The equine business is alive and kicking in Alabama.
Just ask Courteney Holland, Extension equine specialist for Auburn University’s Department of Animal Sciences. According to Holland, Alabama currently has 187,000 horses in the state, which is an increase of 44 percent since 1997.
“The horse industry plays a pivotal role in maintaining the state’s rural infrastructure and bolstering Alabama’s economy to the tune of $2.39 billion annually,” she says.
Holland has been a horse aficionado since she was 12.
“Since that age there have been very few days I have not been around horses,” she says. “They have taught me responsibility and the true meaning of hard work.”
An Alabama Success
Holland serves on the board of the Alabama Horse Council, which is responsible for the annual Alabama Horse Fair at the Garrett Coliseum in Montgomery. The council also funds scholarships, research and youth-related equine activities, including the 4-H state horse show.
“The Alabama Horse Council is to horse owners as the Alabama Cattlemen’s Association is to beef cattle producers in our state,” she says.
Nearly 10 percent of the state’s horses are used for light to moderate showing, competition or as breeding stock, Holland says. The rest are classified as “high-value” animals, and used for regional or national shows and/or competitions. Owners of these animals spend an average of $69,080 annually per horse.
Major horse shows have a direct impact of $9.8 million on Alabama’s economy, and the indirect impact comes in around $18.7 million. The state’s official horse show is the Alabama Open Horseman Association’s (AOHA) State Championship Show, held each Labor Day weekend at Garrett Coliseum. The show consists of 14 independent local horse show associations located throughout Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi and even Tennessee. The AOHA State Championship show is considered one of the largest and most successful horse shows east of the Mississippi River.
A Unique Approach
Mark Jarvis, former secretary of the AOHA, says the association was founded over 28 years ago to provide an opportunity to showcase those horses and exhibitors who are dedicated to showing regularly at local horse show arenas.
“Horses have always been a part of the rural life in Alabama and have contributed greatly to our history and culture,” he says. “I think the horse industry has a large economic impact, and it could become greater.”
The AOHA State Championship Show offers a unique approach in the showing world. Instead of specializing in one breed or specific riding discipline, it is open to horses of all breeds and does not require registration in any breed association. Jarvis notes that it has become the second-largest horse show east of the Mississippi River, outdone only by the Dixie National Show in Jackson, Miss. Class entries usually number between 1,500 and 2,000.
The show offers a true, level playing field, giving horse owners of all calibers the ability to enjoy showing.
“You will find trainers riding alongside amateurs in every class and registered horses competing against grade horses,” Jarvis says. “It gives the ‘local Joe’ a chance to see how his horse stacks up against horses across the state.”
Jarvis also notes that the AOHA show is a family affair.
“It is truly a family show, where little ones can show their pony in the morning and ride their ‘big’ horse that afternoon, and mom or dad is out there participating, too. For many families, this is their vacation and something they work toward and look forward to each year.”