Those involved with horses agree the industry is growing in Mississippi and has yet to reach its full economic potential. Horse shows and membership in breed associations are increasing. Many counties now have multi-purpose facilities where horse shows are held, bringing visitors and their pocketbooks to the state. One four-year school, Mississippi College (MC), now has the state’s only women’s intercollegiate equestrian team.
“The state’s horse industry has increased dramatically,” said Andy Prosser of the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce (MDAC). “We’re seeing people get into it not just for recreation but for breeding. There’s a real interest in breeds from what we see on the fairgrounds and at horse shows.”
Making the investment
Beth Compton, secretary of the 1,000-member Mississippi Quarter Horse Association, said horse ownership is an expensive hobby.
“Horse owners have a lot invested in horses with saddles, veterinary care, furriers and feed,” she said. “All prices are going up with the price of oil going up. We see growing interest in membership and horse shows. The Dixie National is one of the largest shows in the nation and definitely has an economic value to the state.”
Horse ownership is specialized with each breed having its own association. The Quarter Horse Association is the largest of the state’s 26 associations and accounts for 46% of all members in the state, according to figures released by Dr. Albert Mayles with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
As state veterinarian and director of the Mississippi Board of Animal Health, Dr. Jim Watson doesn’t oversee the industry’s commercialization, but regulates health requirements and testing to prevent the spread of equine diseases.
“We see evidence of rising popularity at all the shows in Jackson and at the multi-purpose centers around the state,” he said. “There’s an increase in the number of events, and that brings with it economic development that’s beneficial to the state.”
Because there is no one umbrella under which all phases of the horse industry reside, Watson said it’s difficult to gauge the economic impact. “The horse industry is a hugely under-recognized economic impact in our state when you consider trailers, trucks, feed, veterinary care and the expenses of going to shows,” he said.
Jamie Martin is one of the biggest promoters of horses in the state. She and her husband, E.B. Martin, own Providence Hill Farm, a sprawling facility in Hinds County with several thousand acres, a stable for boarding horses and training and lessons. It’s the only hunter-jumper facility in the state. The Martins started the farm in 2001 when Jamie Martin, formerly an attorney with the Butler Snow law firm, took up riding again after many years of not riding.
‘Room to grow’
“Mississippi is a perfect state to expand horse properties,” she said. “It has great outdoor space and room to grow, a lot of people who enjoy an active outdoor lifestyle, and horses can bring joy to all age groups.”
Referencing a study by Farm Bureau, Martin said the horse industry pumps an estimated $100 million into the state economy each year. She and others are working to bring more recognition to the industry’s possibilities and hope to develop an equestrian corridor through Madison and Hinds counties. Funds from city, county and state government are being provided to expand the multi-purpose complex in Canton to host larger horse shows.
“We have large equestrian events, and yet no one in the state seems to realize the economic development potential,” she said. “I do think the interest in horses will continue to grow.”
Martin feels blessed that her family has Providence Hill Farm where people are afforded the opportunity to ride horses. The Martins also buy and sell horses. “It’s a business for us,” she said. “We have about 30 boarders, a full-time trainer and an assistant.”
College athletes? You bet
The Martins’ facility is also where members of MC’s first equestrian team train and practice, led by coach Mandi Callaway Powers, who lives on the farm. She came to MC after coaching the Rice University team in Houston, Texas. She rides and teaches at the farm six days a week, and makes sure the MC students ride at least twice weekly.
“When it comes to equestrian teams and intercollegiate competitions, there’s been growing interest across the United States the last 10 years,” Powers said. “In 1998, equestrian was classified as an emerging sport by the NCAA. Today, there are 23 colleges and universities that offer equestrian as a varsity sport and more teams are being launched.”
MC president Royce Lee came to the Clinton school in 2002 from Anderson College in South Carolina where an equestrian program began a few years ago. He feels equestrian programs traditionally attract capable and serious students.
“Our program affords us the opportunity to attract and retain some talented women riders from Mississippi and around the country,” he said. “It allows the opportunity to offer another women’s sport on our campus. We are very fortunate to attract the interest of Providence Hill Farm, and Jamie Martin’s encouragement has been vital to our success.”
Ron Howard, MC’s vice president for academic affairs, said the equestrian program is a fine and special addition to the school’s athletic offerings. “MC is proud to have it and some of the best riders you will find anywhere in the country,” he said. “The program adds even more distinction to our university.”
Prosser said education about agriculture-related businesses is vital to MDAC. “We’re seeing a lot of young people interested in riding, and it’s a plus to get them involved with some part of agriculture,” he said. “That’s a big positive to us.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.