West Virginia Aims to Strengthen Horse Industry with New Horse Coalition

The West Virginia Horse Coalition was launched on Agriculture Day at the Legislature in early February. Pictured at the back are Lyndsey Hoskinson, Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt and Greg Thomas, acting coalition board member. In the front row are Callahan Garcia, Princess of the West Virginia Quarter Horse Association, Chloe Vance, Emma Anderson, Cora Holland and Navy Thomas. (photo sent)

Like many agricultural sectors in West Virginia, the equine industry in West Virginia is small. West Virginia currently has approximately 5,300 horse farms and 24,000 horses. But it already attracts economic activity through things like racing and horseback riding, and nearly $6.5 million in annual horse sales.

And just like agriculture in West Virginia, it has room to grow.

That’s why the state Department of Agriculture, along with equestrians across the state, launched the West Virginia Horse Coalition on February 1 during Agriculture Day at the Legislative Assembly in Charleston. The coalition is a public-private partnership that aims to promote and support the equine industry in West Virginia.

“We are all part of the agricultural fabric of our state, so it’s important that everyone be successful and productive,” said Jana Tetrault, acting board member of the West Virginia Horse Coalition and executive director of Mountaineer. Park Horsemen’s Benevolent and Welfare Association, in an interview with Farm and dairy.

Industry

Although the equine industry has its own challenges and goals, it also has much in common with other agricultural industries. For example, other livestock owners also need places to buy hay and grain for their livestock, and access to veterinarians.

In a Feb. 2 statement on the coalition, West Virginia Agriculture Commissioner Kent Leonhardt noted that a thriving equine industry would make veterinarians more likely to consider working in West Virginia.

“From hay and grain to tourism and related business, the expansion of the equine industry will drive economic growth in our communities,” he wrote.

Coalition

Tetrault first discussed the coalition as an idea with Leonhardt in early 2021. She thought an industry group would be a good way to bring people from different equine disciplines together across the state and working to improve the industry for all.

“[West Virginia’s horse industry is] very diverse, like in most states,” Tetrault said. “I think it’s an underrepresented group in our state.”

There have been other attempts to form a similar group in West Virginia before, Tetrault said. But these groups have struggled to move forward. Leonhardt’s leadership and support made a big difference to the coalition.

“Much like the expansion of any agricultural industry in the state, as we foster growth, the impact of the equine industry will have a downstream effect on multiple sectors,” Leonhardt wrote. “We have a lot to gain by working together.”

With support from the Department of Agriculture, Tétrault and other acting board members began reaching out to those involved in the industry to invite them to a summit at the state fair in August. At the summit, they asked attendees to complete a survey on industry strengths and weaknesses.

More than 50 people took part. There were representatives from disciplines such as quarter horses, racing, equine welfare, therapeutic riding, rodeo, saddle riding and more, as well as veterinarians and representatives from the equine program from West Virginia University. This meeting allowed the coalition, which has since added more than 40 people and 22 organizations, to launch in February.

“People got together and we really had a good conversation about where we needed to go,” Tetrault said.

Goals

One of the next steps for the coalition is to get more information about the industry across the state. The coalition has selected Regional Directors, who will work on membership, review industry facilities and infrastructure in their region, and conduct analyzes of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in their regions.

“Right now, we have very little data on the horse industry, except what [U.S. Department of Agriculture] provides in their annual surveys,” Leonhardt wrote. “Part of the problem is that the industry is too small, so our federal partner doesn’t include more industry data in the US Census of Agriculture. We cannot develop a way forward without first understanding the issues we need to tackle.

Infrastructure is a current challenge for the industry, Tétrault said. Having better facilities to host shows and other events would help the state attract more people for shows and as tourists.

The coalition also aims to serve as a clearinghouse of information about the West Virginia horse industry. This includes event listings, vet and farrier listings, and information on things like trail systems and diseases that affect horses. They plan to develop educational programs on topics such as business in the equine industry and animal welfare, and also want to promote industry-related tourism.

The coalition is currently working to establish itself as a non-profit organization and plans to hold a formal election for the board soon. The acting board members at this time are Tétrault; Tim Ketterman, president of the West Virginia Quarterhorse Association; Maria Catigani, executive director of the Charles Town Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association; and Greg Thomas, whose daughter shows riding horses and who works in the state capital.

“We’re really excited,” Tetrault said. “I think we can really showcase all that the equine industry has to offer.”

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