THE CHANGES AND CHALLENGES AHEAD

Juli S. Thorson
President, Juli S. Thorson, Inc.
Contributing editor, Western Horseman magazine

As breeders, buyers and sellers of horses, you have a vested interest in the future of the horse market — not just in the short term, but in the longer term as well. And because of that vested interest, you’ve most likely noticed some worrisome signs that “the future ain’t what it used to be.” Participation’s down in many of the areas we think of as key indicators of market health, ranging from stallion bookings to show entries to sale averages. Naturally, the involved horseman wants to know why this is so, the better to plan for his own part in the horse market’s future.

Juli S. Thorson

Juli S. Thorson has spent over 30 years in the field of equine-related journalism. Her company, Juli S. Thorson, Inc., provides writing, editing and consulting services to individuals and publications. She is a former editor-in-chief of Horse & Rider magazine and presently serves as contributing editor and columnist for Western Horseman magazine. She wrote the award-winning book, Win With Bob Avila, and captured two Steeldust media awards from AQHA in 2005.


Conventional wisdom points to conventional culprits: “It’s because of the economy.” “It’s due to the high cost of fuel.” “It’s because we have an oversupply of horses.” “It’s because of what’s happened to the PMU industry.” “It’s because we need better marketing.”

I’m not here to talk about those theories, all of which are easy enough for you to validate on your own using nothing but anecdotal evidence. Instead, I’m going to give you a revealing look at other powerful factors behind what we’re seeing as market change. These factors will only accelerate the degree of change as time goes by, and represent big challenges for all of us.

In this presentation, you will learn how the following four factors stand to affect your horse program, now and in the future. I’ll define them for you here, the better for you to get a head start on absorbing what most likely will be some eye-opening information.

Factor No. 1:
Demographic Change
Demography, often obtained from census information, is the study of the vital statistics of human populations. Demographic study, often used to forecast consumer markets, indicates a population’s size, age, education and income level, spending patterns, household size and makeup, and so forth. By looking at demographics, we can get comparisons — past, present and future — of the number of people available (and able) to be horse-industry customers.

Because demography is a study of people, it’s important to note that people don’t remain static. They age, and as they do, their needs, wants, interests and attitudes change, often with resulting significant force on markets.

Factor No. 2:
Psychographic Change
Psychography is the study of the attitudes, beliefs and opinions within a population. In the world at large, psychographic information is often obtained via polls and surveys; examples include the polling performed to determine consumer-confidence level or a government leader’s approval rating. In the horse world, which lags behind the political sphere in its ability to fund and conduct psychographic polling, most information of this sort comes from intuitive observation of people’s behaviors. Psychographics determine the volume of people willing to participate in our industry.

For an example of a psychographic change affecting the horse world, think of people’s changed attitude toward the matter of equine slaughter. Once accepted as a fact of agricultural life or simply ignored as “something that doesn’t affect me,” slaughter is increasingly viewed as an unacceptable practice, not just by non-horse owners but by horse owners as well. The force of this psychographic change is now great enough to put anti-slaughter legislation in the hands of the U.S. Congress.

Factor No. 3:
Technographic Change

I use technography — if such a term has even been coined — to refer to the level at which people accept, adopt and practice new technologies. Once technographic change reaches a critical-mass participation level, it’s not just the geeks living in their parents’ basements who use e-mail to communicate with each other — it’s “everyone who doesn’t want to be left behind.” It’s not just CIA operatives who carry cell phones, it’s everyone from grade-school children to their grannies.

It’s technographic change that comes into play when we think about the horse-market changes brought on by such innovations as cooled transported semen, frozen semen, embryo transfer and the escalated importance of on-line databases.

Factor No. 4:
Generational Differences

A generation includes all those born within a specific span of time — roughly, within a period of 15 to 18 years. Hence, if you’re familiar with the term “baby boom generation,” you’re talking about the group of people, primarily Americans, born between 1946 and 1961. Because every generation comes along at its own point in history, its members’ formative years are influenced by the social, economic, cultural and political happenings peculiar to that time period.

These generation-specific influences have a great collective effect on how a generation thinks and acts throughout adulthood. This phenomenon helps to explain why persons brought up, for example, during the Great Depression of the 1930s, have very different ideas about saving and spending money than do the people brought up in more prosperous times. As we’ll see, generational differences also are at work when it comes to present and future activity in the horse industry.

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