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Horse Industry experiencing a resurgence in Maryland

New study shows $1.15 billion in economic activity
Maryland Horse Industry is making a comeback
Maryland Horse Industry is making a comeback
Posted at 5:02 PM, Nov 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-21 18:31:15-05

Horses are a part of Maryland’s history. The state is home to one of the Triple Crown races and more than 260 years of horse racing tradition. However, in recent years the once booming business fell into a steep decline, but a new Sage Policy Group study shows there's been a resurgence and some new partnerships are helping with the comeback.

“The total economic impact is around $1.15 billion, and what makes this remarkable is several years ago, the economic impact of the industry had fallen well below a billion dollars. The industry was shrinking,” said Anirban Basu, the Chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, Inc., the organization that conducted the study.

According to the study, Maryland hit a low in horse farming in 2010 when only 20 mares were bred in the state. Willie White, president of the Maryland Horse Breeders Association, said there were serious concerns that horseracing would leave the state.

“Whether there would be racing, whether there would be horse farms, a lot of them did turn into developments and had to be repurposed because the industry couldn't support a breeding operation,” White said.

But then there was a rebound. In 2008, Marylanders voted to approve an amendment setting aside slot machine proceeds for improving racetrack facilities and boosting Maryland racing purses making the winnings more competitive with neighboring states.

“That's been the game changer, no pun intended. West Virginia introduced slots in 1990, Delaware a few years after that, Pennsylvania a decade after that. And so, our horse industry has not been competing on a level playing field. It's competing on a more level playing field now and it is thriving,” said Basu.

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The Maryland Horse Breeders Association (MHBA) wants to encourage the growth through a new partnership. Goucher College will now be the home of the 80-year-old organization, and an 18-acre state of the art equestrian center.

“[The equestrian center] will have more than 30 stalls in the new barn, an outdoor and indoor show ring, as well as meeting and classroom spaces that will provide both theoretical and practical learning environments for Goucher students and larger community. The new space will also feature library, memorabilia, and a museum for the Maryland horse industry,” said Goucher College President José Bowen.

The MHBA is also helping to develop a new equine minor that will be offered at the college.

“We need to continue to grow. We need to continue to encourage people to come back into our industry. Part of the move to Goucher is very exciting because we need young people to start looking at our industry as an opportunity for employment, for fun, for a lifestyle that's kind of been lost,” said White.

Stephanie Detwiler is a student at Goucher College and member of the equestrian team. She said she supports the new changes and getting more people interested in the industry.

“This is a big equestrian school here and I feel like a lot of people don't realize that because it's so separate, but it's a great way to bring students in and say, ‘Hey, come check it out maybe you'll like it,” said Detwiler.

After years of decline, the Maryland horse industry is back on track, but it’s still healing. Even with the positive trend, the industry remains 13.5 percent below its 2002 level, 34 percent if you adjust for inflation.

“There are some folks in the horse industry who are concerned that some of the support they're receiving will be taken away from them,” said Basu.

He added that those people are looking for reassurance from Annapolis that the profitable formula in place now will not change in the near future.

"I think this will generate enormous dividends for the state of Maryland without the state spending any more money," said Basu.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder was at the announcement Monday at Goucher College, and Governor Larry Hogan has been supportive of the industry.

Additionally, the National Harbor casino has yet to open and at this pace, Sage estimates the industry to have a $1.5 billion yearly economic impact by 2020 and support more than 11,000 jobs.

“This is a victory for Maryland, it's a big one, and it's a win-win,” said Basu.

“The industry itself, it's really just the envy of the United States. Anyone that's in racing thoroughbreds is looking at Maryland and how we're taking the lead,” White said.

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