Horses are a galloping industry in South Carolina in terms of economic impact.
The equine industry can be roughly categorized into two groups: professionals, who make their living with horses, and amateurs, who use their animals for pleasure.
Professionals are paid to train, show and race the horses under their care. They apply a business approach to their operations, with economics as the bottom line. After all, to a trainer who employs 30 people, or to an equine-centered company with a million-dollar payroll, the most important motive is making a profit.
Amateur horse owners, on the other hand, often spend large sums of money with little hope of breaking even. Their joy comes from being around horses, watching and caring for them. Many of these folks ride simply for pleasure.
To get an understanding of the economic impact of the horse industry, visualize the scene at an organized trail ride, perhaps in a state park. The state parks that allow horses, including Croft, Lee, Cheraw and H. Cooper Black, report high trail usage seven days a week. Hundreds of horse trailers are parked in a field, usually with two or three horses tied to each one. Riders are grooming their animals prior to tacking up and swinging into the saddle for a day of enjoyment on scenic trails.
Not counting the cost of the horse itself, a typical truck and horse trailer averages about $50,000, according to Ronnie Culley, owner of Middleboro Trailer Sales in Eastover. High-end trailers with living quarters, which boast full kitchens, showers, custom upholstery, TVs, heat and air conditioning, can run close to $100,000.
Consider that if 200 riders have invested $50,000 each in trucks and trailers, that is about $10 million in the trail parking lot. Other investments include the horses, tack, gas and ride fees – all making organized rides a big business in South Carolina.
Owners who show their horses spend even more money on a per-horse basis. Depending on the breed and discipline, a show horse can cost from $10,000 to $100,000, with the crème de la crème worth several hundred thousand dollars. Expensive tack and custom-made clothing are usually considered essential.
Most serious competitors pay their trainers to keep their horses in winning form year-round. Training fees vary considerably, from a modest $600 to several thousand dollars a month.
Race horses are considered the elite of the horse world, with training fees averaging $75 per day. The fee climbs to $100 a day when the horses go out of state to race, according to the South Carolina Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The Thoroughbred race horse industry alone is valued at more than $200 million.
Many other aspects of the horse business are popular, from polo matches to fox hunting to extreme obstacles, mounted cowboy shooting, carriage driving and rodeos. Throughout the state, people enjoy riding, raising, training and showing horses year-round.
Keeping a horse costs between $3,600 a year for a back yard companion to $25,000 or more for a show or race horse. With thousands of horses in every county in the state, the financial impact is staggering. South Carolina is well on the way to becoming a horse destination for people from other states, as they take advantage of the climate, soil, wonderful sites for trail riding and showing, hospitality, and a long history of world-class venues for every discipline.