The impact of the economic downturn and recovery has been a common discussion in the equine industry in recent years. Within farriery, some footcare practices have been devastated by the recession, while others witnessed little or no effect. Many farriers I spoke with during this time have lost clients, but more commonly had others spread out appointments due to economic influences. Farrier opinions also vary on how the recovery is going.
In early May, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) released census data that shows a decrease of the working horse population based on farms and ranches from a 2007 measurement to a 2012 mark. The data does not include the entire U.S. equine population or those solely used for racing, showing or recreation. The USDA-NASS defines farms or ranches as producing more than $1,000 in agricultural products or sales each year.
This 5-year span shows an overall national decrease in horse housed on farms and ranches — 3,621,348 horses in 2012 from 4,028,827 in 2007. (A few years ago, the American Horse Council reported 9 million horses in the U.S.) But this is only a section of the whole equine picture. The census indicates a nearly 15% decrease in the number of farms and ranches that owned horses. The total value of sales for all equines in 2012 was $1.391 billion, a decrease of approximately $691 million from 2007.
The survey lacks any clear measurement on how census participation compared and factored over the 5 years. The reader is left to assume economics was the primary influencer. So what should you take from it? Other than some interesting points to make at the bar, there are no shocking revelations for farriers.
Instead, the census serves reminders for business practices. First, diversify your practice. If any one segment represents a majority of your accounts, you should consider working within other breeds, disciplines, etc. It is no different for those farriers who lose a single barn that could represent 30 to 40 horses on their books.
Secondly, the best way to arm your practice against negative economic trends (local, regional or national) is through your business practices. But others may search for cost-saving alternatives. It often is too late to realize that was one of your owners as you found out after they fired you.
Perform an audit of your communication with owners. Have you done enough to explain why their horse has to stay on a particular shoeing cycle? Have you demonstrated how your commitment to continuing education benefits them and their horses? Have you taken time to address their question thoroughly? Do you spend time with the rider or trainer to get their input?
Sure, if an owner dumps their horses, there is probably nothing you could have done to prevent losing that client. Despite your best efforts, things aren’t always sunny. But in the other cases, you don’t need to be the one to give an owner a reason to de-emphasize their horses’ footcare.