Horses big business in West Virginia


MORGANTOWN, Va. – It is big. It is spreading. But, according to West Virginia University experts, that is all great news.

The experts’ preliminary assessment isn’t a medical report.

But it is a health checkup, one that turned out to be a healthy report about West Virginia’s multimillion dollar equine industry.

Study. The checkup, formally known as the West Virginia Equine Economic Impact Study, is providing baseline economic data for and about a group of small businesses not generally considered “an industry” in this state. That’s changing.

Previously quiet and almost invisible, the horse industry is stepping forward to claim its mantle as a major force within West Virginia’s economy. Running unmonitored – until now – was the “general-use” equine sector.

Family centered. Maintaining 49,000 horses for pleasure and non-racing businesses, this family-centered business sector annually sustains 7,400 jobs and generates an estimated $173.2 million within West Virginia.

“Many individuals and businesses across the state of West Virginia directly attribute all or part of their income and profits to the equine industry,” reported Jean Woloshuk, co-chair of the economic impact study.

“These businesses include horse breeders, trainers, boarding facilities, veterinarians, farm managers, truck and trailer dealers, blacksmiths, feed dealers, and horse equipment store owners.”

Industries. But the economic benefits expand into other industries.

“Lodging and restaurant establishments located near equestrian activities and events experience a huge influx of customers, as do other retail businesses,” Woloshuk said.

Time spent. Researchers discovered that the group annually spends more than 20,500 days enjoying some type of equine activity.

About 75 percent of that time is spent in West Virginia.

An eye-opening figure for David Hughes, West Virginia University Extension Service economist, is the number of days specific interests are pursued in facilities beyond the Mountain State.

For example, only 44 percent of those pursuing the English disciplines remained inland, therefore, kept their dollars in West Virginia.

Race horses. The equine economic picture is still incomplete. Hughes cautioned that the report’s calculations have yet to factor in dollars and other data from the industry’s more visible sector: the racing industry. That part of the baseline checkup is still under way.

Hughes, who shares committee chair duties with Woloshuk, said that the racing sector’s figures should markedly increase the industry’s final economic tally.

As high-maintenance animals, race horses generally generate far more dollars.


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