Alex Waldrop was one of several speakers at the Kentucky International Equine Summit in Lexington April 28.

Alex Waldrop was one of several speakers at the Kentucky International Equine Summit in Lexington April 28.

Anne M. Eberhardt

Industry Growth Said to Need Cooperation

The obstacles to industry expansion were discussed at the equine summit in Lexington.

Because lack of growth appears to be one of the many issues plaguing the horse industry, the Kentucky International Equine Summit in Lexington hosted an April 28 seminar to tackle the topic and seek solutions.

In a discussion titled “Efforts in the Industry Aimed at Growth,” four panelists shared their thoughts on how different facets of the horse industry can continue to expand but maintain the unity essential to understanding each other’s point of view. John Long, chief executive officer of the United States Equestrian Federation, opened the session with a bold statement: “I don’t think we have a horse industry—there’s no integrated way to talk to each other.”

Long stressed the importance of different horse groups coming together to discuss the common elements between them, as well as common threats. He suggested how an organization such as the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which promotes and encompasses multiple horse breeds, would be beneficial on a national level.

Long, who said the industry needs vertical and horizontal growth, explained how the 2010 World Equestrian Games has provided numerous opportunities to connect all facets of the horse industry. “The Games is an economic engine to change things,” he said. “We see it as a way to change the way the horse sport is perceived and get more people involved.”

Robert Clay, owner of Three Chimneys near Midway, Ky., said the horse industry’s primary obstacle is structure. Clay said the Breeders’ Cup World Championships and National Thoroughbred Racing Association need to be reunited as a joint organization.

Another major obstacle is profitability, Clay said. “We have a fractured focus,” he said. “We can’t admit whether we’re a sport or a gamble. We have a weak profile when measuring ourselves against other sports.”

Clay said the Kentucky horse industry in particular has been distracted by “quick fixes” such as getting slot machines at racetracks. That, he contended, could make racing “no longer important.”

Newcomers must have a sufficient reason to want to participate in the industry, and Clay believes the industry has done a poor job of presenting something trustworthy of an investment.

In the past, Clay said Breeders’ Cup was lacking in the area of marketing itself, but he foresees some positive changes on the horizon, as the event will be held at Santa Anita Park in California the next two years and will contain several new features.

“(The horse industry) isn’t just about the money—it’s about the feeling,” Clay said. “We need to know and understand our product.”

Holly Davis, the author of “Horselife,” an online marketing initiative to invite newcomers to equine activities, said the horse industry needs to change from being so intimidating to outsiders. Davis’ long-term goals for Horselife are for it to become a charitable organization with a board of directors, manufacturers, and service providers.

Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the NTRA, said his organization’s mission is to increase the popularity of the horse industry. Waldrop listed the following things the NTRA is doing to enact its mission: partnering with other breed associations, providing legislative advocacy, gaining NTRA Advantage partners to generate revenue and provide benefits for members, promoting integrity, and creating charitable organizations.

Waldrop said the industry needs more mainstream media coverage for people to learn about the sport. “I’ve learned that traditional marketing isn’t enough,” he said.

Waldrop said that by creating his own blog on the NTRA Web site, he has been able to “go to the bricks” of the industry and listen to the concerns of the people. “We need to reorder our thinking to, ‘What does the horseplayer want?’ ” he said.

In order to get the growth curve back up in terms of pari-mutuel handle, Waldrop said the industry needs to create more opportunities add fun to the game, such as offering additional national handicapping contests.