April 2001

Horses — they seem to be taking over everything ag-related in Maryland. Feed mills now produce more feed for horses in Maryland than they do for other livestock. Farm Credit banks, traditionally farmer cooperatives, now provide most of their mortgages to those producing horse farms. The Maryland Department of Agriculture now has a commodity board for horses (the Maryland Horse Industry Board).
And now the University of Maryland Institute of Applied Agriculture is offering a certification program in Equine Business Management. This new program, a modification of their traditional agriculture business management program, is the brainchild of the Institute’s new director, Tom Hartsock. Explains Tom:

Our traditional Agriculture Business Management option, once a strong program, now has very few students. There are several reasons why this has happened. First, there are far fewer farms in Maryland than there were 20 — or even 10 — years ago, so the pool of students wanting to train and return to the farm is much smaller.
Secondly, Maryland farms have grown in size, yet most are still small enough to be owner-managed. For example, most dairy farmers hire people to milk and help with cropping. They don’t hire managers because they do that themselves. The same is true for most traditional livestock and cropping operations, so managerial job opportunities are limited.
As traditional livestock numbers decrease, another kind of critter steadily increases its population. Horses, pleasure horses in particular, number somewhere around 100,000 in Maryland. Many of those horses board at the 400 stables licensed by the Maryland Department of Agriculture (ed. note: The Equiery features over 500 riding and boarding stables). As both the number and size of stables grow, so will the need for professional management.
Although some have argued that horses aren’t agriculture, I take a different view. The traditional definition of agriculture is related to the production of food and fiber. But although we neither eat nor wear turfgrass, we generally consider it to be an agricultural commodity. I choose to call this a form of ?recreational agriculture.? Horses fall into the same category…and their owners support traditional agricultural when they buy all that hay, straw and grain.

Hartsock observed that IAA’s traditional agriculture business management program already provides basic training for running a farm business. By substituting equine courses for some of the livestock courses, the IAA will be providing a program to train stable managers for jobs in our rapidly growing industry.
The program is designed specifically to train people who wish to own and/or manage horse boarding operations. In addition to courses in basic horse management mentioned above, students will learn the business skills necessary to run an operation, including business law, business operations, farm management and personnel management. Nutrient management, hay production and pasture management will also be taught, along with courses on soils and fertilizers and fundamentals of agricultural mechanics.
The Equiery recommends that horse owners who have never owned a farm before, and who have boarded their horses at commercial facilities and are now considering purchasing their own property and running a boarding stable so they can ?do it right? consider taking these courses before they buy that land, build that barn and open for business. This is especially important if they have never owned or operated a small business before. Many of today’s successful stable owner/operators, who learned it the ?hard way,? can attest, it is worth the investment to get the education ahead of time, instead of ?learning as you go.?
And a note to stable owners: have a promising stable manager in your operation? Why not consider sending them to IAA part time while they work for you (provided, of course, that they sign some sort of commitment contract to you for a certain number of years after they graduate, or they have to reimburse you for tuition). Or — maybe you have a job opening for an upcoming graduate? If so, let IAA know!