Equestrians Discuss Horse Industry Fixes

Interested equestrians battled snow and slippery roads to converge in Berryville Tuesday evening to discuss the state of Clarke County’s horse industry. Approximately 40 horse owners, breeders, racers and medical professionals gathered at Camino Real restaurant in Berryville on January 11th to share ideas and thoughts on keeping the local horse industry’s economic engine healthy and viable.   Organized by Equine Medical Services, a local veterinary practice, with support from Pfizer, Inc., Pennfield Feeds and Haygain, the forum highlighted issues and concerns facing the horse industry in the current weak economy.

“Horses are a luxury, especially in a tough economy like this” said Alison Rode, Equine Medical Services office manager. “As the economy makes it harder horse owners to have horses there are a number of associated jobs and services that also are affected.”

Dr. Mitchell Rode, owner and head veterinarian at Equine Medical Services, moderated the discussions which ranged from animal rights and animal welfare issues to the state of business in the racing world.

“In a sense, many of these issues are inter-related. The economy in general affects the economy of the horse business, which in turn affects the ability of owners to provide for horses and can lead to welfare or abandonment issues” Dr. Rode said.   “We also talked about the issue of drug use in performance horses and racing, a side effect of which is loss of fan confidence and loss of fan base, which in turn, can lead to economic issues.”

The audience was made up of representatives from a wide variety of horse disciplines.   There were dressage riders and eventers, show jumpers and fox hunters, racing trainers and Thoroughbred breeders, Western trainers and gaited horse owners.   “We intentionally selected the participants so that all aspects of the horse industry would be represented,” stated Dr. Rode.   “Our goal was to show that while each particular discipline might have its own issues, in the end, many of our concerns are the same.   The more we realize what we share in common, the greater our chances of working together toward a solution.”

After outlining major issues affecting horse owners, ranging from horses abandoned by owners for economic reasons to horse business economics, Rode opened the discussion to meeting attendees.

“Even though we all come from different areas of the horse business we still share many of the same concerns” said one horse owner. Another attendee described the state of horse racing as “over-saturated” with too many race days and races.

“Maryland racing is dramatically cutting back the number of racing days” a Thoroughbred owner said. “The economic model for owning a race horse is on shaky ground. The racing industry has to change. There’s just not enough money leftover for the horse owner anymore to pay for the costs of raising and training a horse.”

Dr. Mitchell Rode addresses horse enthusiasts in Berryville, Virginia - Photo Edward Leonard

Dr. Rode asked the attendees “What can we, as equine veterinarians, do to help you address these issues?”   Dr. Rode and his associates, Drs. Chad and Stephanie Davis had sprinkled themselves throughout the group during the table-by-table discussions over dinner. According to Dr. Rode, “This was a secondary goal of ours:   once we addressed the significance of the various issues to these horse owners, we wanted to get their feedback on steps we as veterinarians could take to assist them in dealing with the problems.”

“We learned a lot as a result of this discussion,” said Dr. Chad Davis.   “We intend to use this information as we formulate our practice plans. In an equine service business like ours, there’s no better way to find out how you should approach practice than to ask horse owners directly.”

The conclusion of the evening revealed a surprise development for those in attendance.   “This evening is the official unveiling of our practice’s new name,” announced Dr. Rode.   He proceeded to introduce a slide of the new logo highlighting the change from Equine Medical Services to Clarke Equine Wellness and Performance.   “We want to emphasize two things,” Dr. Rode indicated.   “First and foremost is that we are not changing anything about our approach and our dedication to preventive care and wellness for all of our patients.   At the same time, with the addition of Drs. Chad and Stephanie Davis, we are greatly expanding our capabilities and services in the area of performance horse medicine.   We feel this name change emphasizes both of these things, while simultaneously highlighting our home location here in Clarke County.”

“As veterinarians, anything we can do to meet the needs of our clients and address the issues of horse owners, we are willing to take a look at.   We are grateful to all those who participated by being here tonight and helping us with this information” Rode said.

Clarke Equine Wellness and Performance can be locate at www.clarkeequine.com