Rising costs along with slow business growth is the way three equine veterinarians summed up the current horse healthcare situation during this week’s annual meeting of the American Association of Equine Practitioners in Nashville, Tenn.

After listening to what they had to say about the current veterinary economy, I’ve come to the conclusion that farriers are faring better than veterinarians. While some owners have cut back on horse numbers, most are still seeing the value of investing in proper hoof care.

On the other hand, veterinarians are not only dealing with reduced horse numbers, but are finding owners aren’t as interested in investing in routine healthcare or more expensive optional procedures and treatments.

Vets report that annual industry-wide earnings are down an average of 10% in recent years. And while they project that veterinary business incomes will grow by 19% between now and 2025, that amounts to a growth of only 1.4% per year, says Mike Pownall, the operator of McKee-Pownall Equine Services in Campellville, Ontario.

Bob Mangus, who operates the Wisconsin Equine Clinic & Hospital in Oconomowoc, Wis., recognizes that a number of veterinary practices face less than favorable economic situations. With reduced incomes, many clinics have cut back on staff positions.

It’s even worse in France, where the government has proposed placing up to a 20% tax on veterinary services. If this becomes law, economists estimate it could lead to the loss of 6,000 jobs in the French equine industry. In Great Britain, there are currently five times as many veterinary graduates as there are positions in the country.

Results from the most recent American Farriers Journal Business Practices survey indicated income has continued to hold steady for most farriers. While some shoers have seen a drop in income over the past several years the average gross income for full-time farriers averaged $92,726, which was $458 higher than it had been 2 years earlier.

So when you look at the footcare business, farriers seem to be doing better in terms of not losing income than equine veterinarians.

Bleak Future For Vet Students

It is not necessarily a good time for students graduating from veterinary school. Beginning jobs in the equine veterinary field are scarce, as many equine hospital and clinic owners have reduced the number of vets.

Kathleen Anderson of Equine Veterinary Care in Elkton, Md., says there were 2,500 veterinary school graduates in 2013, with 77% being female. Despite the fact that we currently have too many veterinarians, several new vet schools have opened up in the past 2 years.

Anderson reported that the job website for the American Association of Veterinary Medicine currently lists only 32 veterinary openings across the country. At the same time, the website included the resumes of 248 veterinarians looking for jobs.

In all animal health areas, there’s a 12.5% surplus of veterinarians compared to the number of available positions. It’s even higher at 23% for equine veterinarians, as many operations have trimmed their staffs.

At this time, the future for newly trained veterinarians is not good. The typical 30-year-old veterinarian is still faced with $312,000 in outstanding student loans. And the ratio of student debt for veterinary students compared to future income is twice that of medical students.

Governments Not Helping

In Ontario, Pownall says a sharp reduction in government incentives for the racing industry has dramatically impacted racing at 19 Ontario tracks.

“In 2011, 4,000 mares were bred in Ontario for racing,” says Pownall. “That number dropped to only 1,000 bred mares in 2013 and has had a dramatic impact on racing and veterinary care.

“The government has now reversed itself and is again offering limited incentives to the racing industry that amount to about 40% of what was available 18 months ago. But it appears to be too little, too late.”

Pownall says the typical racehorse in Ontario makes 6.31 starts per year and earns an income of only $19,000 per year.