Saskatchewan boasts 43 per cent of Canada’s farmable land. Agricultural exports in 2013 were $11.7 billion and represented 23 per cent of Canada’s agricultural exports. Saskatchewan is an agricultural powerhouse, and although the equine industry is small in comparison to grain, horses make a surprisingly strong economic contribution.
The overall economic contribution of the horse industry in Saskatchewan was $723 million in 2009. Horse racing specifically contributed over $37 million to the province’s economy in 2010, according to Equine Canada. Impressive numbers, but what do they mean? Let’s compare them to other Saskatchewan industries: the forage industry in Saskatchewan generates $740 million annually and the Saskatchewan Roughriders $82 million.
Despite a sizeable economic contribution, neither the equine industry nor the racing industry receive provincial funding support comparable to other industries in the province. For example, the forage industry recently received $10 million in provincial funding for a Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence, and the Roughriders received an $80 million grant for a new football stadium.
Saskatchewan also lags markedly behind other racing jurisdictions in terms of funding programs. One reason for this, and a potential solution, is the lack of a body or organization in the province responsible for the best interests of the horse racing industry overall. There are organizations dedicated to the management and regulation of the sport, the horsemen, the breeders, and the racetrack, but no organization with the industry’s overall success or promotion as its mandate.
Several jurisdictions across Canada have created bodies that are responsible for the promotion and direction of the horse racing industry. This creates an environment where cohesive advocacy on the part of the industry can take place, something that supports both the industry and the individual groups and organizations within it.
British Columbia is a good example of this industry promotion. For example, along with the standard HBPA, CTHS and other individual interest groups, the province has a British Columbia Horse Racing Industry Management Committee (BCHRIMS) — with a director specifically appointed to racing sustainability. This structure allows the province to identify critical challenges facing the industry as a whole, encouraging disparate racing interest groups to work together.
The results of working together are impressive. For example, the BCHRIMC identified horse shortages as a critical issue and created several horse population incentives programs in 2015 with a budget of $265,000. These programs are broad and support all players in the industry, creating incentive programs for: a weanling to three-year-old out of province auction purchase program, wintering money, a broodmare purchase incentive program, a ship and win program and a broodmare incentive program. Cooperation across functional areas has created programs that contribute to each element of the industry.
What Saskatchewan owner, trainer, or breeder wouldn’t celebrate support of this kind? What would this mean for the farmers selling hay, feed companies, boarding facilities, veterinarians, farriers, and farm workers whose livelihoods rely on the industry? Funds invested in incentive programs stay within the community, strengthening not only the equine industry but also the agricultural communities in which these individuals live, work and spend.
Initiatives like this would be of great benefit to Saskatchewan, bringing Saskatchewan’s equine and racing industries in line with other industries of similar size and with other jurisdictions. With a provincial election looming, it will be interesting to see if there are promises of support for breeding or the industry at large in the province.