Horses need pasture for grazing and land for exercising so maintaining this open land base is critical to maintaining the valuable equine industry in our county.                                                

Horses need pasture for grazing and land for exercising so maintaining this open land base is critical to maintaining the valuable equine industry in our county.                                                

While most horse owners do have some land for their horses, there are many boarding stables for horse owners who do not own land where their horses can be kept, fed and looked after.                                                                                                                              

Our equine industry is large enough to have an infrastructure to provide the wide range of services and products required to support the variety of equestrian activities. It is said that a horse owner will spend more on maintaining their horses than for the initial investment of buying their horses.                                                                                          

 Feed and stabling are usually the highest expenses. Horses are typically 800 to over 1,000 lbs. in weight and need to consume 2 to 2.5% of their body weight in feed each day of which 1% should be high-quality hay or pasture grasses.                                 

Good quality hay is challenging to produce as weather conditions play a critical role. Our local farmers produce large quantities of hay with the top quality for horses and the lower quality being able to be used for mushroom compost. Horses prefer to live outside even in the winter but they must still have a stable where they can feed and rest. Horse health is also critical and Chester County has several excellent equine veterinarian practices and the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center outside Kennett Square is probably the leading veterinarian college, research center and hospital, particularly for horses, in the country.

Horse’s hooves need continual attention so once again the large critical mass of horses has attracted some of the best farriers (blacksmiths!) in the country.  Dental care is a further necessary cost.                                                        

Horse owners are able to benefit from the proximity of the large local mushroom industry which is delighted to be able to have access to the horse manure. This helps horse owners dispose of the horse manure and so helps them meet soil and water conservation regulations. So there is a strong interconnection between local farmers for the supply of hay and our large mushroom producers and their constant need for horse manure for their critical compost.                                                                          

There are many local feed and tack stores offering a range of horse feed and other supplies and the saddles, reins, boots and clothing needed by horse owners participating at all levels of equestrian activity. There are ongoing costs to maintain fences, stables, barns etc. and expenses incurred in traveling to events. Finally labor has to be employed by the boarding, breeding and training stables.  Virtually all these expenses are spent locally so the horse owner is supporting local farmers, veterinarians, farriers, feed and tack suppliers and any employed labor.                                                                                                                                             

Many nearby states have carried out economic impact analyses recently on their equine industries. They have shown a thriving industry that generates a lot of economic activity and creates a wide range of recreational activities. The last one carried out in Pennsylvania was in 2003 and found that “Pennsylvania’s equine economy, in nearly every way, is bigger than Kentucky’s) and larger than nearly every other state’s.”

The Chester Delaware County Farm Bureau is sponsoring an economic impact analysis of the equine industry in south eastern Pennsylvania which is being carried out by DelVal University. It is hoped that will confirm that horse owners do make an extremely valuable contribution to our economy as well as providing recreational opportunities that enhance the quality of our lives.

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