"It seems that when the economy's good," he said, "everyone with a few acres wants to buy a horse."
Georgia's low cost of living and a temperate climate that allows for year-round outdoor riding factor into the increase, too, he said. The result is a horse industry with an annual impact of more than $750 million on the state's economy.
Georgia's horse industry isn't just growing larger, Heusner said. It's growing more diverse, too. The state attracts thoroughbred breeders and has some of the nation's best training stables. But it has a large number of young riders, too.
What does all this mean? Heusner said there are some concerns for the safety of the new horses.
Because the number of horses grew so quickly, there really isn't a support system in place to provide information to all the new horse owners.
"There really just aren't enough horse educators across the state," Heusner said. "Or enough veterinarians with horse experience. We have trained vets, but many may have only seen one or two horses in their practice up until now."
Young riders are clamoring for information about the horses they now own.
Laura Perry Johnson has organized the Georgia 4-H Horse programs for the past several years. Enrollment in the programs, she said, has skyrocketed.
Every year they've had to turn more people away from their 4-H Horse School. And the number of participants in the 4-H State Horse Show jumped from 200 in '97 to 450 at this year's show.
"The number of young people getting involved with horses in 4-H has really just exploded in the past few years," Johnson said.
The educational need hasn't gone unnoticed at the college level, either. "Almost all of our new animal science majors are coming from a horse background," Johnson said. "That's something I've never seen before."
To learn more about caring for horses, contact the county office of the UGA Extension Service. Or check out these UGA resources on the Web:
- UGA Extension Horse Page.
- Forage Systems for Horses.
- Fences for Horses.
- Healthy Horses, Healthy Land.
(Merritt Melancon is a student writer with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)