(This editorial first appeared in the June 2011 print edition of The Equiery.)

Dictionary.com defines “the tipping point” as “the culmination of a buildup of small changes that effects a big change.”  The Cambridge Dictionary, Cambridge University Press defintes a tipping point as “the time at which a change or an effect cannot be stopped.” (For more on the definition of a tipping point, scroll to the bottom.)

Has the Maryland horse industry hit a tipping point? Yes, if the energy and activity of both the Maryland Horse Industry Board and the Maryland Horse Council are any evidence.

The number of new initiatives and the number of enthusiastic, capable and committed volunteers is impressive. Something is in the air.

Whatever this something is, it should make those who have been toiling away over the last two decades, laying the foundation for this sudden, frenzied industry building activity, very proud.

What is notable is that there have been, essentially, only one or two major accomplishments per year for the last twenty-five years, but now, in 2011, the list of accomplishments for just one year is going to exceed the list of accomplishments for entire decade. Have we hit the tipping point? Read on!

Who IS the Maryland Equestrian Community? What IS the Maryland horse industry?

For the purposes of THIS conversation, the “Maryland horse industry” and the “Maryland equestrian community” refer to the broader horse world of ALL horse sports and ALL horse breeds and ALL types of horse people and horse businesses. For far too long, “horse industry” has referred almost exclusively to the racing industry in Maryland–which is understandable, given that it was the only entity formally organized well enough to present itself to the general media and to our politicians as one (albeit un-united) industry. And for well over a century, it was the racing industry that fueled all the horse sports in Maryland.

The Pendulum Swings

But “horse industry” is no longer shorthand for “the racing industry.” Today, the “Maryland horse industry” and the “Maryland equestrian community” encompass ALL breeds, ALL sports and equestrian activities, ALL types of horse people. Racing is no longer the powerhouse that it once was. Leftover Thoroughbred race horses no longer hold the dominance that they once did in the sports of show hunters, eventing, foxhunting and dressage (yes, remember when our country’s greatest dressage riders competed on Thoroughbreds?), and in the lesson programs.

Harness racing and its noble Standardbred have faded from our awareness as tracks have closed and breeding farms have relocated. Meanwhile, the flat-track world of the mighty Thoroughbred, our official state breed, has had more than its share of hard times (some self-inflicted), and in some ways is the new horse industry’s hard-luck cousin struggling to keep up while the rest of the horse industry trots on.

While the racing world has kept the attention of the mainstream media and the politicians, the rest of the equestrian community in Maryland has just been doing “it’s thang,” taking lessons, leasing horses, finding that perfect horse for the next level of eventing or dressage or jumpers, or to get them more blue ribbons in hunters, or pack them safely around the hunt field. More often than not these days, for the vast majority of the weekend warriors, that horse is something other than a Thoroughbred. Meanwhile, Thoroughbred breeding farms are planting grapes, trying to find a way to pay the bills, or dabbling in standing stallions of other breeds.

This is not to diminish the critical cornerstone that the racing industry continues to play in Maryland. This is not to dismiss the negative impact of the reduction or loss of racing on the horse community in general.

It’s just that the rest of the Maryland horse world is no longer as dependent upon the once plentiful off-the-track Thoroughbred as it once was, and that the face of the equestrian community is much different today than it was twenty years ago.

Meanwhile, for at least the last two decades, this evolving Maryland equestrian community has struggled to define and promote itself, to grow, and to be recognized for the economic powerhouse that it truly is.

While some wailed about the horse community not getting the respect it deserves, and asked “why can’t we get someone to pay for all these great marketing campaigns, grand horse parks, in-depth economic research, expanded academic and scientific opportunities,” a small group of dedicated horse people buckled down, dug in and laid the foundation so that these great things could happen. Their names will probably be lost to history (or to the archives on equiery.com), but their hard work has made it possible for the Maryland horse industry to gallop into the 21st Century–and galloping we are!

This is probably one of the most exciting times to be in the Maryland horse industry, to be a part of the Maryland equestrian community. The two state-wide organizations, the Maryland Horse Council and the Maryland Horse Industry Board, have really hit their stride, and things are really starting to happen!

Yes, like the rest of the world, our industry has been hit–and hit hard–by the recession. Here at The Equiery, we see it every month, as another stable or shop goes out of business. And over 100 people applied for the job of the State Stable Inspector, a job that barely pays above minimum wage!

But as most economists will attest, sometimes that shakeout and reorganization is necessary, like hard pruning a shrub that has become sprawling. After the hard prune, the shrub may look dessicated, but within a year or so it comes back better than ever, with dense, green, healthy growth.

And if you look closely, you can see the buds on our horse industry shrub!

MHIB & Ross Peddicord: His First 100 Days

On January 1, 2011, Ross Peddicord assumed the responsibilities of the Executive Director of the Maryland Horse Industry Board, and boy, did he hit the ground running! In his first “100 days in office,” Ross attended 55 meetings! Specifically he attended:

• 19 government meetings

• 30 horse industry meetings

• 5 MHIB meetings

• 1 MHIB Health Advisory Committee Meeting

Just weeks into his new job, he staffed the MHIB booth at Horse World Expo. In between meetings and govi-work, he could be seen out and about at a wide variety of public events in the horse world, including the Maryland Horse Council Horseman of the Year dinner on January 29 at Camden Yards, the Maryland Ag Dinner on February 3 in Glen Burnie, two Hunt Balls, the Baltimore County Horse Seminar, the Grand National, the Maryland Hunt Cup, Lady Legends Day at the Black-Eyed Susan, and–of course–the Preakness.

Ross also staffed the MHIB booth at the Decanter event at Pimlico (after making the arrangements for the horse industry to partner with the Maryland Wineries Association for an equestrian-themed wine tasting) and was one of the leaders for the LEAD Maryland fellowship program equine industry tour.

He could also be seen squiring about Chinese Exchange Students at Merryland Farm, has acted as part of the Governor’s advance team for equine-related appearances by O’Malley, and organized the Governor’s press conference at Fair Hill the day before the Preakness.

In his first 100 days, Ross stepped in to Bev Raymond’s shoes and conducted stable inspections (Bev retired in December, and the job has not yet been filled), given one TV interview (FOX) and three radio interviews (two for WYPR and one for Annapolis Radio).

And if all this running around were not enough, he has provided the fuel for the engine to power and/or relaunch several major initiatives, including but not limited to

• The Maryland Horse Park

• A five-year marketing plan to grow the entire industry

• A state-wide awareness campaign for the 2010 Equine Census results

• Revamping of the MHIB website and collateral materials

• The Licensed Stable Resource Guide for Maryland’s 600 licensed stables

• A new, revamped MHIB Grant Program for 2012

• A monthly awards program to recognize the ongoing accomplishments of Maryland equestrians, Maryland horses, and Maryland business owners

Ross is working with a vibrant and engaged Board of Directors, whose members are appointed by the Governor based on recommendations from the equestrian community. There is a seat on the board for each aspect of the horse industry:

• Horse Showing & Sport Horse Competing

• Trail Riding

• Licensed Riding & Boarding Stables

• Licensed Equine Rescues & Sanctuaries

• Thoroughbred Racing & Breeding

• Standardbred Racing & Breeding

• Licensed Vets

• Support Industries (such as, but not limited to, retailers, manufacturers, farriers and other service industries, publications, insurance)

• The Academic Community

• Maryland Horse Council

• Department of Agriculture

• General Public

• Animal Control & Humane Societies

• State Stable Inspector

(For the names of the individuals who represent each segment, click here.)

Tomorrow: more evidence of a tipping point.

In the meantime, tell us about some “small changes” in the Maryland equestrian community that have had a large impact!


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What is a Tipping Point?

The tipping point is the critical point in an evolving situation that leads to a new and irreversible development. The term is said to have originated in the field of epidemiology when an infectious disease reaches a point beyond any local ability to control it from spreading more widely. A tipping point is often considered to be a turning point.

The term is now used in many fields. Journalists apply it to social phenomena, demographic data, and almost any change that is likely to lead to additional consequences. Marketers see it as a threshold that, once reached, will result in additional sales. In some usage, a tipping point is simply an addition or increment that in itself might not seem extraordinary but unexpectedly leads to a big effect. A tipping point may occur simply because a critical mass has been reached.

–        From whatis.techtarget.com