WASHINGTON – Maryland horse owners and breeders are hailing a first-ever equine “census,” released today, that showed there are 79,000 horses in the state and about 38,000 people who work with those horses.
Before the Maryland Department of Agriculture survey of the industry this fall, no one knew how many people were involved in the horse industry, how much it was worth or even knew how many horses there were.
“We were just invisible,” said Tracy McKenna, a horse owner and managing editor of Equiery, a monthly horse magazine.
The report’s initial findings said there were 87,100 horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and burros in the state. The majority, 79,000, were horses and 34,800 of those were racehorses.
The survey also said that about 38,000 people claimed to earn at least part of their living working directly with horses in the state and that the industry had assets of over $5.2 billion, which included land, buildings, equipment and the animals themselves.
The numbers came not as a surprise, but as a validation to people in the industry who have felt the importance of their industry has been largely hidden in the past.
“It was difficult to make an intelligent statement to anyone interested in how big the industry was,” said Gregory W. Gingery, chairman of the Maryland Horse Industry Board that commissioned the study.
The figures will serve as a baseline for marketing and lobbying, and will help the state and private groups formulate plans to deal with equine disease outbreaks.
“This really is the bedrock piece of information that a great many people have been looking for,” Gingery said.
Before the census, horse and business owners relied on incomplete surveys and their own knowledge to lobby legislators or to plan marketing strategies.
“There were no set numbers. You just sort of knew the industry,” said Kitsi Christmas, an equine insurance agent since 1982. “So many people who are not in the industry do not understand how big the business is.”
Exactly how big is still uncertain: State officials have yet to release most economic figures from the survey. But Gingery said the impact on the Maryland economy could be between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.
“This is one of the largest agricultural industries in the state, and the expenditures go on in a lot of non-agricultural ways,” Gingery said. “The effect is staggering.”
McKenna said she believes solid census figures will also prod the state to invest in research on diseases that affect horses, like West Nile virus. Until now, there has been little incentive for the state to do so, she said.
Because it is the first census, it cannot show changes over time in different sectors of the industry, such as whether pleasure riding is up or horse racing is down. Those changes will not be clear until the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service updates the census figures, which may be two to four years in coming, said state statistician Norman Bennett.
Maryland’s numbers cannot be accurately compared to national statistics, because the U.S. Department of Agriculture does not track horses, Bennett said. The most recent national survey, published by the American Horse Council in 1996, said 6.9 million horses nationwide helped contribute $112.1 billion to the U.S. economy.
The complete Maryland census, including economic information and statistics broken down by county level and breed, should be out within a month, said Bennett.
For now, the census is filling a gap of uncertainty for the industry.
“It’s proof that we are a viable and strong industry in the state and that it matters,” McKenna said. “Now the Maryland horse industry will get the respect it deserves.”