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Monday, November 4, 2013

Family involvement helps keep Saddlebred industry viable in tough economic times


A first-time exhibitor gets a little help in the show ring from his trainer after receiving a second-place ribbon. (Photo provided)


By Tim Thornberry
KyForward correspondent

Barry Stumbo worked with one of his prized Saddlebred horses recently, watching every move the animal made; examining it to make sure it was ready for the show ring.

But Stumbo, a long-time trainer and breeder from Versailles, was not in the quiet confines of his Woodford County farm. He was in a practice area outside of Celebration Arena in the small North Alabama town of Priceville preparing the horse for one of the many classes that make up the Alabama Charity Championship Horse Show.

Stumbo was far from being the only horse owner/exhibitor from the Bluegrass at this annual event as car after car, truck after truck displayed Kentucky license plates and filled the vast parking lot.

In the show horse industry, it isn’t unusual to see people travel all over the country to events like the ACCHS; in fact, it’s what many do throughout the show season, which is most of the year.

And many of those “horse people,” as one might expect, come from Kentucky, where Thoroughbreds are not the only breed keeping the state in the running as Horse Capital of the World.

A closer look at the Celebration Arena parking lot also revealed something else about the industry; it is comprised of many different kinds of people and farms, from the wealthy owners with hundreds of horses and $500,000 horse vans to the mom-and-pop farms with a couple of the animals and a small trailer hooked to the family pickup.


Barry Stumbo, a trainer from Versailles, works with one of his Saddlebreds before a show. (Photo provided)

Stumbo said he has had as many as 65 horses in training at one time while mentoring many younger trainers and enjoying scores of customers along the way. He has sold many horses, as well.

But he has scaled down, something indicative of the Saddlebred industry today; perhaps something indicative of the horse industry as a whole.

Stumbo said over the years, many people have gotten out of the business because of the recession.

“It (the recession) has hurt the Saddlebred industry quite a bit,” he said. “A lot of the breeding operations have gone down, not dealing with near the number of horses they did at one time just because of the recession we were in and I think, we are still in.”

While that is the case for most equine sectors, the number of people in the industry remains substantial and the economic impact horses have in Kentucky alone is still a force to be reckoned with.

The 2012 Kentucky Equine Survey proved that as data showed the industry had a total economic impact of almost $3 billion and generated 40,665 jobs last year along with contributing approximately $134 million in taxes.

The competition sector made a respectable showing, according to the survey, with 2,708 in employment, $635 million in output and $297 million in value-added impact.

Stumbo said the Saddlebred industry is still thriving and one reason for it is the family aspect that encompasses most farming operations. Families have kept the business alive, he added.

“It is so much fun for the family and I advise so many people if you have children get them to do something they like to do,” he said. “It has really been a big plus for a lot of families.”

Shows such as the ACCHS have many classes just for young riders or new riders, and many families that are involved in showing don’t even own a horse but rather visit barns that supply the animals and the training for such shows or just the pleasure of riding.

Often the perception of those in the horse industry by those who are not is that it is for the wealthy and while many in that category decide to enter the horse business, Stumbo said it is the smaller operations that serve as the foundation for the industry.

“The mom-and-pops and the backyard operations are the key to this and when we run that out or it leaves us, the whole operation will go down,” he said. “We need to keep these small horse farms going.”

A show for everyone

Janet Byron has managed the ACCHS since it began 22 years ago, She and her late husband Charlie along with a group of fellow horse enthusiasts began the event with the idea of it being for everybody both the big farms and the smaller operations along with being a family oriented event.

At that time, Janet said the business had gotten to be comprised of the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

“We wanted to have a show where the little guy was treated just like the big guy,” she said. “Whatever we did, it was for everybody. We talked about the different things we could do to make people feel welcome and want to come and do some things that had not been done at other shows. That was what this show was going to be built on.”

To this day, that idea is still intact as many meals are provided during the event, allowing trainers, their families and customers to dine together and one night is set aside as family night, complete with barbecue, karaoke and blowup rides for the children.

There are also many academy classes included that focus specifically on novice riders, most of which are children or young adults.

Byron said both she and her husband grew up in the horse business and raised their children in it.

“We knew how wonderful it was for kids,” she said. “There are a lot of them that have never been responsible for anything and they just fall in love with these horses. And it keeps the family united.”

Byron added that involvement with horses can really refocus a young person’s life in learning responsibility for the animal and caring for them.

No matter where a show event may be, Saddlebred families continue to travel to these events complete with the kids, the family pets and of course their prized horses.

Byron said she thinks the business will always be around and the bad economy may have served as an awakening for many in the industry.

Stumbo said one way to get and keep people involved is to make participation in the industry easier to afford and get smaller operations to stay in or come back to the business.

Tim Thornberry is a freelance writer and photographer who has covered Kentucky agricultural and rural issues for various publications since 1995. 



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