Impact of the Horse Industry on the U.S. Economy
Learning about the impact of the horse industry on the US economy has been eye opening. There are many equestrians in each state of the union – all influencing the economy both directly and indirectly. I wanted to dig deeper on the impact in my home state of South Carolina.
University of South Carolina researchers recently received a grant in the amount of $46,500 in order to determine how much of the approximately $122 billion in economic impact from the horse industry is based in SC. “The new six-month study will show how each segment of the equine industry (racing, sport, ranch/work, guide and recreation) contributes to the economy as well as the rich cultural fabric of South Carolina. The data will be used to inform future policy and business discussions” according to the University’s website. This six-month study was announced in October 2018 and while we await the imminent results I was able to locate data from years past discussing equine economic impacts in South Carolina.
In South Carolina where horses were estimated in numbers around 90,000[i] in 2012 the horse industry has a $1 billion impact.[ii] This horse related economic activity tends to cluster in rural areas as well as in key historically equestrian counties. Aiken County, where Aiken, SC is located, and Kershaw County, where Camden, SC is located, both see vast equine economic activity.
In Aiken, a city with horse history stretching back 145 years and a population of 29,300, records show 6,785 horses[iii] – that’s one horse for every four people. The majority of equines in Aiken, SC are thoroughbreds (32%) and quarter horses (22%) with the cost of each equine averaging out to $5,002 with the most valuable breed, the warmblood, recorded at a value of $17,907.[iv] Recognizing the importance of the equine industry, the “Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce established an Equine Steering Committee with the goal to preserve, support and grow the equine industry in Aiken County.”[v] In addition, the University of South Carolina Aiken was commissioned to create a survey to gauge the economic impact of the equine industry on the county. This study found an annual impact of $72 million creating 1,800 jobs (in 2009).[vi] With numbers like these it is not surprising to find that the equine industry is Aiken’s third largest industry as reported in the Aiken Standard in 2009.
Similarly, Camden, SC has a storied past with horses and horse people. Known as the “Steeplechase Capital of the World,” Camden is also the home of the South Carolina Equine Park – a “major economic driver. Since opening in 2009, an average of 30 weekends have been booked each year, consistently producing an economic impact of more than $4 million dollars annually”[vii] according to the park’s website. All of this equine activity opens the doors for retailers to supply equine products. The Tack Room in Camden is the third largest retailer in town (behind Walmart and Lowes).[viii]
In addition to the historically horsey towns of Aiken and Camden, little Elloree, SC (population 695 in 2011) can claim the horse industry as its second biggest employer after Food Lion.[ix] Many Landrum, SC establishments sport “Boots and Breeches Always Welcome” stickers to welcome equestrian dollars into their businesses, while Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head, SC reach for a slice of the equine economy with trail rides catered to their ever-present tourists. It only takes a moment to stop and notice the seemingly endless ways the horse industry effects the economy both in SC and the country as a whole.