North Carolina’s equine industry is galloping its way to growth.
Rooted deep in the state’s agricultural history, equines have an annual impact of $1.9 billion. Although horse usage in agriculture has decreased across the nation in past decades, the animal still has a significant role on North Carolina farms.
Not only that, business is booming for North Carolina horses playing roles in both sport and entertainment.
“Our industry is growing, and we anticipate even more growth,” says Executive Director Sue Gray of the North Carolina Horse Council.
The council diligently works on policies, laws, rules and regulations impacting equines.
“North Carolina ranks in the top 10 states in the nation for its equine industry,” Gray adds.
From the Horse’s Mouth
Equine activity is found in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties, with about 53,000 operations and households owning 306,000 equines, including horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and burros. However, that number is likely to increase because the state itself is growing. As new people move in, horses and other equines are moving in as well.
“Horses follow people,” Gray says. “As people move to North Carolina, many bring their horses with them.”
Historically, horses have been primarily used in agriculture for labor-intensive activities, helping to pull plows and wagons. Horses are still working the farm today, but they are increasingly part of recreational activities like riding and showing.
“We have horses who are show animals at both open and breed shows throughout North Carolina,” Gray says. “Plus, we have a huge recreational trails population, with horses used for outdoor activities.”
Equines also play a big part in local education, helping teach 4-H’ers about agriculture through 25,000 horse projects. North Carolina has the second-largest 4-H program in the U.S.
While the official state horse is the Colonial Spanish Mustang, the most common breed is the American Quarter Horse. Others include the Thoroughbred, American Paint and Arabian.
“We have almost every breed located within North Carolina,” Gray says. “We have a good diversity among our industry.”
With a burgeoning equine industry comes a need for more professionals to help care for the animals, and the state offers many educational opportunities, leading to careers in the industry. North Carolina State University (NCSU) has an undergraduate program in animal science emphasizing equine studies as well as a large Equine Educational Center. In addition, NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine has a heavy focus on equines. Other excellent programs are available at Martin Community College and St. Andrews College.
For the Love of Horses
Longtime equine veterinarian Dr. Fernando Cardenas received his degree from NCSU in 1997. His love of horses started as a child, growing up on a horse farm and working with horses all his life. After graduation, he opened 3H Veterinary Services in New Hill, where he and his staff are trained beyond traditional equine medicine to include advanced dentistry and lameness, plus acupuncture, chiropractic, Kinesio taping technique, massage and more.
“It’s a beautiful profession to be able to work outside, work on animals and travel to people’s farms – to have that relationship with farmers and horse owners,” Cardenas says. “It starts with the love and passion for the horse.”
Along with caring for horses, Cardenas is an avid rider. He and his horse, Quincy Car, travel around the country competing in show jumping. They even pursued a spot in the Rio 2016 Olympics, competing at a high level.
“I see the sport horse aspect of the industry growing, and equine veterinarians are seeing that,” Cardenas says.
His own practice features an equine rehabilitation facility, one of few in the state. According to Cardenas, there is a growing need to rehab top athletes.
“With the amount of population growth happening here, there will be more people who will want to have horses and compete with them,” he says.