Equestrian Facilities as a Luxury Resource (I)

By: Martha Wehling

In this two-part series, MNR graduate student Martha Wehling examines the impacts of luxury resources and the role of resource managers through the lens of facilities supporting equestrian hobbyists.

Recently, CLiGS Fellow and member of the Master of Natural Resources (MNR) program faculty Dr. Jennifer Lawrence asked students in her Transboundary Resource Management course to explore luxury resources, their impacts, and the role of resource managers in managing these impacts. 

My fellow students and I were encouraged by Dr. Lawrence to consider the “limited supply” of luxury resources as a driver of supply and demand, to think about which resources should be considered as luxuries, and how the political economy of luxury resources creates challenges for environmental resource managers.  

Chocolate, coffee, roses, diamonds, and coltan (an essential ingredient for iPhones) are all recognized luxury resources that present resource managers with complex challenges.  The sources for these luxuries, however, are primarily international.  The equestrian support industry is a domestic luxury that may not initially be consider a resource at all, even though it meets all the necessary criteria. 

Despite the horse’s early role in human civilization as an essential resource, for many Americans horses have now become high-dollar leisure pursuit. For that reason, the equestrian facilities industry can serve as a useful case study for examining luxury resources more generally.  

Three resource boundaries demonstrated by the equestrian lifestyle include: socioeconomic stratification; resource extraction (agriculture, water, and waste); and immigrant employment. As with diamonds and coltan and other commonplace luxuries, there are legitimate concerns about how equestrian facilities impact the environment, and the role that resource managers can play in regulating and minimizing these impacts.

Socioeconomic Stratification

Although the horse was initially used for farming, transportation, and communication, in the United States horses are now predominately a hobby animal. This case study will examine the horse triathlon,a very specific type of three-day competition [1].  The average annual costs for boarding, medical care, shoeing, insurance, entry fees, and training are $20,000, although these total amount can vary considerably depending on location and the level of competition[2].

There are also significant one-time costs, including the purchase price of the horse (up to $65,000 for adult amateur at moderate levels), truck ($60,000), horse trailer ($25,000), and tack and equipment ($15,000). The initial purchase price of a horse is an example of the “limited supply” market that creates demand for desirable horses. A quality horse must have in-born traits (e.g., temperament, conformation, size, no health defects) as well as traits that can be developed with a significant amount of experience and time.

Many professionals in the field earn part of their income by dedicating their limited time to training of young horses, which is financially risky on several levels.  First, the horse can be unsuited for its use but that isn’t always apparent until many years into the training.  Second, the horse can be injured, limiting its potential and value. Third, the market needs to have adequate buyers available to purchase the trained horse. A trainer might spend years working with several horses, only to have one or two sell and subsidize the costs for the horses that were not suitable.  

Trainers typically employ working students, who, like the workers for the luxury resources identified above, are paid a flat rate for manual labor, and a commission if they are fortunate enough to work with a horse that has potential. 

The next installment of this two-part series, available on March 12th, will continue to examine aspects resource boundaries related to the equestrian facilities industry, including gender disparities, employment of immigrants, impacts on natural resources, and the role of natural resource managers.


Martha Wehling is a first year graduate student in the MNR program who is enjoying Dr. Lawrence’s course when she isn’t riding her off-the-track thoroughbred, Duke.  

Cover photo by Jo Arlow Photography, used with permission. Thanks to the following photographers for making their work available through Creative Commons License: M. LEE (Milly.Lee); Mary Anne Morgan; and Five Furlongs.

1  http://useventing.com/resource/what-eventing

2  https://www.equine.com/horse-cost.aspx