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Infrastructure helps state horse industry have $1.2 billion impact

RICHMOND—Virginia’s horse industry has an annual economic impact of $1.2 billion, according to study findings announced March 17 by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The study was prepared by the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service and funded by the Virginia Horse Industry Board.

"The equine industry’s influence is felt in all parts of the state," said WCC Regional Economist

Dr. Terance Rephann. "We see a very positive effect on jobs, recreation, tourism, retail sales and state and local taxation."

Virginia has "a rich history and a long legacy of great horses, famous horsemen and horsewomen, ideal conditions and resources for raising horses and an established infrastructure for a variety of equine activities," said Spencer Neale, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. "All of this, coupled with our large population base, is what allows the industry to generate such significant economic activities."

The largest areas of economic impact continue to be in Northern Virginia, with more than 1,600 horse-related jobs in Fauquier and Loudoun counties. The largest employment impact is in Rockbridge Country, home to the Virginia Horse Center. More than 1,330 jobs are industry-related in Lexington and Buena Vista.

"The horse industry in Virginia generates $65.3 million in state and local taxes," Rephann said, "with more than 50 percent of that figure representing state taxes."

The study found that horse owners spend $873 million annually on horse-related expenses—including feed and bedding, boarding, training, tack, capital improvements and labor. That averages $4,060 per horse.

Nearly 1,200 horse shows and events were held in Virginia in 2010, generating $25 million in revenue, and about 939,000 people attended Virginia horse shows and competitions last year. Out-of-state participants spent an average of $3,100 per event.

Virginia has an estimated 215,000 horses, ponies and mules and some 41,000 equine operations. The commonwealth is ranked 12th nationwide for the number of horses. The 2007 Census of Agriculture found that, while the number of farms in Virginia decreased between 1997 and 2007, the number of farms with horses increased from 10,972 to 13,520.

The post-2007 economic downturn has had an impact on the equine industry, both in Virginia and nationwide, Neale noted. "A large percentage of horses are owned and kept for pleasure, and many of the related expenses beyond feed, veterinary care and pasturing or stabling are somewhat discretionary. However, the Virginia horse industry is here to stay; it is an ingrained and important part of our economy and our agricultural heritage and—like all economic sectors—experiences cyclical ups and downs."

Contact Neale at 804-290-1128 or Elaine Lidholm, VDACS communications director, at 804-786-7686.

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