☛ Where is the horse industry headed? – 7-18-14
WHERE IS THE HORSE INDUSTRY HEADED?
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
Office/Mobile: (985) 630-3500
Web Site: http://www.windrivercompanyllc.com