By ANDREA VARGO
The horses are their livelihood. Cathy and Bob Smith of Buffalo take their jobs very seriously.
Their new horse facility, Meadow Brook Farm, is on Highway 25, just south of the Crow River.
The farm has over 70 acres, with some land leased, and is co-owned with Ken and Judy Figge.
The facility includes a lounge, heated indoor arena, round pen, spacious box stalls, and all the necessities for a horse's comfort.
Several miles of white fencing set off the pastures and paddocks.
The arena is used for special clinics as well as everyday training.
Bill Porcher, head trainer, is originally from New Mexico. He and his wife, Barbara, one-year-old daughter Lauren Margarette, and step-son, Mathew moved to Minnesota to train in the new enterprise.
He has been a western pleasure trainer for Arabs since 1982, and is assisted by Cory James of Wisconsin.
James has been an Arab trainer for the past seven years.
Porcher said the area west of the Twin Cities has real good business potential.
"Some of the biggest Arab training facilities in the U.S. are in Minnesota," he said.
While horses have been replaced with the tractor, they have become a big business proposition in both rural and urban areas.
The face of agriculture is changing according to farmers. While larger areas of land are worked by fewer people, this other facet of the ag business develops in Wright and surrounding counties.
According to Jodi Rooney of the Minnesota Horse Council, there are about 6.9 million horses in the United States based on a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
This new and growing business requires a lot of hay and grain, but the profits are in the services and breeding, rather than a product to put on the shelves for consumers.
Statewide, there are 118 organizations and 144 local organizations that deal with horse owners.
"I think we are small, but well organized. We tend to join everything," said Rooney.
She said some state statistics are not current, but the Minnesota Department of Agriculture will do an extensive study in the near future.
National statistics show 2 percent of the population owns a horse, and another 7.9 percent would like to own one.
According to national statistics, about 61 percent of the horse owners use them for recreation, 11 percent for racing or breeding, and 28 percent for showing.
Minnesota placed second to Michigan as the cheapest place to own a horse, and the Twin Cities metro area was in the top ten best urban places to have a horse in 1995, according to Equus magazine.
The Western Saddle Club Association has 17,562 members, and it has the largest horse show nationally every fall at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds, said Rooney.
The economic impact is considerable, she said.
The average horse owner spends about $3,700 per year in services and goods for an animal. This includes training, feed and hay, farrier services, tack items, etc.
There is about $16,300 in indirect spending (i.e. grain purchased from the farmer by the feed mill), she said.
There are 44 horse publications in the state, and 443 entries (stables and farms, feed mills, training facilities, and other organizations) for Washington County last year alone.
Minnesota figures put the horse population at 44,000 on farms, but that doesn't include those owned by private parties.
Area feed mills estimate monthly deliveries of several hundred tons of feed. Using a third of a bale of hay per day per horse on average, the numbers come to a lot of hay.
It is no wonder many farmers are producing nothing but high quality, clean horse hay for farms and race tracks.
The Minnesota Horse Expo that took place April 25-27 estimated attendance at approximately 33,000.
That was a 10 percent growth over last year. The two previous years posted 15 percent growth each.
The horse council will give about $100,000 back to the horse community this year in scholarships, grants, and trail funds.