Florida Thoroughbreds Up in Economic Impact, Jobs

BY TAMMY A. GANTT

The American Horse Council Foundation released the results of its 2023 Equine Economic Impact Study on Jan. 31 confirming the Florida Thoroughbred industry contributes $3.24 billion to the Florida economy.

To put it into perspective, the $3.24 billion Florida Thoroughbred industry sits just ahead of the average annual total economic impact of $3.1 billion (inflation adjusted) for all collegiate athletics in Florida according to two-year Florida Sports Foundation estimates released in December, 2022.

The equine industry as a whole contributes $12.8 billion to the Florida economy, with Florida Thoroughbreds contributing to more than one-quarter of that total.

The study commissioned by the American Horse Council reaffirmed the status of the Florida equine industry, and specifically Thoroughbred horse racing, as a major sports and agricultural industry within the state.

One in every four horses in Florida or 87,600, are Thoroughbreds, while Florida continues to be the third-leading equine state by population with 335,000 head. Texas and California, with larger land footprints, rank first and second respectively.

The equine industry creates more than 112,000 jobs in Florida, with 30% or 33,500 of those jobs attributed to the Thoroughbred industry.

The report also noted that Florida has produced more stakes winners (by foal crop) and Kentucky Derby champions, beginning with Needles in 1956, than any other jurisdiction outside of Kentucky,

“Even better, Sunshine state Thoroughbreds are consistently a top-three leading producer of Thoroughbred runners and second-ranked source of national stakes-winners,” Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association CEO Lonny Powell said.

One-in-five Florida households participate in equine activities and more than 30% identify themselves as horse enthusiasts having owner, participant or spectator status.

Florida land dedicated to equine and equine-related activities is 561,000 acres.

Marion County is Horse Capital of the World®

The AHC also provided a county level economic impact study for Marion County and its Ocala Metro revealing once again the county has more horses and ponies than any other county in the United States with 75,000 horses. Nearly 50% are Thoroughbreds.

The county’s equines contribute more than $4.3 billion in total economic impact, and an estimated 22% of the county’s gross domestic product (GDP). Included in that total is Ocala Breeder’s Sales. Renowned as the worldwide leader for racing prospects via its two-year-old in training sales, with 74% of the marketplace, OBS generates $180 million annually through five sales.

Approximately 28,500 county jobs, equivalent to one in five, are attributed to the equine industry with Thoroughbred-related jobs accounting for a majority, or 56%, of those jobs.

Acres used for horse-related purposes in Marion County total 210,000, or 20%.

“Florida, and specifically Marion County, has clearly maintained its rightful position as Horse Capital of the World® by population, participation and economic value,” Powell said.

The county report noted Marion County is one of the world’s leading centers for horse breeding and horse activity, particularly Thoroughbreds.

Equine Tourism is Big Business

The report identified that the opening of the World Equestrian Center in 2021 lead to increased equine activity, attracted horse enthusiasts and owners from out of state, and grew the polo market that did not exist when the 2017 report was conducted.

The report also identified high profile and well attended equine competition events including the longtime hunter-jumper season at Horse Shows in the Sun, Live Oak International combined driving and show jumping, the North American Reining Stakes, CONFEPASO Youth Equitation Mundial, WEC’s Winter Spectacular horse shows, and the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup jumping series.

Non-horse owning event participants and spectators spent $2.7 billion in Florida on travel, dining and lodging while participating on and attending events, with an estimated 34.4% in Marion County.

Report Makes Case for Equines

The purpose of each survey is to demonstrate the value of the equine industry in the national and state economies by analyzing the direct, indirect, and induced economic impacts of horse ownership, recreation, and equine-related services.

The American Horse Council has identified ways to impactfully use these studies including:

• Use in conjunction with previous studies to help identify trends, and project/forecast indicators

• To pinpoint areas of growth in the industry to foster and identify gaps that need attention

• To assess the demographics of the industry (age, income levels, etc.)

• To educate decision makers on the impact of an industry to the national or local economy

• Identify the monetary impacts the industry has on a community through tourism, jobs, etc.

• Identify under-served geographic areas where riding lessons, veterinaries or other professionals might set up or expand their businesses

• To help determine the need for equine studies programs at community colleges, universities

• To inform young equestrians of various careers and organizations within the industry

• To help inform general public of the level of involvement with horses in the US (owners, participants, spectators, etc.)

• To help identify the impact of alternative revenue sources (slot machines, etc.) on live racing and the economic impacts that flow from that.

• To identify the impacts of recessions on breeding and horse populations

• To help inform business development such as construction or renovation of venues and trails, and determine viability of events

• To help inform viability of product development and possible marketing plans and strategies

• To help provide context to arguments and cases for legal defense, adverse legislation or regulation, or development or expansion that may negatively impact the industry

• To identify prospective markets for membership, buyers, attendees

• To help fight for green space and public lands

“The Economic Impact Study is the most effective tool in our advocacy quiver,” AHC President Julie Broadway said, “When the industry needs to take aim at an issue, this data is invaluable in helping us paint the picture of the contributions the industry makes and the breadth and depth of its composition.”

FTBOA Sets the Pace

Powell agrees. He was a key speaker for the presentation, From Data to Dollars – Understanding Horse Racing’s Economic Impact As Racing’s Future is Questioned, presented at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program 49th Symposium on Racing in December in Tucson.

The session delved into ways to craft compelling arguments to garner state support for the racing industry by quantifying its existing economic contributions. The panel of seasoned veterans shared strategies for articulating the industry’s scale and how to secure financial incentives, bolster racing programs and modernize facilities. To view the presentation, visit the FTBOA Youtube channel.

Studies are conducted by a third party economics analysis firm, The Innovation Group, who utilized the IMPLAN data and software model, in addition to AHC surveys, U.S. Census data and accounting conventions of the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The FTBOA funded the Florida and Marion County reports.

Data from each study is available under the Horse Capital of the World® header on the FTBOA website at FTBOA.com and members from FTBOA management are available to present study results to Associations and community groups. The FTBOA also produces three takeaway cards with key data, 1) state equine impact, 2) Florida Thoroughbred impact and 3) Marion County equine impact. Cards are sent to FTBOA members upon membership renewal, available at the offices, and for distribution.

For more information on the national study, go to horsecouncil.org.