The horse industry in Douglas and Elbert counties is estimated to be worth between $100 million and $135 million annually, according to a study commissioned by the Colorado Horse Park.
Research by Summit Economics, LLC, an independent firm hired by the international equestrian event venue just south of Parker, confirmed a widely held belief: that horses are a major economic driver in the two counties.
Analysts spent months conducting surveys and looking at overall consumer spending on horses in the neighboring counties, including riding lessons, feed, tack, trailers, veterinary bills and boarding. As much as $135 million is spent each year, and Colorado Horse Park founder Helen Krieble says that number would likely be higher in a stable economy.
The horse park itself generates more than $15 million in spending by spectators, staff and competitors, many of whom stay in area hotels and eat at local restaurants. Total spending by competitors on lodging, food and other personal shopping was $917,000 spread over an average of 22 days. Additionally, the facility’s maintenance crew spent roughly $100,000 last year at Home Depot.
The study found that the equestrian industry in Douglas and Elbert counties supports between 1,400 and 1,950 direct and indirect jobs, of which more than 300 come from the horse park.
Krieble pointed out that horse park officials were careful to hire an outside firm rather than launching an in-house study that could possibly produce skewed numbers. Several key players funded the $15,000 study, including the two counties and various horse advocacy groups.
“These are very real numbers,” she said, adding that her long-standing assumptions about the industry are now quantified with solid figures.
Krieble hopes the financial impact study results will get the attention of elected officials and business leaders who might be interested in the mutual benefits of a strong partnership. Unlike publicly subsidized venues like the Douglas County Fairgrounds, the Colorado Horse Park is a privately funded 501(c)(3) that relies, in part, on donations and sponsorships from local companies like Parker Adventist Hospital. Private funding enables the horse park to maintain its autonomy.
“That’s really what makes a place like this work,” Krieble said.
The equestrian industry is being “threatened on every front” by what Krieble calls “hostile regulations” that make it increasingly difficult for smaller operations to stay open. Commercial taxes, mandatory inspections and egregious rules result in smaller profit margins. Krieble says she would be heartbroken if the Colorado Horse Park ever caved to pressure to become a commercial development.
“We’re stubborn,” she says with a laugh. “We’ve been here for 20 years and we will fight to keep it going and keep it healthy.”
The horse park hopes to further expand its financial impact by possibly building an indoor arena that can accommodate events year-round.
Horse industry study, by the numbers:
• Douglas/Elbert horse industry spending: $100 million to $135 million
• Colorado Horse Park generates $15 million annually in spending
• Industry supports 1,400-1,950 direct and indirect jobs in Douglas and Elbert
• Douglas County’s horse population ranks 40th in the nation
• 66 percent of survey respondents make more than $250K per year