Horse industry significant to Texas economy
Most ranch owners don't realize the significant impact horse ownership and its contributions have on the Texas economy, according to an equine specialist.
The Texas horse industry has a statewide economic impact of more than $5.2 billion a year, said Clay Cavinder, Ph.D., an assistant professor of equine science at Texas A&M University.
Cavinder was one of several speakers at the recent Ranch Management University at Texas A&M.
"Ranch Management University provides a foundation of knowledge for those who are new to owning land in Texas," said Larry Redmon, Ph.D., workshop coordinator and Texas AgriLife Extension Service state forage specialist.
The program features numerous experts in specific disciplines from AgriLife Extension, Texas AgriLife Research and faculty from the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M.
"Horses are valued at $4.2 billion just in the state of Texas," Cavinder said. "In terms of comparison with other industries and their effect on the GDP, we are on the same level as the motion picture industry, apparel manufacturing and tobacco industry. So, the horse industry brings a lot to the table."
Annual expenses are roughly $2,300 for the horse owner when calculating feed, health and other requirements, Cavinder said.
Trail riding, one of the more popular activities, has many benefits with regards to physical fitness, family participation, as well as an emotional outlet for disabled individuals.
Cavinder said individuals also enjoy "horse chores" such as cleaning stalls and use it as an emotional outlet.
A majority of horses now are owned for recreational purposes; most horse owners are not from a rural background.
"In the 1930s, the horse population declined due to the advent of the automobile," Cavinder said. "Today, the horse population is going back up. People are owning horses for the sheer fun of it. There are a lot of 20-year-olds that grew up having horses, but their parents weren't that involved with it. Their grandparents were likely more active in it."
Horse ownership carries with it benefits, as well as responsibilities, he said. Food, water and shelter are three basic responsibilities of horse ownership, according to Cavinder. Nutrition is the largest annual maintenance expense for the horse and is also one of the most neglected aspects of horse care.
The digestive system of a horse is that of an animal that was created to run and move and eat roughage.
"Colic is the No. 1 killer of a horse," Cavinder said. "Because it can't vomit, it creates a different set of problems here (that can lead to colic). We do not want to create a digestive upset.
"Because we're feeding horses concentrate diets, we do have to consider a few special things like distances and time between feeding. If you feed at seven in the morning, feed at seven at night. If you look at the statistics, there's millions of dollars spent on treating colic."
Cavinder said a set, routine feeding time each day will help prevent digestive problems.
Horses don't have gall bladders, which in humans emulsify fat, so they can't be fed low-quality forage, Cavinder said.
"This is why we have to feed nice, high-quality feed or hay. A horse doesn't have the ability to break down and utilize roughage that is very high in structural carbohydrates."
Cavinder advises rotating grazing of pastures to allow plants to grow before grazing.
"Wait until the forage reaches 3 to 4 inches, then clip the pasture for growth," he said. "If a pasture gets to the point where there isn't forage, then throw hay out there."
Cavinder also advises monitoring horses in the barn and observing their behavior for signs of sickness.
"I always tell students when walking through the barn, don't neglect to look at other horses," he said. "When they are sick, they look depressed. They'll have their ears drooped back and head down."
Registration is already being taken for the next Ranch Management University program scheduled April 9 to 13. For information, visit https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu and enter "Ranch Management" as the keywords.