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☛ Where is the horse industry headed? – 7-18-14



By Rick Dennis
July 18, 2014
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about what’s the real cause of the downturn in the horse industry.  From my perspective as a Non-Pro, professional trainer, show producer and Quarter Horse breeder as well as my professional standings in the private sector as a Risk Analyst, it’s difficult to identify a specific causative factor. This conclusion was derived from conversations with other professionals in the industry as well as members.


Therefore, it seems the actual cause cannot be assigned to one particular item of discussion but rather a perfect storm entering the industry made up of many contributing factors with each one representing a sum part of the whole. However, one item of specificity relates to the individual owning a horse as a luxury and not a necessity. In this circumstance, the horse ownership and show participation is abandoned or consummated inline with the economy.


Notwithstanding, in times like these, it’s irresponsible for nonprofits and others in the horse industry to ignore the factual reasons causing the downturn in our industry and opting instead to play the “blame game” or maintaining the illogical ideology that everything’s fine.


Overall, it’s up to the nonprofits to set the stage and direction for the horse industry’s future. As the old adage says, “If you build it, they will come!” This is so true in our industry today. During my tenure of service in the horse industry, I’ve witnessed a dramatic change in our society as well as the industry as a whole.  Frankly speaking, some have been bad and some are good. Nonetheless, it is what it is! An item of particular interest is the vocalization of the members readily voicing their opinions and disdain!


  • At the top of the list in my survey is mismanagement of the nonprofit.  A lot of folks are just tired of the same old same old philosophy from the folks at the top who occupy their positions of power with infinite years of service. Next is transparency among the nonprofit’s powers-that-be – or lack thereof. Also on the top of the list is, “Showing is just not very fun anymore.” The other top priority is the political game in the horse industry.  They’re really tired of politics as usual!


One item of interest adding credibility to the above list of dissatisfactions recently involved a nonprofit canceling a contract with entrants for an upcoming major event.  The nonprofit increased the entry fees in the middle of the contract but provided those already enrolled the option of withdrawal with a complete refund or a new contract under the new terms and conditions and at an increased rate.


For those 48 members who opted out, the nonprofit reported in NCHA minutes published later, that these people withdrew because “they probably wouldn’t pay their total entry fee anyway.” Could this be considered an insult to those individuals who withdrew as well as a simple illustration of a nonprofit’s callous action towards its membership as a mitigating factor contributing to members leaving the industry?  What about the $144,000 that was lost to the purse if they would have continued to pay the balance of the entry fees if the amount hadn’t been changed midterm?


  • In a general conversation, one Hall of Fame trainer told me, “In today’s industry, the general consensus of opinion is that horse trainers are not trustworthy.” To a degree, I agree with this assessment but I also know, from a professional standpoint and personal affiliation, this across-the-board characterization is not a fair representation of the industry but instead is due to the unscrupulous actions of specific individuals over the years. There are a lot of great trainers, find one!


  • Another astute observation provided by this trainer is the decline of new blood coming into the industry, the lack of participation with those still in the industry and the ever-increasing number of individuals leaving the industry.  Membership is down, participation is down, breeding is down and the sale ring has emerged as a “buyers market” dictating the price of the horses.


  • Among members and contestants alike who are still showing, related costs are high on the priority list and include: fuel costs, housing and showing expenses, professional horse-training fees, the price of horse trailers and trucks to name a few. However, the main consensus of opinion is that, in most cases, an individual can’t make enough money in the show pen to cover hauling and showing expenses due to the decline of participants.


  • Judging at the shows, is another reason for nonparticipation. More than one individual has expressed to me they have opted to go to timed events rather than judged events due to unfair or unqualified judging. My question is, “Should judges just be judges and trainers just be trainers or should they continue to occupy both segments of the horse industry show ring?” If they were sequestered to one or the other, this certainly would remove the stigma of favoritism from the equation that seems to be a gripe among interviewees.


Also, should a sponsor of added money in an event or events, own horses participating in those events? To me, that’s a “conflict of interest,” easily recognized by the members.


  • The economy is bad!  Folks are more concerned today than ever before about the economy. Instead of going to a show and enjoying their horse hobby, these folks opt instead to put food on the table for their families, pay montage notes and secure a financial future for their loved ones. This becomes even more problematic when “Inflation” enters the picture in a down economy. In a down economy, prices for goods and services soar due to inflation while the dollar value declines. It takes more money to pay for these items thus families have to adjust.  Shouldn’t this adjustment phase apply to a nonprofit as well?


In a down economy, a nonprofit corporation has several options: 1) tap new income sources (ie) sponsors, state money etc., 2) lower costs – i.e. salaries, including those of the upper echelon, show and facility costs including awards, travel expenses, donations etc., 3) increase show costs for the participants or 4) adjust to the economy by designing show classes that encourage more participation thereby attaining the required revenue generation for the nonprofit but at a reduced show cost to the exhibitor.


  • Another problematic area is horse ownership. The price of ancillary products to sustain a horse has quadrupled during my career. Horse feed is way up; hay is over-the-top; veterinary services are so high some folks, myself included, have resorted to self-medication, except on occasions where calling a vet is an absolute necessity; showing fees are up with some nonprofits with renting cattle reaching $60 to $75 per cow in some areas; fuel costs have soared and farrier services are also getting higher, usually to the high-cost of fuel.


  • The horse industry is corrupt! This stigma has been assigned to the industry due to the actions of a few but in my opinion is not representative of the industry as a whole. But it is the duty of the nonprofits to put in place safeguards to root out corruption and unscrupulous behavior among the rank and file and change this opinion.


In an effort to help newcomers to the horse industry to avoid these problematic areas, I authored and released a book entitled The American Horse Industry, Avoiding The Pitfalls. My book gives the newcomer foresight into the industry and tells them how to avoid certain pitfalls in it such chapters as: Selecting a Horse, General Maintenance and Care, Selecting A Horse Trainer and Nonprofit Organizations. Overall, the industry needs horse owners, stallion owners, mare owners, participants (old and new) and the youth to revitalize and boost the industry.


As an entrepreneur in the private sector for the past 30 years, I recommend that every successful business owner, at some time or another, has to adjust the overhead to come in-line with the cash flow. This means making sound business decisions and making the hard choices instead of just plodding along until the well runs dry.


In my tenure of service in the private sector, while conducting Executive Protection Details, I’ve had the esteem pleasure and privilege of listening to some of the top CEOs, whose visionary foresight and financial wizardry has catapulted their corporation to the top of the financial-earnings market – even in a down economy. One aspect I learned is that each of them was successful and weren’t afraid to make the tough decisions to ensure financial stability and a bright future for their corporation.


The dichotomy between the private sector and a horse nonprofit can be exemplified in this illustration, “If a corporate executive in the private sector is responsible for the loss of millions of dollars over a specified time period, he or she will most assuredly be fired and replaced with a more competent individual.”  Losing money is not an option with a Fortune 500 Company!


Today, nonprofits have to build a better mousetrap to slow down the mass exodus of members as well as the mass migration of members to other disciplines that they find more appealing, enjoyable and cost effective. Overhead has to be reduced and adjusted to a sustainable level. Members have to be treated with dignity and respect.  After all, they are the backbone of every successful association, not the horse trainers, as they self proclaim.


As a professional multiple-event horse trainer, my job is to train the horse, train the rider, develop an equine team and guide them to a successful showing career in the show pen. One way I give back to the industry is by upholding my long-standing platform of providing equitation and specific discipline instructions to the youth free of charge. After all the youth are the future of our industry and without them our industry is lost.


Overall, this is the time for soul searching and “think tanks” by the powers-that-be to conduct a root-cause analysis of the real reasons causing the down turn, and perhaps total collapse in our industry, and make the hard choices and adjustments necessary to sustain the horse industry during these uncertain times and well into the future. That’s what they’re being paid enormous salaries for. The Ostrich Syndrome is not a viable solution!


Instead of projecting “Everything’s fine” when it’s really not, be a leader and a visionary.  Design programs that are attractive and cost effective to the participant.  Make your nonprofit association more “user-friendly.” Draw on the experience of the great Hall of Fame trainers from across the spectrum of disciplines, members who are CEOs of major companies and other nonprofit horse organizations.  As one CEO once told me, “A manager is only as good as the people he or she surrounds themselves with. Every manager should realize their limitations and capabilities and adjust accordingly”.


I believe it’s going to take more than “heading a nonprofit North to greener grass in Montana while incorporating fictional movie characters in the analogy” as a vision for the future. As a businessman and a professional horseman, I definitely find this analogy lacking as a comprehensive business plan. A comprehensive business plan should be innovative, precise and matched to today’s economic challenges.


In retrospect, I’ve enjoyed my tenure of service in the horse industry. Along the way I’ve met some remarkable individuals.  My love of the industry, the horse and my own diversified business plan will sustain me through the downturn in the industry. As individual members of a specific nonprofit, we all have the right to voice our opinions, especially when our voices are molded into the sum part of the whole for change.


One thing I’ve learned is that horse people are very resilient and hard-working individuals, whose love of the horse will be passed from one generation to the next. The horse industry is experiencing hard times right now but in all things, “This too shall pass.”


To paraphrase (and twist) John F. Kennedy’s famous saying, “Ask not what you can do for your nonprofit, ask what your nonprofit can do for you?”  Your obligation was complete when you paid for your membership dues, bought a horse, the necessary equipment, paid the entry fee and are prepared to show. If enough of us voice our opinions maybe, just maybe, the powers-that-be will hear us!


Now it’s time for the nonprofits to act and not just react, by making some major changes, namely in the direction and make-up of their leadership, and actually lead the way to make sure they are headed in the right direction!


Until Next Time, Keep ‘Em Between The Bridles!


Copyright 2014, all rights reserved.


Richard E. “Rick” Dennis

Managing Member

Office/Mobile: (985) 630-3500


Web Site:


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  1. Since nearly every major business index is up, why is the “economy so bad?” Earnings, S&P et al, ISM, CBEL among a few.

    • U.S. Economic Outlook 2014 COB expects the the U.S. Economy to remain moribund.

      IMF – Cuts 2014 forecast.

      There’s more, search the internet . Unemployment remains at 8% and individuals have stopped looking for jobs. The stock market is reflective of those who still have money to invest, not the ones who are broke. Thanks.

      • Exactly correct Rick Dennis. We are seeing a bursting of the commodities bubble and this will result in further deleveraging. This could easily send ripples through the greater economy. We are well overdue for a cyclical recession which has been delayed by FED manipulation in the markets.

  2. Telling the truth brother!

  3. My oh my! Never heard it spoken better.

  4. Wonderful!

    • I got out thanks to the crooks like babcock and bollings, and trainers many of them I think they should be in jail but they just keep moving on. The same people keep winning as they have the money to buy the best horses and hire the best trainers. They all seem to go back to a few stallions. It became popular to breed to the cats how many “straws” exist, and 3-4 others like smart little lena. This killed the industry. the little guy that pays his fees and supports the industry are just lining the pockets of a handful of trainers, and owners. If a stud can’t live cover a mare no deal. Just ask the Jockey Club. No don’t Just keep on killing the cutting and reining industry. I love my Boat!!!!

  5. All families are making tough choices these days. Mine is one. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Excellent summation. Congrats.

  7. Stunning portrayal of our present circumstance!

  8. Lots of great stuff. Thank you!

  9. Gutsy article!

  10. I’d like to see their comprehensive business plan! Thanks for the info.

  11. Thanks for your contributions to us, the members, and to Glory Ann.

  12. The industry sure does need a new direction and HONESTY should be the compass heading.

  13. As one of the 48 who withdrew, thanks for speaking the truth.

  14. The industry needs more than change; it needs to be overhauled!!!

  15. Now that Treadway is leaving, there’s a lot more that needs to go with him.’

  16. Thanks for addressing the judging issue …

  17. As a former AQHA member, I think it’s too little too late.

  18. Want to know where all the members have gone, just look at the team penning, team sorting and barrel racing stats.

  19. OMG. You have a plan and we’re stuck with “greener pastures in Montana.” LOL

  20. I just read your article. Awesome job! I heard AQHA buys houses for the powers that be. Is that true??

  21. Another great one!

  22. Sometimes discrete is the better part of valor. Apparently Treadway must think so too. Good article!

  23. Build a better mousetrap? I think you just did!

  24. A really nice article. Enjoyed it! Thanks.

  25. Now that Treadway’s leaving, I’m AQHA Proud!


  27. The perfect mix and cross section. Now what do we do to fix it?

  28. Rick,
    Your authorship never ceases to amaze me. Another good one.

  29. I’d like to see you toss your resume’ in the ring as the new EVP!

  30. Your articles are like a breath of fresh air on a muggy day.

  31. I can tell you where the industry is heading: To Hell in a hand bucket if it’s not changed!

  32. Simply wonderful!

  33. Informative!

  34. Rick, go for the Executive Vice President job. You’d be an excellent choice.
    Mary Jo

  35. You’re the voice of reason.

  36. I read your book and all of your articles. I’ve come to expect nothing but literary genius from you. Thanks for sharing your wisdom and life’s experiences with us.

    You’ve certainly raised the bar in journalism!

  37. Great format!

  38. Hi Rick,
    Good article you wrote! The horse industry is doomed … for ONE basic reason. The Baby Boomer generation IS the “horse generation.” They grew up watching “My Friend Flicka” and “Fury” and the Lone Ranger etc. Horses and Western movies were everywhere. That is why the Baby Boomer generation has such an affinity with horses!

    The Baby Boomers are now getting old. Soon, too old to ride or compete.That is the real reason they are leaving in droves.

    There are a few young people involved with horses to take their place. The younger generation has no affinity for horses because they have not been exposed to them on TV or in the movies.

    If the horse associations were smart, they would make sure non-horse children were exposed to horses and horse programs. Maybe create a Saturday morning TV show involving horses and how cool they are to ride and own.

    Right now, all they are doing is preaching to the choir. Take care.

  39. The industry can change but only if the members demand it.

  40. Rick,
    Everyone in the horse industry should read your article. You are so right about the industry’s future. This article says it all. Enjoyed it very much.

  41. Rick,
    All of us in the horse business share the same concerns. I believe we either have leadership that’s unwilling to change or doesn’t have the know-how.

  42. Thanks to you and Glory for caring about the horse industry and the wonderful articles. You don’t how much we appreciate you both. We have the best magazine ever!

    Mary Rose

    • Wow! Thanks a million!
      Glory Ann

      • There is a deeper rooted. Problem with people in this country,, there is a lack of a moral compass, go to the church services offered at shows,, only a small %of people there,,, until people change their hearts they will not change their entitlement attitude and actions!

  43. Thanks to you and Glory for everything you guys do.


  44. Rick, can u write a business plan and give them a hint? Lol


  45. Simply stunning and well crafted!


  46. This has been a long time coming! Thanks


  47. Nicely done!


  48. Love all of your ideas. Hopefully somebody will listen and do something.


  49. Your article is well put. The industry is salvageable. It just needs a new design.


  50. Super article!


  51. Brilliant Strategy!

  52. Powerful stuff!

  53. This article is an eye opener!

  54. A good up-in-your-face, tell-it-like-it-is article.

  55. I’m speechless!!!

  56. RUN RICK RUN! You’d be a wonderful EVP and under your leadership, you an make the changes we need.
    Sarah Beth

  57. Thanks for putting the article on FB. Without your post I wouldn’t have seen it. Good job!

  58. WHOA! love your site and resume. Quite impressive! Oh and your article! LOL

  59. Guess they think we’re all stupid. The joke’s on them. The industry needs more outspoken articles like this!

  60. I wish Jim Bret would have picked another state. It’s cold up there!

  61. Hey Rick—I am only a member of AQHA to get horses transferred when bought and sold. I quit going to registered cuttings years ago. I don’t believe the people at NCHA are listening with what you have to say at all and that might sooner rather than later come back to bite them in the butt. What they did in raising entry fees mid term was wrong as far as I am concerned. Talking to NCHA is like talking to a brick wall. Keep up the good work and articles, very nice.


  62. Agree with the part that the industry needs to changed
    As far as getting kids involved with horses would not take much A after school program where the kids could go to the barn and be with the horses and learn would be a great start just about every little girl I know wants a horse and things haven’t changed that much daddy can t say no to his little girl to keep the cost down we have a lot of horse that get sent to the sale or horses off the track could be given a second chance have the kids do fundraiser to help feed the horses
    I am just saying where their is a will I do believe if you build it they will come

  63. How’s it goin professor? Been reading your articles. Like your new gig! Thought you could just write arrest reports and indictments. LOL You’ve come a long way since the shoot ’em up, bang bang days. If these guys had a clue who they were dealing with, they’d just surrender. LOL Stay in touch!

  64. I’m in the horse business and agree with everything in your article. I would like to add one thing. The horse business is a lot more corrupt than people know. I wish it wasn’t but that’s the fact. Wish you well.

  65. I always enjoy reading your commentaries. My opinion of “cutting events.”

    in 1997, a friend let me sit on a cutting horse and “track” him. It was wonderful. Went to a local bookstore and bought a “Western” magazine. Saw an ad for “lessons” in cutting. Called and went.

    To make a long story short. Bought a horse from him and he showed in all major events for one year then told me she would be good for a non pro. Well, went to a sale and bought a horse, sent her to him. He said okay to Futurity in 2000. Got to Futurity. Did he ride her – No! Did he tell me he was going to put someone else on the horse? No. Someone rode her and the buzzer sounded. The person didn’t even know he should leave the ring. That was my experience with one trainer. I have met others who are different – still leaves a bad taste in my mouth!

    • Unfortunately your first experience is not an isolated incident. In my opinion, this bad taste experience is repeated with too much regularity and stems from an unregulated industry, lack of honesty, lack of morals and contributes to the across-the-board moniker, “horse trainers are dishonest.”

      A trainer is the first representation of the industry to a newcomer. As the old adage, the first impression is a lasting impression. It seems over time that nonprofits have turned a blind eye to incidents like this in favor of making money, which is just one of many “bad-taste” experiences evolving into a perfect storm – sum part of a whole and contributing to the downturn in the industry!

      To sum it up folks are just tired of being screwed over in the sale ring, the show pen, by breeders, trainers and nonprofitrs no matter how large or small!

      Thanks for sharing your experience and your very gracious compliments.

  66. When an NCHA trainer beats a horse at a show, they should be arrested and thrown out of the association. Not ignored for who they are and threatens a lawsuit.

  67. Hope the ACHA is better than the NCHA. That’s where I’m headed.

    • Unless they have cleaned up their act they are worse. Regular judging bribery , cheating in draws etc hopefully they cleaned cause they were a great bunch of contestants

  68. Fantastic article.Hope the future brings changes. If not, I’m gone.

  69. Quite an interesting article!

  70. I’m afraid the horse has taken a back seat to money!

  71. The AQHA and NCHA have hurt a lot of members over the years. They’re just reaping what they sowed.

    • Amen!!!

  72. I found your article so intriguing I’m reposting it only blog in Australia. Bloody good job bloke!!

  73. Brandis and Nancy like your post on FB.

  74. My hat’s off to Glory Ann Kurtz and, the number one horse publication in the horse industry, delivering the most honest, sincere and informative articles for the readers!

  75. I got a call. AQHA announces major reorganization plan band a more user-friendly atmosphere for members. it’s posted on their web site. Congrats to you!

  76. Wow – this guy has a way with words, using statement like “specific causative factor,” or “consummated inline with the economy.” Not to be critical but this is hard to read to the average Joe like me.

    My favorite line of all is “An item of particular interest is the vocalization of the members readily voicing their opinions and disdain!”

    I’m sure he has many very good qualities, but think he could use some help with editing!

    Otherwise your newsletter looks great and the readership is impressive!

    James B.

    • Hope this helps

      Single – only one in number, one only, unique, a single example.

      Causitive – acting as a cause “a causitive factor”.

      Factor – one of the elements contributing to a particular situation.

      Thanks – Rick
      Edited by a law professor!

  77. Keep after em Rick. Your doing a terrific job.


  78. Your articles are brilliant!


  79. For guys like me who don’t get out much anymore thanks for keeping us in the know.


  80. WOW! Well put!


  81. Think its good a trainer, and obviously a great one according to your record is willing to take time to help the horse industry. Others should follow suit.


  82. FYI!

    It’s off to Montana if we dare.

    If we die along the way who will care?

    To fill their pockets with gold and loot.

    At the expense of us coming home wearing only one boot.

    The powers that be say we must go.

    So its off to Montana to play in the snow.


    Like your article -:)))) D

  83. Rick,
    If the AQHA is really going to reorganize, they should get rid of Trotter, Merrill, Wise, Blodgett, Piece, Andrini, Tebow, Grahams – just saying! The good ole’ boy gang!!

  84. Rick
    Reorganize – my a–. They ain’t fooling nobody. The ones that lied in court should be fired and put in the Hall of Shame!!! You’re the best!

  85. Rick,
    Your article on where the horse industries are headed is outstanding. Couldn’t agree with you more.

  86. Wish you posted your articles on your FB page because by the time it goes public and gets to me, it’s old. You’re putting out great articles!

  87. Many years ago, the tax laws had a hole in them and empire builders took advantage of that opportunity. The show ring changed. It became all about the money and keeping up with the Jones. If wealthy investor/owners were recruited, it was expected that they would win. They even rotated the years for Natinoal Champions according to the investment to promote a given animal. Suddenly, the loophole closed and the empires crashed. The influx of money dried up and the interest of the drivers and promoters went away. The individual owners and their families that participated had been priced out and ushed out of the market on the initial run. After it was over, the kids were into other activities and the families had either sold their horses or pastured them inexpensively. The kids went on with their lives and horses were not a legacy for the family.

    Today, bringing back a family that is strapped for time and money is much more difficult. the fashionable family sporting participation of the day is soccer. It’s mostly less expensive and much more locally social. Middle class families, if they ride, and the older generation that used to, are taking a weekend a few times per year and going to a resort with a stable and trail riding, taking lessons at local facilities, or attending select events as general admission and watching. If you live in the city, horses are not a budgetary priority. Though there are more liesure horses in America than show horses, building a strong demographic of city dwellers is a challenge. It is not just a money problem. It is a social, cultural, and time/money priority challenge that will take a strong advocacy to turn. There’s so much bad press that’s it is difficult to spark a positive interest. Working with local govenments to build horse parks in cities that are affordable and active could be a different kind of show stopper. If the horse industry is looking to rebuild its owner base, it needs to take the innovations with a strong plan , utilize facilites and incorporate some vision. And, if you ask me, trainers need to be certified, licensed by the state, and held accountable through a state regulated office.

  88. The cutting horse industry is corrupt! The judging and the trainers. I know this as both from the point of view of being an amateur hobbyist, and as the mother of a serious cutter starting out professionally. We are both trying to hang on for the love of the sport, and the horses, but the people are ruining it for both of us. My son…..who would have made an incredible addition to the professional community….may be yet another casualty of that corruption! In our modern times, people….especially the youth are too smart to accept abuse, manipulation, greed, and dishonesty as being acceptable behaviors. The industry will need to change if it wants to survive! I’m probably going to head to sorting and team penning myself! Great article btw.

  89. I didn’t read all the comments so this may have been addressed previously. The US as a whole faces a shifting age/income demographic with a lowering birthrate among the high earners/high net worth individuals. Cutting is a sport for what would have to be considered the wealthiest segment of the population. As a health professional it is barely doable for me unless I want horses to consume every little bit of discretionary spending. Many horse owners are past their prime earning period which makes the future look bleak for a sudden surge in membership. It is much like flying. There are few young people flying for a hobby because it has become just too expensive in an age where the wages of the middle class are flat for the last 30 years. My children, even though they grew up around cutting, have absolutely no interest in spending their hard earned dollars on a circuit when they could take a great trip to Europe, Australia, or wherever for that amount of money. The cost is totally insane when you step back and take a realistic look at what you get for your money.

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