Polk County leads North Carolina in horses per capita

Published 4:20 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Polk is also ranked 29th in the value of its equine population with an estimated total value&bsp; of $23,395,000. Polk ranks first for the value of the equine inventory per capita.

Not surprisingly, Polk County is highlighted numerous times throughout the state&squo;s equine survey, which was ordered by the N.C. General Assembly in 2007. The study, completed by the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, examines the scope of the industry to &dquo;determine whether proposed investments to grow the industry would likely bring a reasonable return to the state&squo;s economy.&dquo;

The study notes that North Carolina lags behind other states, such as Kentucky and Virginia, in supporting the equine industry.

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To grow equine-related business opportunities in North Carolina, the state makes eight specific recommendations:

&ull; Create an equine industry commission

The commission would complete a facilities needs assessment and reports to the General Assembly.

&ull; Conduct a feasibility and site selection study for a mega horse park

At least nine states have or are considering building major horse parks.

&ull; Invest in existing facilities

The study quotes one horse expert who says, &dquo;North Carolina could be the dominant horse state on the East Coast with proper investment in facilities.&dquo;

&ull; Consider the reinstitution of parmutuel wagering

In other states, parmutuel betting supports incentives to breed more horses in the state.

&ull; Allocate more funding for equine health research

Funds could be used to help retain top faculty and support research at N.C. State University&squo;s College of Veterinary Medicine and make infrastructure improvements at the school and the Equine Research Center in Southern Pines.

&ull; Bolster marketing efforts

Currently, North Carolina does not have specific marketing products for the equine industry.

&ull; Preserve land and open space

The General Assembly could appropriate funds to build equestrian trails in state parks and develop a&bsp; program for open space preservation for horse farms.

&ull; Revise tax laws and regulations to ensure that horse farms may be taxed as agricultural property.

The General Assembly could revise tax laws to clarify that all portions of a horse farm qualify to be taxed as agricultural property, whether it is a breeding, training or pleasure riding facility.

According to the industry study, North Carolina has 53,095 equine-owning households or operations with a total of 306,210 equine, up 40 percent since 1983 and 70 percent since 1915.

The equine population in the state is currently valued at $1.86 billion with an average of $7,266 per equine.

The breakdown by usage is as follows: 40 percent are kept for recreation and trail riding, 17 percent are show animals, 10 percent are used primarily for breeding, 7 percent are used for work, 3 percent for racing and the remainder include retired and companion animals.

The average equine operation in the state has 5.8 equine and 40 acres of land. The study also estimates that 2.1 million acres are in equine operations in North Carolina.

The annual economic impact of the industry is estimated at $1.9 billion with $196 million in federal, state and local taxes paid by the industry. The study estimates 19,183 jobs in equine-related businesses in the state.

The industry study also provides information on the characteristics of equine owners.

&dquo;Owning equine is expensive, but it is not a rich person&squo;s hobby,&dquo; says the study. &dquo;Forty-three percent of owners had household incomes below $85,000; 21 percent had household incomes below $55,000.

&dquo;Some equine owners profit from their passion. Most do not. In 2007, the average gross receipts for equine owners came to $23,903, with the stallion fees and racing purses being the largest sources of income.&dquo;

The study does not estimate the number of equine-related jobs or taxes paid in each county. However, the Polk Counnty Economic Development Office says it has documented 400 equine industry businesses employing approximately 2,000 people in the county.

The industry study does cite equine assets and activities in counties, including Polk, as examples of what is happening in the industry. The study lists FENCE as one of four &dquo;major equestrian assets&dquo; in the state.

The following is a summary of the information in the study relating to Polk County.

For Polk County, horses are the signature industry and showing strong growth.

Polk County is home to Foothills Equestrian Nature Center, Harmon Field (394-acre recreational area with equestrian trails), Bright&squo;s Creek (5,000 acre residential development with equestrian center), White Oak (golf and equestrian community), two trail systems, Foothills Equestrian Trail Association, Collinsville Equestrian Trail Association, Tryon Riding and Hunt Club and Green Creek Hounds.

The Polk County Economic Development Advisory Board has officially designated the equine industry as the primary industry to recruit and retain.

Information on FENCE

Foothills Equestrian Nature Center (FENCE) in Tryon has operated a nonprofit organization since 1984. The 394-acre property spans North and South Carolina.

In 2007, about 65,000 people visited and participated in events at FENCE. Additionally, the nature center serves (free of charge) about 8,000 school children from five counties and two states. FENCE also provides therapeutic riding programs for children and adults through the T.R.O.T program (Therapeutic Riding of Tryon).

Associated with the nonprofit organization, FENCE operates a for-profit equestrian center. The facility hosts events sanctioned under the following national and local organizations: United States Equestrian Federation, United States Eventing Associations,&bsp; United States Dressage Federation,&bsp; National Steeplechase Association, Carriage Driving Association,&bsp; Blue Ridge Hunter Jumper Association, Progressive Show Jumping Association, North Carolina Hunter Jumper Association, South Carolina Hunter Jumper Association,&bsp; Georgia Hunter Jumper Association.

Facilities include 11 barns, four show rings, one covered arena, steeplechase and cross-country courses and 302 permanent stalls. These facilities are operated by six employees. Most work is performed with general farm management skills. FENCE has identified a future expansion need and developed a cost estimate for a new &dquo;Jim Cockman Memorial Building.&dquo; The 10,000-square-foot expansion is projected to cost $1.2 million (the building is in the FENCE five-year plan and is on hold because of the economy).

Equine businesses

Little Mountain Farm Supply focuses on the equine industry and has diversified into animal health products. The Tryon-based company sells throughout North Carolina and South Carolina.

Equestrian Residential


Equestrian focused communities are one example of the &dquo;mini-farm&dquo; residential development concept springing up across the state. Derbyshire Equestrian Center in Columbus is one example. Only about one-fourth of residents of such developments have horses, and more than half do not ride horses at all. Residents simply like the tranquility of an equine setting.

There is little organized information on residential developments for hose enthusiasts. A few well-known developments are Black Horse Run in the Raleigh area, The Traces near Tryon, and McLendon Hills near Pinehurst. The new, privately developed Green Creek Equestrian Center is expected to open near Tryon spring 2010. Its plans call for 500 stalls and 10 show rings.

For copies of the North Carolina equine industry study, contact cspencer@ncruralcenter.org or call 919-250-4314. Information is also available at www.ncruralcenter.org.