By Michele S. Byers
Did you know New Jersey’s state animal is the horse? This state we’re in is home to about 42,000 horses. Throughout history, they have transported us, plowed fields, and carried us into battle.
While our relationship with horses has changed from utilitarian to pleasure, much has not changed: horses are still very much a part of our lives and our relationship with them ties us to the land.
Aside from the sheer pleasure and fun they give to horse lovers, New Jersey’s horses are important to our economy and keeping our rural landscapes.
Thousands of acres all over New Jersey are still green and pastoral, thanks to horses and the equine industry. Garden State horses are employed for racing, breeding, showing, pleasure riding and therapy for the disabled. Faculty at colleges and universities view their horses-in-residence as fellow instructors, and the United States Equestrian Team Foundation is headquartered here in New Jersey.
Monmouth County recently recognized the contributions of horses to the state’s land preservation efforts and economy, with the second annual “Open Space Pace” and Festival of Horses in late September.
The Open Space Pace, held at the Freehold Raceway, raises funds for equine and agricultural non-profit organizations. A parade of horses down Freehold’s main street was followed by an afternoon of harness racing, music, horse demonstrations and exhibits.
“I like to think of the equine industry as the locomotive that drives the farmland and open space program,” says Lillian Burry, a Monmouth County freeholder and grand marshal of the event.
The industry is a powerful economic engine, Burry added: “It’s the farmer who grows the hay, the farrier who shoes the horses, the veterinarian who keep them healthy. It just goes on and on.”
A 2007 study by the Rutgers Equine Science Center quantified the staggering impact of horses on New Jersey’s landscape. More than 176,000 acres of land directly support equestrian activities, and another 46,000 acres are used to grow hay and grains for horses. At the time of the study, there were over 7,200 equine facilities in the state.
New Jersey’s equine industry is estimated to generate $1.1 billion annually! Nearly 13,000 jobs depend on the horse industry … everything from jockeys and grooms at racetracks, to farmers who grow hay and feed, to riding instructors and farm help.
It’s been ages since horses were our main form of transportation and the power behind the plows. But there’s no doubt that New Jersey is still horse country, despite being the nation’s most densely populated state.
Burry and the Open Space Pace organizers want to keep it that way, and are working to raise public awareness of how horses keep New Jersey green.
“If we lose this acreage because the horse industry is no longer viable, it will affect all of us and our quality of life,” Burry said. “It would be a travesty.”
A Kentucky-based nonprofit, the Equine Land Conservation Resource, works to save land for horses and horse-related activities. Its website, www.elcr.org, is chock full of information and advice. One especially interesting article on the site is “The $50,000 Pony,” which details the costs of horse ownership and how the money supports the local economy.
To read the Rutgers study, go to www.esc.rutgers.edu/ news_more/PDF_Files/2007_Equine_Economic_Impact_Study_Report.pdf.
And for more information about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.