Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Horse Sense: It's Gonna Cost You Riding Is a Progessive Process

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Horse Sense: It's Gonna Cost You Riding Is a Progessive Process

Article excerpt

The horse habit usually begins innocently enough.

"Everybody who starts says, `We're just going to do lessons,' " said Sara Curtis, a Webster Groves mother of four. She was sitting cross-legged on the gravel outside the stable at Bridlespur Hunt Club in St. Charles County on a rare sunny day in late May.

"But you get involved in so much more," said Curtis, whose 11-year-old daughter has been riding since she was 5. "You get really carried away with it." "It's progressive," said Paul Vachon, who works for Anheuser-Busch Cos. in wholesale beer marketing and has built a barn in his family's back yard for his daughters' three horses. "You get in with lessons, then they want to lease a horse or half-lease, then more lessons, and then they want their own horse," said Vachon. His wife, Joan, added that the horse isn't the most expensive part. The Vachon and Curtis families are among a growing number of urban and suburban residents who have been drawn into the U.S. horse industry, a $25.3 billion business, according to the American Horse Council, an industry association. About 6.9 million horses and 7.1 million people are involved with the industry to some degree, the council reported in a survey earlier this year. People involved with horses aren't necessarily wealthy. The median income of horse-owning families is about $60,000 a year, and nearly four out of 10 owners have incomes of less than $50,000. Just two in 10 have incomes of $100,000 or more, the council found. But it is an expensive hobby. A basic horse starts at around $2,000 and can run as much as $65,000 for a competitive hunter-jumper. Boarding fees range from $200 to $400 a month or more. Lessons start at around $25 an hour. And an English riding habit can cost from $300 to $2,500. Other products include feed supplements for glossy coats, strong hooves and weight gain and feed tailored for different stages of a horse's life. A wide variety of grooming products are available, including all-natural shampoos, hoof ointments and salves. Then there are boots and leg-wraps to keep horses from damaging their hooves and legs or to keep them from kicking off their shoes. Horse-lovers also buy their animals treats, toys and blankets for every kind of weather. "People treat their horses like pets," said Grayson Wood, resident manager at Hacienda del Pina. Some owners come to the stable one or more times a day to visit their horse, groom it or clean the stalls. The horse industry is going through something like the premium dog food phenomenon of about 10 years ago, said Sally O'Brien, a horse owner and president of ICS Diversified, a database management company. "You can buy balls for horses at Petsmart these days." The balls are supposed to keep the horse from getting bored when it is left in the stall. At least 70 percent of people involved in the horse industry are female. …

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