Equine community making ‘significant’ contribution to Alberta economy: report

Horses, donkeys and mules make up Alberta’s vast equine community.

The industry is an important contributor to the province’s economy, according to newly released research from a study initiative by the Alberta Equestrian Federation (AEF).

The AEF has been in existence since 1978 as a membership-driven, not-for-profit association representing the interests of the equine industry in all sectors across Alberta, but as of 2021 had not completed an economic impact study.

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“For the past few years we’ve been thinking about how (how) it seems like our industry is making a real contribution to the provincial economy, and we should be trying to figure out how to measure that,” said AEF President-elect Jason Essbar.

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“The equine industry is actually amazingly complex when you think about people delivering hay, people mounting horses, trailer sales, truck sales, veterinary services.”

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Horse and rider at Tailwind Equestrian in Lethbridge, Alta.

Eloise Therien / Global News

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Edworthy explained that AEF hired an independent contractor to produce the estimates, which found there were approximately 142,000 horses living on 25,000 properties in Alberta.

He suspects there is more to consider, but there is currently no comprehensive way to track the population.

Regardless of the exact size, their contribution causes a sensation.

A horse at Tailwind Equestrian in Lethbridge, Alta.

Eloise Therien / Global News

“The results show that the economic impact of the equine community in terms of gross domestic product was just over $1.4 billion in 2021,” reads AEF’s website. “Direct spending in the equine community was over $1.7 billion. These expenses result in a contribution of $855 million in labor income.”

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“The fact that it is such a significant contributor to GDP really helps us to justify our investments and our plans for the future to support the growth of the industry,” added Edworthy.

According to the report’s summary, more than half of the province’s horses are used for recreational purposes, while 40 percent are used for sport and around six percent are work horses.

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“There’s just a huge number of people who enjoy their horses and can do anything from backcountry packing for fun to trail riding to riding in their field,” Edworthy said.

Meanwhile, it has also been found that the cost of grooming a sport horse is about twice that of a leisure horse and three times the cost of grooming a work horse.

Donna Ferguson, owner and head trainer of Tailwind Equestrian in Lethbridge, currently has 23 horses in her care.

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“For grooming your horse (cost) I’d say $12,000 to $15,000 annually, and that’s before you pay to train your horse to get to the competitions,” she said.

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Ferguson said forage and hay costs have skyrocketed recently — more than doubling in some cases.

“Most horse owners will tell you that the joy of owning a horse outweighs these expenses.”

Tailwind offers riding lessons for different skill levels. Ferguson said she’s pleased with the increased interest in the leisure component.

“I would say historically this is the first time I’ve had a waiting list where I can’t get someone on right away, so that’s a really good sign,” she said.

“I hope the industry continues to grow. Alberta is a great place to get involved with horses and sport horses.”

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