By Sarah Evers Conrad & Christy Landwehr
In today’s world, our society is becoming more and more inactive. As horse professionals who are trying to help expand the horse industry and bring in new people into the sport, regardless of discipline, breed, or segment of the industry, it is our job to think outside the box and try to cater our services and products to the different generations, personalities, and challenges that our local market may include. CHA has an interesting place within the equine industry as an organization that does not cater to just one breed or discipline, but who desires to help our members teach the masses all about horses, horsemanship, and safety while providing a fun experience to the participant.
It’s important to understand how the industry has evolved and to what markets we are currently trying to reach to bring in new participants. First, let’s look at the general differences in the generations. We have Boomers, Generation Xers, Generation Y and Millennials, and now Generation Z.
Baby Boomers (1946-1964)* grew up in the age of Roy Rogers and the Lone Ranger. It was a general time of affluence in which people aspired to the American Dream. The defining events of this generation include the Vietnam and Cold Wars and assassinations of influential leaders, such as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. Some say that Boomers sometimes aren’t always open to new ideas or ways of doing things and may have a “been there, done that” attitude.
Then along came Generation X (1965-1980)*, the children of workaholics, divorce, daycare and latchkey kids, and lovers of cable TV. This generation was reared to be self-sufficient with defining events such as the AIDS epidemic, the tragic explosion of the Challenger, and the Iran hostage crises. This generation grew up with the Black Stallion. It is said that Generation X may have a difficulty with commitment and a tendency to have a “wait and see” approach.
Generation Y/Millennials (1981-2000)* are generally seen as high achievers living in a great age of technology who may have been micro-managed by their parents. Their defining events include the fall of the Berlin Wall, the September 11th terror attacks, the dotcom boom and bust, and new technology, such as the iPod. In the horse world, this group grew up with Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron and always being awarded for participation with everyone getting a blue ribbon. Character “flaws” may include short attention spans, high demands, and a “what’s in it for me” attitude.
Our upcoming generation, Gen Z (2000-now)*, have parents who are striving for a “safer” childhood. Many can’t imagine a world without smart phones, social media, Tumblr, Instagram, and SnapChat, along with the Internet in general. Their defining events include same sex marriage and the first African-American president. Some call Gen Z lazy and unaware.
Today’s Inactivity Pandemic
Today’s generation is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents, according to FoundtheMarbles.com. Out of 104 possible activities, almost 20% of 6- to 17-year-olds did not participate even once in the past year, according to research by the Physical Activity Council. According to Phit America, that means there are 10 million totally sedentary children in America and 33 million children who are not active to healthy standards, and 87.2 million Americans, or 28.3%, are totally sedentary or inactive. Most sports are shrinking in core participation, while two were noted to grow among those age 6 to 17. Those two sports are lacrosse and gymnastics.
Marketing to an Ever-Evolving Horse Industry
Meanwhile, the horse industry is comprised of 1.8 million horse owners who are in general terms: married women over 45 years of age, recreational riders with an income over $50,000 from their full-time employment, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The horse industry’s perception of horses indicate they are seen as a family member, best friend, companion animal or pet, and a performance partner vs. being seen as an investment, livestock animal, or employee (American Horse Publications).
Now that we understand more about the generational differences, demographics within the horse world, and the state of fitness within this country, how do we market to this ever-evolving horse industry?
Community events are a great way to reach new participants. Horse enthusiasts can visit schools to speak about horses to students or PTA groups, local fairs, along with teaching at open horse shows that have attendees from outside of the horse world.
In addition, many times grandparents are a great way to reach the youth market since many grandparents like to purchase gifts, such as lessons, for their grandchildren. This market can be found at Optimist Clubs, Rotary Clubs, churches, and at other civic organizational meetings. It’s important for horse enthusiasts to join clubs, not just horse ones to become active in the community.
Programs That Are Thriving
There are several programs outside of the horse industry that are reaching youth in unique ways. One is the First Tee Junior Golf Program. The First Tee helps shape the lives of kids and teens from all walks of life by introducing them to values inherent in the game of golf, such as integrity, respect, sportsmanship, honesty, confidence, and perseverance. Their mission is, “To impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values, and promote healthy choices through the game of golf.” For more information, visit
Another great example is the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Young Eagles Program, which was developed to welcome young people into the world of aviation. This program offers free first flights to youth with a certified local pilot, a free online ground school course, and other youth aviation programs. For more information, visit http://www.eaa.org/en/eaa/aviation-education-and-resources/eaa-youth-education/eaa-young-eagles-program
And our final example is the Colorado Ski Country USA Passport Program for fifth and sixth graders. Fifth graders ski or snowboard free for three days at each of 20 participating resorts for a total of 60 free days of time on the slope, along with one free beginner lesson with rental equipment to those who have never skied or snowboarded. And six graders can ski or snowboard for four days at each of the 20 member resorts for a total of 80 days for $115. For more information, visit http://www.coloradoski.com/passport
Programs like these offer great incentives for youth to get involved in a specific sport or activity. Within the horse industry, the American Horse Council’s Time To Ride equine-industry-wide initiative is helping to grow the horse industry by engaging equine facilities and organizations and assisting them to create memorable, long-lasting connections between people and horses. They make horse experiences attractive and accessible to every person. Their digital hub, TimeToRide.com provides ways to find a recreational or trail riding place, lessons and camps, fairs and rodeos, horse races, and shows and other equine events. The riding instructors that are listed are professionals through the Certified Horsemanship Association and through the American Quarter Horse Association.
In addition, the Time to Ride Challenge has awarded $200,000 cash and prizes to host stables, businesses, and organizations that introduced the greatest number of new people to horses during the challenge period through fun horse experiences. Several CHA facilities have been the leaders during this challenge that was launched in 2014. Time to Ride also offers resources for kids (TakeMeRiding.com), new riders, parents, and teachers. Their programs offer outreach to moms, spectators at horse shows, and local schools. Their free toolkit offers tips for marketing, event ideas, posters, ads, and graphics.
So as you spend time in this ever-evolving horse industry, and within your community, think about how you can be a mentor to those who may want to try out horseback riding. We want to empower, inspire, motivate, listen, connect, instill confidence, increase chances for success, and provide a safe, effective, and fun experience with horses to all new participants. And that will help the horse industry grow and prosper.
*Actual years vary by source.