GrassRoots Cooperative Forms to Unite Small Breeders Region 12 Show, First Public Meeting
by Cindy Reich
This is the eleventh installment of our “State of the Industry” series in which we examine some facet of the horse industry. We invite your participation and input, and seek to discover what is working and what is not. The entire horse industry is going through painful changes as we compete with a changing and increasingly urban culture. Our hope is to establish a dialogue and identify innovative programs that are working.
Arabian Horse World strives to provide exposure to groups, like this one created by Denise Shannon, that promote our breed and look for ways to improve the future of our industry.
Denise Shannon is heading up a grassroots organization to expand the outreach of the Arabian horse industry as well as provide a sort of “one-stop-shopping and information portal” for those in the industry, especially small breeders. Developed as an extension of a Facebook posting, Shannon recently held a meeting at the Region 12 show to gain input and encourage participation. “I wanted to use this opportunity to find out what others in the industry needed in terms of support, information and outreach,” Shannon said. “The whole purpose of this group is to work from a positive standpoint to help others get assistance, knowledge, and have a marketing outlet that is affordable and accessible to smaller breeders. That said, at this meeting, we had a brand new breeder attending their first regional show, a breeder who has been in the industry for 40 years, halter trainers, performance trainers — it was a good cross section of the industry.
“Part of our goal is to give exposure and marketing access to small breeders who have stallions at stud or horses to sell but are being overshadowed by larger operations with more resources and more dominant advertising. By working together as small breeders, we can become a louder voice within the industry and work towards making Arabian horse ownership more viable for more people. Our mission is to work within AHA to build a system where small farms, big farms, trainers, and Arabian lovers can come together in a positive environment to effect change that will benefit everyone in the industry. Many of us show. More of us raise foals. Lots of us ride. Some of us train. Some of us drive. Some of us show in-hand. Some of us do ranch riding. Some of us do endurance. Some of us trail ride. Some of us pet our horses and feed them carrots. What brings us all together in one place? The one thing we have in common? The Arabian horse.”
Denise went on to identify numerous examples of how things have changed in the horse industry over the last decade and more:
1. Very few people require a horse as part of their job these days.
2. Our population has changed from very rural to very urban. Land is less affordable for horses.
3. Disposable income varies, and horses are often looked at as a luxury.
4. Kids lack exposure to horses or livestock, so they’re less likely to choose an equestrian hobby.
5. Families with kids tend to select hobbies in mainstream sports, like soccer, baseball, hockey, basketball, and football.
6. We are not supporting the younger people in our industry.
7. In earlier generations, a person looking for a career in this business got their start working for someone else and learned from the ground up. Now it is common to get someone who graduated from an equine program in college with little real-world experience and unrealistic expectations.
In addition, Shannon identified some immediate needs this organization could address:
1. We need to make our farms known and easily located, so those looking for a way to participate can find us.
2. We need to establish a list of professionals in each region that are willing to donate time or expertise.
3. We need to ensure our geldings are seen as valuable family, show, and working horses.
4. We need to readily locate supplies, clothing, equipment, as well as breeding stallions and mares.
5. We need to develop some guidelines to help newcomers and those who want to try new things with their Arabians.
Armed with some projects to begin, Denise also received some great suggestions from the audience at the meeting. Some of the most urgent included getting a logo, begin branding the organization, developing a website and recruiting members to work on long term goals. “We want to have a site that is sort of like Amazon,” Denise said. “People can go there to look for breeders, equipment, mentors, trainers, resource list for newcomers — all in one place. We need to develop a ‘Users Manual’ with guidelines, suggestions, and information for newcomers. Things like how to prepare for a photo shoot, how to set up for a ‘lunch and learn’ at your farm, what circumstances require liability insurance, how do you write up a breeding contract? The topics are endless. We need a gelding program. There should be prizes for geldings at all Class A shows for AOTH and JOTH classes. But it will take time. Also ideas for gelding programs or projects that do not include showing need to be discovered and implemented.
“We need to operate as a cooperative. This way we can negotiate prices on things from hay and feed to services, advertising, and maybe even hauling or training fees. We need to identify companies and service providers that are willing to discount for members and will negotiate for services or commodities if we buy in bulk. Also, we can start to work to get public service attention to our horses and our industry. RFD-TV is one possibility. What about a YouTube channel? We need to investigate the possibilities.”
In terms of membership, Denise believes that to be active long term, the group needs to be affiliated with AHA. Therefore there would not be specific membership dues. For those that want to participate on the website, there would probably be some nominal fee to help cover the website costs and maintenance. “We hold the destiny of our horses in our own hands and need to act now. We often say, ‘It takes a village to …’ Well, in this case it takes the entire population of Arabian horse enthusiasts to come together to maintain a future for our children’s children in a viable Arabian horse industry.”